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Shaking the Arena Blues: Ways for Horses and Riders to Break the Monotony

If someone were to ask you what your first horse lesson entailed, you might recall playing games on horseback. If you progressed to showing horses, your lessons probably became more serious. The games turned into core exercises, and the patterns were no longer figure 8’s around the cones.

While you should take preparing for competitions seriously, drilling your horse over and over on the same maneuvers or riding circles on the rail every time you ride will only lead to your horses become bored and sour. Here are four ways you can avoid the arena blues next time you ride.

GoHorseShow spoke with AQHA Judge Clark Bradley, who has over 40 years of experience training horses and has also held countless youth and adult clinics. Clark shared what he thinks is most important to practice at home to give you the most success in the show ring.

We also asked Trainer Art O’Brien what he implements into his program to keep his client’s and horse’s minds at work. Art is an AQHA Professional Horseman with over 30 years of experience in the industry, riding, training, and coaching.

Finally, AQHA Professional Horseman Randy Wilson told us what he does to keep his clients and horses up to par. Randy has had his business, Randy Wilson Quarter Horses, for over 30 years with great success. These three gentlemen are also instructors at the University of Findlay in the western equestrian program.

Make sure all your buttons work – Clark Bradley’s most significant piece of advice is to test all your buttons. “I like to try and make my horses break,” he says. “I will make them extend trot big to see if I can make them lope, and if they do, I do not punish them. I correct them and try again.”

Every horse has its strengths and weaknesses. If your horse is notorious for breaking into the next gait, making a game of it, and having an extended trot race with a barn mate. Whoever breaks first loses.

Mix it up – Art O’Brien shares that he likes to set out different trail obstacles in the arena for his clients to work on throughout the ride. “Maybe during one lesson, I will set out one pole for them to go over,” Art said. “Then, the next lesson, I may throw in the box or the bridge. It keeps the horse’s mind working while ensuring we are not too repetitious with our exercises.”

Setting different obstacles out during a ride will keep your horse on its toes. Try to go over the set obstacle one lap around and skip it the next round. This exercise will keep your horse thinking with you.

Keeping the environment positive – Randy Wilson states that the most fun he has in the arena is when he sees one of his horse and rider duos finally overcome something they have been struggling with.

“I think one of the most important parts of keeping the arena a happy place is to have a positive attitude,” he says. “If you are the trainer or the client, showing up with a positive attitude sets the mood for the whole ride. When it becomes fun is when you see your team have success, whether it be getting the correct lead or winning the Congress.”

It is always important to show up to the barn with a positive outlook. It is also important to visualize the individual goals you have set together and conquered them one-by-one as you grow as a team.

Give your horse a break – Art shared that his previous facility housed a 40-acre hayfield. “After a lesson, we would send the youth kids on their horses for a “trail ride” in the field,” he says. “It just clears their heads and almost serves as a reward. The youth kids would get a kick out of it.”

Another unique way Art kept his horses thinking was that he would have all his horses work the cutting flag. “You would be surprised at how low those old all-around geldings would get,” he laughs. “It is just another way I would get my horses and clients to have fun together.”

It is essential to make sure you and your horse are both enjoying what you are doing. Whether it is trying a new maneuver or just merely unwinding together, you should both be enjoying yourselves and each other. Try to find something different that you can incorporate into your rides, whether it be an extended trot race or a western riding pattern in reverse.

About the Author: Ellia Aguayo has been an equestrian for fourteen years. She is currently a senior at the University of Findlay, majoring in Western Equestrian Studies and Animal Science-Industry. She is originally from Lebanon, Indiana. She has spent the past two years showing in the amateur western pleasure and horsemanship with her horse, Lopin On The Rocks. After selling her horse in August, she is looking for new ways to stay involved in the industry.