Whether it comes down to circumstances, weather, or location, finding yourself without a flat, good-quality, horse arena to train in, can often derail everything. It can feel like every single exercise you see or hear about requires acres of space and dozens of poles! And, maybe even more frustrating is when you begin to feel things coming together, only to slip or unbalance due to questionable footing or ground levels.
Let’s be perfectly honest here; having a good quality suitable horse arena to work in is important if you have long-term goals with your horse… However, there are some short-term solutions you can use to keep training moving forward while you figure things out.
A Less than Perfect Horse Arena
So many riders have a space to ride in… However, due to a whole multitude of reasons, it is not exactly what they want. This could be a field that has become a little water-logged or muddy. A paddock that has been baked hard by the sun and now is like riding on concrete!
There are arenas that, over time, have become a little sagged, overworn, or even outright ‘hilly’ in places. And there are arenas that have tracks worn deep into them, grooves, that simply prevent any useful work safely happening in them!
If you have a flattish space that is available to ride in, begin to think in terms of squares rather than circles. This will allow you to make better use of the space available
A 20m x 20m of fairly flattish space with safe footing can go a long way when ridden as a square (rather than one long continuous circle. Of course, this type of space can also be used for lunging (again, if the footing is safe and suitable). In fact, 20m x 20m is even big enough for some well-thought-out pole exercises… The key is to find the space and then become creative with your schooling and exercises.
I have a previous Daily Strides Podcast episode called Making the Most of Riding in a Smaller Space. And in August 2020 I shared a week of audio horse riding lessons called Beneficial Exercises when Riding in a Smaller Space that’s available for you to use when you join Connection
Roads & Lanes
If an arena or field is not available to work in, the next choice would be a quiet road or country lane. What’s great about roads is they are generally level, meaning that things like rhythm, coordination, timing, and balance can improve when working there.
However, working on the hard ground all of the time is, obviously, not ideal. And the width of the road can also be a limitation. Yet, there are ways to make this work for you and your horse. Things like simple transitions between halt, walk, and trot can be a great focus while out hacking. Lateral work is also possible. As well as straightness (using the markings on the road or the border of the road for support if necessary.
If you have a clear intention for your riding while out on the road, you can really make each hack a beneficial one for both you and your horse.
Roadwork is also a great way to increase fitness, strengthen legs and build confidence and partnership for you and your horse. The key is to have a plan for what you will do, and a safe, suitable road to do it on.
There’s an episode of the Daily Strides Podcast called 3 Exercises to Use to Develop Your Horse While Out on the Trail HERE that you can use to gain some inspiration. And, inside of Connection, July 2021 is PACKED full of audio horse riding lessons to use while riding outside of the arena.
Undercover Aisles & Passageways & Stables
Sometimes, the weather alone is a challenge for riders. Extreme heat or cold, rain or wind can all force riders back indoors! Which can hinder training and progress. This is where groundwork can become an important addition to your training program.
If you have a space where you are protected from the weather, you can begin working with your horse on the ground in order to both refine your aids – and develop your horse.
A lot of riders think that riding is only about riding. However, groundwork is a vitally important aspect of training for both horse and rider. It helps you to define boundaries, refine aids, increase understanding, and build trust and partnership.
You can work on simple things such as ‘woah’ and ‘go’. And then, either introduce or improve things like lateral work, transitions, bending, flexion, and rhythm. Right up to developing self-carriage and collection. Again, having a plan will make all the difference as to how effectively you and your horse use your space.
Other Facilities and Communities
If at all possible, my final recommendation is to find somewhere else to ride! Now, I realize this will not be possible for everyone. However, if you do have the opportunity to box or walk your horse to a more suitable horse arena or riding space, I strongly suggest trying to make this happen as much as possible.
Often, riders will club together to rent an arena for an hour or two. Some bring a trainer alone, and others simply use the time and facilities to school alone. The more who join in, the less it will cost.
Alternatively, riders join riding clubs or lesson programs that have regular meet-ups. These meetups are usually held at suitable, weather-tight venues such as indoor riding schools or well-maintained all-weather horse arenas.
Going this route can also be helpful when trying to make regular riding a goal. If you have a commitment with other riders, there’s a much higher chance of you showing up :)
If you are struggling to find a space to ride, why not ask for ideas or suggestions in our Online Community? You can request to join and then post HERE. I’m pretty sure other riders will have a few great ideas for you to help ensure your riding and progress stay on track.