Go With The Flow – Arena Etiquette for the Horse Rider

By Pat Barriage

The days are getting shorter and the nights are starting to cool off.  In just a few short months many riders will be heading to their local indoor arena to stretch their riding season well into the winter months. As horse folks gather in these smaller spaces, extra consideration for the safety of horses and riders should be given. By following a few basic etiquette principles, confusion and accidents can be avoided. If you are new to riding, this list should help you feel more confident as you navigate riding in a group setting.  If you are a more experienced rider, always take it upon yourself to stay safe and flow out of harm’s way.  It’s a great opportunity for you to educate by setting a good example.
go with the flow center arena

1. Posted Arena Rules – Several private and public arenas have rules posted and you should become familiar with them before entering the arena.

2. Stay Safe – Helmets are recommended for all types of riding and driving. Spectators should stand outside the rail.

3. Knock, Knock – If there is a doorway to the riding area, listen first, knock second or say “door” loudly enough to be heard inside and be extra careful when entering.

4. Lessons – If a lesson is in progress, ask the instructor for permission to enter.  If permission is granted, the right of way must always be given to the students.

5. Entering – Enter the arena safely by waiting for a break in the flow of riders.  Riders should be considerate of those waiting to enter by slowing down or moving out of the way.  Head straight for the center of the arena to adjust tack and/or mount up.

6. Go With the Flow – it is not only safer but also considerate to start riding in the same direction as the majority of other riders.

7. Spacing – Keep at least 2 horse lengths between you and the horse in front of you.  In an uncrowded arena, spacing of 4 horse lengths apart is even better.  Respect the safety of beginner riders and green horses by giving them as much space as possible.

8. Communicate – If you have specific concerns about your own horse (inexperienced, kicker, etc.) let others know right away.  Use a red ribbon in your horse’s tail to alert other riders to give your horse generous spacing.

9. Outside/Inside Tracks – The outside track is an imaginary line that follows the rail around the arena. The inside track is an imaginary line about 18 feet to the inside of the rail.

go with the flow spacing

10. Slow on the Inside Track, Fast on the Outside Track – Allow riders that are moving at faster gaits to have the rail.  If you are walking, move to the inside.

11. Passing – When passing riders moving in the same direction call out, “passing on your left” or “passing on the inside.”  (Never pass between the rail and another rider on the track.)  Imagine a bubble that stretches 10 feet behind, beside and in front of the horse in front of you.  Don’t burst their bubble!  When passing riders moving in the opposite direction, pass left shoulder to left shoulder and remember the bubble analogy.

12. Cue Your Horse Quietly – Voice commands, clucking or kissing to cue your horse should be done quietly to avoid accidentally cueing another horse.

13. Circle Yields to Rail – When a person is riding on a circle while others are on the rail they should make sure the circle is small enough so those on the rail have room to continue on their path uninterrupted.

14. Shoulder Check – Make sure you always look behind you before stopping or turning off the rail.  Proceed only when safe to do so.

15. Work Together – Riders moving in opposite directions can be dangerous if riders do not practice good etiquette. The outside track flows counter clockwise or to the left.   The inside track flows clockwise or to the right.  This allows for passing oncoming riders left shoulder to left shoulder.

16. Look, Think and Plan Ahead – Look ahead on your path and be aware of the path of those around you and where they could intersect.  Be proactive and slow your horse and/or announce your path to avoid a collision. When catching up to the horse in front of you, make a large circle back, pass to the inside or cross the arena to an open spot.

17. Be Prepared For an Emergency – In any emergency situation stop immediately out of harms way.  For example, a rider falling, a loose horse, a bolting, rearing or bucking horse.

18. Longeing – Ensure longeing is even allowed.  Some facilities don’t allow longeing while riders are riding in the arena.  It can be dangerous to longe a horse while others are riding.  Some facilities do allow it but with provisions.  If there is only one or two riders in the arena it may be possible to use one end to briefly longe your horse but get permission from the riders first.  Be considerate and do not crack your whip or cue in a loud voice and keep your session as short as possible.

19. Know your Crowd – Different disciplines often have additional etiquette rules specific to their sport. Take the time to talk to a coach or instructor before entering an arena where a speed or precision event is being practiced e.g. reining, jumping, driving etc.

20. No Dogs – Do not bring your dog in to the arena.

21. Be Courteous – Don’t smoke, drink, cuss, talk on the phone or text while riding.

22. Clean Up After Your Ride – This includes manure, poles, pylons, etc.  Leave it the way you found it or better.

While this list is by no means exhaustive, putting these core etiquette principles into regular practice will help to ensure a safe and enjoyable ride for everyone while mitigating avoidable accidents.

Pat Barriage is a horse industry technical writer and a published author.