Winter always puts pressure on the arena, and together with the rain and darkness puts strain on liveries and yard politics.
When there isn’t the option of hacking, or schooling on the grass arenas, or even only having use of one lit arena, I always see the arenas get busier.
But what really annoys me, and I’m going to have a rant about it (apologies!) is the assumption of horse owners that because they want to exercise their horse this moment they can use the facilities, regardless of others and regardless to safety.
I was teaching last week in an arena – 30m x 40m when two ladies came up to the gate with their horses. “Do you mind if we come in?” They asked politely. We were doing flatwork, and there is plenty of space for three horses so of course I didn’t mind. What I did mind, however, was the lady who came in with her horse a few minutes later, without asking, and started lunging her fairly fresh horse.
Luckily, the three ridden horses were sensible and their riders in control, but I did feel that it was a safety issue. Firstly, there’s the bad manners of not asking if she could come in. You should always ask anyone, regardless of if they’re having a lesson or not. The majority of the time they won’t say no, but if they’re on a green or young horse it gives them opportunity to say “come in, but please keep your distance because he’s very fresh today.” Or “yes, but please can you not canter up behind me as she is a bit sharp.” They may even just agree, but warn you that they will be jumping in a few minutes.
Secondly, a horse being lunged in close proximity to ridden horses is always a safety risk. You have less control over them at the end of the lunge line than if you were riding. They may nap to the ridden horses, or decide that canter is far too boring so airs above the ground is required which spooks the ridden horse. Either way, I feel it is an accident waiting to happen.
That’s not to say you can’t share an arena. In the 30m x 40m I would happily share one ridden horse doing flatwork and one sensible horse one the lunge – i.e. one which has not had three days of limited turnout and no exercise. And I would divide the arena in half with poles. I lunged Phoenix in the arena with two ridden horses last week, but the arena is 40m x 60m and both riders were happy with me in a 20m x 20m square at one end. They considerately did their canter work initially at the far end of the arena so as not to upset any horse, and I only worked Phoenix in trot. She wouldn’t have been fresh in the canter, but she is a bit unbalanced still so it would have been rushed and our circle distorted. Better to leave it to another day than risk getting tangled with the ridden horses.
I wish yards, and some do, have rules about lunging and riding simultaneously in arenas. Either ban in completely, and provide an alternative lunging area – I know a few yards who have specific lunge pens and so long as they are lit, not necessarily as brightly as the main arena, liveries have no excuse to not use them. Other yards could perhaps state in their Arena Rules a limit of two horses being lunged in the arena, with a central divide, or one horse being lunged and one (or two if the arena is sufficiently big enough) ridden horse(s) sharing an arena with a suitable divide. The best policies are clear and fair to everyone.
Equally, liveries should perhaps take it upon themselves to be more considerate. Yes, they may want to lunge their horse, but could they do their other chores first while the arena was busy, or could they have gotten up earlier in the morning and lunged when it was quieter? And if someone’s having a lesson, then have the courtesy to give way to them, not jump into their space, and generally allow them to learn and to get their money’s worth from the lesson. I would also add that you should be competent at lunging and reading your horse’s body language, but that’s a whole other story, because many owners that I see don’t do more than standing in the middle of the arena holding the lunge line loosely while their horse circles them.
I’m afraid it is my biggest bug bear about winter – inconsiderate sharing of the arena, and horses or riders being put at risk because owners don’t think of the potential consequences of overcrowding. Perhaps it’s my experience of working in riding schools and being aware of liabilities and insurance, or the fact the BHS has drilled health and safety into me at every exam I’ve taken.
Rant over readers, but I really hope that you all have a think before going into a busy arena in the evening, or feel more able to stand up to those muscling in and telling them that you don’t feel it’s safe for a fifth horse to be ridden, or for them to lunge with so many other horses present, or whatever your concern is. Then we’ll have fewer accidents and fewer frustrations – because it is frustrating if you’ve been trying to school your horse and have been limited by inconsiderate riders, or you’ve not done what you wanted to in your lesson – and these frustrations very quickly follow you back to your stable and can create bad feeling around the yard.