Arena Etiquette 101: How To Ride Safely With Other Horses

When it comes to riding with other horses in the arena being following arena etiquette is more than just being courteous. Following proper arena etiquette can keep you and your horse as well as other riders safe. Unfortunately, sometimes horses are like dominos and when one horse gets upset, the other horses get upset too.

Plus, anytime you’re riding with friends or barn mates you need to remember that there are multiple thousand pound animals moving around in an enclosed space at once. Keeping your horse under control and navigating arena traffic correctly is crucial.

Yell Door Before Opening Indoor Arena Door

The trouble with entering an exiting an indoor arena is that anyone already riding in the arena cannot see a horse coming. And, often times the doors make a lot of noise. Opening the door to the indoor when another rider is near it without warning them can spook their horse. And, if they are having difficulty or riding a young or green horse they may need time to get their horse under control before you open the door.

It is helpful to warn riders in the arena that you are going to open or close the door to enter or exit the arena by yelling “door.” It is important that you yell loudly enough that they can hear you through the door.

You should also remember to say “door” before opening the door to leave the arena as well. This will not only let other riders in the arena know that you plan to open the door but can also warn anyone on the other side whom is about to enter the arena.

Pass Left Shoulder To Left Shoulder

Riding with other horses traveling in multiple directions is like driving on the road. Always stay to the right and pass left shoulder to left shoulder. All this means is, if you’re tracking left, stay on the rail. If you’re tracking to the right, stay to the inside and leave adequate space between horses.

There are of course exceptions to this rule. Your barn may require that beginners are allowed to use the rail at all times since they may have difficulty steering. Or, your trainer may be riding a young, green horse that is still learning to steer and advise other riders in the arena to stay away and allow her the right of way.

Aside from these exceptions, if you are in the warm-up arena at a show, riding with peers or riders you don’t know, always pass left shoulder to left shoulder when traveling in the opposite direction of other riders.

Pass On The Inside

When traveling in the same direction as the other riders in the arena always pass on the inside. Typically riders traveling at a slower gait such as the walk will stay to the outside or on the rail and riders traveling at faster gaits like trot and canter will ride on the inside.

Passing on the outside of another horse, between the horse and the rail can be extremely dangerous. If the horse you’re passing were to kick out, you would not have any space to get out of the way. You also may not have enough room to fit in between another horse and the fence and could cause an accident.

Give Other Riders Plenty Of Space

Space is your best friend when it comes to riding with friends. This includes, passing with plenty of room to spare. It also means not riding up closely behind other horses. Getting right up behind another horse is dangerous.

Not only could you or your horse get kicked, you could put the rider in front of you in danger. Some horses are reactive to other horses running up behind them, hearing other horse’s foot steps behind them causes them to become anxious. This could lead to the horse in front of you speeding up, taking off, reacting in fear, nipping, or causing your horse to become upset.

Giving other riders enough space is the best way to stay safe. In fact, here’s a catchy saying to help you remember. Space = Safe!

Lesson Students & Beginners Should Have The Right Of Way

As a beginning rider, steering is incredibly difficult. In fact, I even wrote a whole article full of exercises to help beginner riders learn to steer without losing their balance.

Steering requires balance and coordination and understanding the correct amount of pressure to use. To those of us who have been riding for a long time it seems like second nature. But, if you think back to when you first started riding, you probably remember the struggle you went through.

That said, beginner riders need more time to react. And, while they should learn to pass and maneuver around other horses safely and correctly, sometimes they cannot coordinate their aids in time. For this reason, it is common practice for advanced riders to give beginner riders the right of way.

Additionally, even if the other riders in the arena are not beginners, they may be taking a lesson. If you are just riding the horse you own or lease for practice, it’s best to stay out of the way of the rider in a lesson. This is a common best practice at most farms in the United States.

Be mindful of the other riders in the arena and assess their ability level compared to your own. If you’re all beginners, just try to give each other space and keep in mind that everyone may take a little time to make the right decision about where to navigate.

Call Out Where You Are Going When Jumping

If you are jumping and other horses are in the arena whether they are also jumping or just riding on the flat, letting other riders know where you plan to go could help you avoid an accident.

It’s difficult to ride around an arena with multiple horses jumping, someone may inadvertently cross in front of the jump you plan to ride towards. Calling out the fence ahead of time allows the other riders time to move out of the way.

If you are in a lesson with other horses all jumping the same fences one at a time or following the direction of the instructor, you may not need to call your fences. Other riders may be aware of where you are going next.

But, often times people get focused on their own horse and their own riding and forget to stay aware of other riders. Calling out the fence you plan to jump can help ensure riders are paying attention to each other.

Look Around Before Opening The Gate

When you enter or exit the arena, look to make sure no other horses are near the gate before you open it. Especially if there is a beginner rider in the arena who may struggle to steer their horse away from the gate. Once the horses in the arena have passed by, then it’s safe to open the gate and be sure to close it behind you right away.

Opening and closing the gate can be distracting in some situations and if there are any naughty or green horses in the ring, they may choose to make an unplanned exit.

Put Away Equipment You Use

This one goes without saying, and I’ve mentioned it in recent articles such as How To Be A Good Boarder, as it relates to the barn but the same thing goes for the arena. If you take equipment such as ground poles, cones, jump standards out to use, put them away. Unless your trainer or barn manager explicitly states they can be left out because other people plan to use them, put them away!

You may think leaving the poles out is harmless and assume that other people want to ride over them. However, when your barn manager goes to drag the arena to keep the footing at its best for you and everyone else, they will have to put them away for you.

Or, if another rider needs space to ride without the poles in the way, they’ll have lug them all back to where they belong. It’s a simple task, just put away the equipment you use when you’re finished with it.

Pick Up Manure

Last but not least, pick up your horse’s manure! Once you’ve finished your ride, you can put your horse away, and then go back to the arena to put away your equipment and pick up manure. Most farms keep a pitchfork and muck bucket in or near the arena.

If you horse goes to the bathroom during your ride, be sure to clean it up! And don’t forget to clean up manure and hoof droppings from the barn aisle too!

Remember, other people will be walking around, lunging and riding in the arena. Don’t wait for other riders or the farm staff to clean up after you!

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