By Chris Churchill, Five Star Ranch Staff Writer
During the winter months, more and more people flock to local indoor riding arenas to escape cold wind and nasty weather. Recently I was visiting a local arena and was shocked by the number of riders who broke basic arena riding etiquette. I don’t think they were doing it to be disrespectful, but more because no one had ever explained what was appropriate behavior in an public riding arena.
Many barns post rules for riding in arenas – much like swimming pools post pool rules. Barn rules may vary, but here are some general guidelines that should keep you from stepping on too many hooves.
- Don’t mount on the track. I would have thought this was just common sense, but I saw at least one person enter the ring leading their horse and proceed to mount on the track. Don’t do that. It irritates the other riders and could get you hurt.The proper thing to do is to lead your horse to the center of the arena to a location away from other horses and to then mount your horse. You can also ride your horse into the arena if you can open and close the gate while mounted. By the way, if you can’t that is something to learn how to do – but do it on a day when you can practice with the gate and not bother anyone else. So do your practices when the ring is empty.
- Riders moving at the faster gait have priority on the track. If you are walking or riding slower, move to the inside. Please note sometimes this rule varies, but in most arenas, the faster person rides to the outside and the slower person moves inside to get out of the way.
- Communicate with other riders. For example, if you are making a circle, let other riders know your intentions so you don’t accidently collide with them. If you are about to start cantering and someone is on a green horse ahead of you, warn them or better yet, move away from an inexperienced horse and rider if you are going to transition to a faster gait. Most people are considerate and will move out of your way if they know what you are doing.
- Don’t use loud verbal cues. Something that is sure to make people hate you in a crowded arena is for you to be constantly clucking and making kissy noises to cue your horse. The same with slapping your reins and yelling at your horse. It disturbs other horses and you might accidently cue a nearby horse and cause an accident. Loud cueing is considered rude. Learn to communicate with your horse in more subtle ways. Save the voice commands for when you are training alone.
- Leave your dog in the stands. This is another thing I would have been common sense, but sadly isn’t. Many people love riding with their dogs. When you ride in an open pasture or on the trails, this may be fine. However, a crowded arena is no place for man’s (or woman’s) best friend. The dog might get stepped on, kicked, or cause an accident. Teach your dog to wait patiently for you OUTSIDE the arena.
- If someone falls off – Stop. If another rider takes a tumble, don’t keep riding around. Stop your horse. If you’re the closest rider, dismount and offer assistance. Help the person and catch their horse if it is loose. If the rider is injured appoint someone to call for help.
- Think Left-left when passing from the opposite direction. At most arenas there is a rule to pass left shoulder to left shoulder if going in opposite directions. Most riders try to go in the direction of the other riders. I was at one stable where the local practiced policy was to ask if we could change directions. I always found that a pain. Sometimes I just wanted to change directions several times in a row. Thankfully, most arenas I’ve ridden in allow you to go other directions and practice the left shoulder to left shoulder rule.
- Practice safe distances. Just like driving a car, don’t get too close to the rear of other horses. The general rule is to keep at least a horse length distance between horses. If your horse is a kicker, it is recommended that you tie a red ribbon on the horse’s tail to provide a visual reminder to other riders that your horse will kick. This doesn’t extinguish your responsibility to avoid getting into a kicking match, it just helps people know that your horses bubble is extra large.
- No talking on cell phones while riding. If you absolutely must answer a call, move to the center of the ring, stop your horse, and make it quick. You are in a public place. It is inappropriate for you to be carrying on a long conversation where others have to listen.
- Keep gates closed while riding in an arena. This is a simple safety issue. If someone has an accident, the loose horse won’t run off if the gate is closed.
- Use caution if lunging. First, ensure lunging is even allowed. Some arenas don’t allow lunging while riders are riding in the arena. Other stables allow it so long as the arena isn’t too crowded. If you do lunge try to do it in ways that least interfere with other riders. Use common sense if you want to lunge and don’t let your attitude be it is your right to lunge. Treat being able to lunge as a gift. Don’t abuse your privilege to lunge or you may lose it.
- Stay alert and practice courtesy. These are always good rules to live by, but they are especially important from a safety perspective in crowded arenas when you factor in the unpredictable nature of horses.