Yup, that’s right. Arena Etiquette. Sounds kind of fancy for something to do with horses, but, let’s face it, communication and respect – things that show we are civilized beings – have just as much place in the riding arena as at a social gathering. It’s also about the Golden Rule: Treat other riders like you wish to be treated. Anyone who has had a mishap in an arena can tell you many of those little episodes can be avoided by following some simple guidelines based on common sense. These will keep you in good stead whether at home, hauling out to another venue to work your horse, or riding away at a competition. Here are some suggestions to share an arena from several sources.
Mount and Dismount Out of the Way: Mounting and dismounting should be done in the center of the arena or outside of the arena all together to avoid interfering with other riders. The only exception is if there is a loose horse. if you believe it is safer for you and your horse, dismount immediately and walk your horse away from the danger. If a rider falls off and a horse gets loose, all riders should stop and dismount.
Left Shoulder to Left Shoulder: It helps when riders ride in the same direction, but sometimes that just is not possible. In that case, riders going opposite directions will travel left shoulder to left shoulder. This usually means there will be a rider on the rail and a rider to the inside. Please remember the rider on the rail has less much less flexibility to avoid an incident. The rider to the inside should pass at a distance to provide adequate room between horses. Anyone who has had an inside rider pass close enough to crash stirrups, and even horses, knows what this means.
Slow on the Inside, Fast on the Outside: Even though left-to-left is the norm, speed matters. Slower riders should ride on the inside track including those doing schooling such as lateral work, working on walk exercises, and so on. Riders working at a faster pace such as a trot, lope or canter should stay on the outside track. If a rider is trotting and a rider is cantering, trot rider yields the track to the one cantering.
Circle Yields to the Track: If a person is riding on a circle and another is on the track, circle yields to the track – make your circle small enough so that the horse and rider on the track have room to continue in their path uninterrupted.
Keep a Horse Length Between and Yield to the Track: Don’t crowd other riders and keep at least a horse length between you and the horse in front of you – in an uncrowded arena, four lengths or more is even better. This keeps you at a safe distance from being kicked. Also when there are riders working on both the inside and outside track, leave enough passing room that one horse isn’t able to bite or kick at the horse on the other track. Some horses are just not as socialized as others, so don’t assume every horse will be friendly to other horses being close. If you are getting too close to another horse and rider, circle and allow yourself some room to work. Don’t gallop past a green horse or rider if there is any possible way you can avoid doing so.
Work Together: Riders may be doing different activities with their horses, and even though the rule is left shoulder to left shoulder, understand it isn’t always possible. Be generous with right-of-way. If there is a question or you think a rider doesn’t see you, sometimes it’s wise to stop your horse and wait to avoid any mishaps.
Announce Your Intentions: If you think a rider cannot see you, and heaven knows you can’t expect them read your mind, it’s okay to let another rider know what you plan to do when somebody needs a clear path: “Passing on your left,” “jumping fence 3,” “leaving arena,” “entering arena.” Some places have arena doors that open right onto a track. It is a good idea to call into the arena to see if there are any riders near the door to avoid a collision.
Cue Quietly: Voice commands, clucking, kissing, smooching, using the whip or crop loudly, or other noises to cue your horse should be done quietly and away from other horses as much as possible. Accidentally cueing another person’s horse as you ride alongside them could cause problems and can be very frustrating for horses and riders alike.
Longeing and Ground Work When Others Are Riding: It can be tricky and even dangerous to longe when others are in the arena, particularly if there is a young or fractious horse in the mix. Many arenas don’t allow longeing while others are riding, but some do with provisions. At most barns, longeing defers to riding, but you may ask a single rider who comes in if they are willing to ride while you longe brieflly, providing they are aware of the risks, because you can each take a section of arena to work in. However, if there is more than one rider or your horse is going to be a handful and set off somebody else’s horse, be considerate and safe, and don’t longe. Go to the lower arena at the club to longe. Finally, don’t make any noises that can scare other horses like cracking your whip or shouting excessively. Again, it’s good horsemanship and polite to make your cues as discreet as possible. Much of the same applies to doing ground work while others are riding. While ground work generally does not take up as much room as longeing, sometimes it can be less predictable as to where the handler and horse are going, so handlers need to assess the situation carefully and riders need to stay sharp.
Clean Up: Clean up the arena after use. Clear out your horse’s manure, put away jumps, trot poles or pylons. Leave it the way you found it or better.
All Horses Under Control: There should be no loose horses in the arena while others are riding. Any horses not being ridden should be restrained safely.
In Case of Emergency: Know where the nearest phone, emergency number and first aid kit are. Don’t ride alone without someone in the barn knowing in case there is an emergency. Know what to do IF there is an emergency.
Don’t Allow Escapes: Keep arena gates closed to avoid a horse getting loose and causing injury to itself or someone else.
Avoid Riding Alone: Ride with a buddy, especially when on trail or jumping. If you do need to ride alone, make sure someone knows where you are and carry a cell phone for emergencies.
Don’t Get Caught in the Dark: Be aware in stormy weather and at night that electrical outages can happen. Some types of arena lighting can take a long time to come on once the power has gone out leaving you in the dark.
Ice, Snow and Other Weather Hazards: Be aware that if there is snow or ice on the roof it often slides down making a scary noise. Some horses may spook at this. Be aware of the weather conditions. If there is snow, wind, rain, hail or lightning which could affect other horses (or yours!), be extra careful.
Always Ride Safe: It’s smart to wear a helmet and proper boots, and ride in control.
Don’t Get in the Way: Spectators should stand outside the arena, not alongside the track.
Invite the Dogs After the Ride: No dogs in the arena with horses and riders. This is for the safety of horses and riders AND the dogs. Many stables are dog friendly, but never assume your dog is welcome, on or off the leash, unless you know a stable’s dog policies in advance.
Warn of Noisy Doors: Announce if you are going to open a sliding door as some horses might spook at the noise. Give riders a chance to prepare.
No Smoking or Drinking on Saddle Club Grounds: Smoking or drinking is not allowed on Black Forest Saddle Club Grounds by riders (on or off the horse) or spectators. This is for everyone’s comfort and safety.
Remember that everyone has a living animal underneath and not every movement is always under control. Always be prepared for the worst and do not get so wrapped up with your own horse not to notice what is happening around you. Ride with awareness and consideration. It’s not worth it to start an argument over someone’s mistake. Everyone in the arena is there for the same purpose – to enjoy their equine companions and to practice their riding skills!
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