“Hi Stacy, I’m a trail rider and up until recently I didn’t understand the need to ride around in a circle.   I bought a new horse about a year ago and on the trail he will follow my husband’s mare with no problems.  He even leads sometimes, if she’ll let him.  I live in ————— so I normally don’t ride in the winter but I’ve found an indoor arena near by that I can use.  I think riding in an arena a few times over the winter would help with the spring craziness.   I have tried riding in our small paddock but he acts like he doesn’t know what to do. He takes a few steps and stops and just stands there.  I turn him, he takes another step and stands again.  What am I doing wrong?”-Jane

Jane, I love getting emails like this!

The first reason I love it is because it was inspired by my free tips email list. This is a weekly email that I send out discussing topics such as reading your horses body language, common problems, and trail riding vs performance horse training. It is content that I only share with people who subscribe because they want a better understanding of what I do and why I do it. I can tell it is having an impact because of response like Jane’s. 

The next reason I love this question is because I remember having those exact same thoughts! Why ride in an arena?

Keep in mind as I answer this question that I grew up in Maine and spent most of my time trail riding. 

30 years and many, many horses I see the reason for arena work.

Your horse is reflecting your thinking

That’s right. You don’t see the point of arena work…and neither does he. So in a way you are united in your thinking:)

But now you are asking the question: What am I missing? I feel a change coming on…

What is the purpose of arena work?

Boiled down to the most basic reason I can think of, the post is to improve the depth of the conversation. 

In order to avoid my overwhelming desire to write an entire book right here, I will instead illustrate the point.

Remember Roxy’s now famous ride? We developed that depth of communication in the arena. Yes, we also did many other things but the depth came from those dedicated, focused session. 

If you want to improve the depth of understanding and communication the arena is the place to do it. (more blogs to come on this subject…feel free to leave your questions in the comments)

Who’s the leader?

The arena is the classroom and the horse is the student.

The arena work instantly points out who is making the plan.

If the horse takes you to the gate, he is making the plan and the plan is to leave.

If the horse follows your directions, you are making the plan and he is following your lead.

If your horse stands still, the good news is that he is waiting for you…but now you need to make a plan for what comes next.

In closing

You are reporting that your horse just stops. People are often surprised when their horses are resistant to arena work. You should be prepared that this is a possibility. It doesn’t make arena work wrong, it means your horse doesn’t see the point. My kids just went back to school this week and many kids don’t see the point of school either. 

In your mind imagine that the arena is the classroom and the rider is the teacher. Remember in high school how some teachers bored you to tears while others inspired you to greater heights?

It is the same thing with your horse in the arena. 

P.S.-If you’re interested in receiving the tips like Jane does, the form to subscribe is at the bottom of the this page:)