Question of the Week: Soured on Arena Work

Why does my horse resent being ridden in the arena?


Riding in the arena

Q: My horse is arena sour. At first she would just resist a little when I led her toward the arena, but it’s gotten worse. Now she’ll stop and refuse to move! I make sure to take her out on trails to prevent her from getting bored, but she’s still arena sour. Why is she doing this, and how can I fix it?

A: Your mare has decided she prefers not to do whatever you’re asking her to do within the confines of the arena. To begin to fix the problem, evaluate your arena work to discover why it’s so unappealing. Your arena work should always have a specific goal or purpose so your horse doesn’t end up exhausted and confused. Always stop on a positive note, so your mare leaves the arena knowing she was a good girl. Also take into consideration your mare’s age, condition and any soundness issues. For example, lots of fast work or tight turns with a horse that has tender feet or sore hocks can lead to signs of resentment. If necessary, make some modifications to your arena program.

Next, consider how you relate to your horse. For example, did you discipline her when she first resisted entering the arena? Tapping her side with a crop behind your leg, or having someone on the ground stand behind your mare (safely out of kicking distance) cluck or clap their hands, might be enough to convince her to move forward and into the arena. Unfortunately, if your mare has learned that she can control a situation by threatening bad behavior she has assumed the leadership role in your relationship. You must regain that position, but the process can be both difficult and dangerous without professional help. Refusing to go forward and balking at the arena gate can escalate into rearing.

Consult with a riding instructor in your community who can help you become more assertive in your relationship with your mare. Ask for some insight on designing a reward-based program of arena work that complements your trail riding. Professional guidance combined with short sessions of appropriate arena work will make your relationship with your mare more enjoyable.

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Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.


  1. Interesting but doesn’t really offer a solution. If someone is asking this question they obviously don’t have access to professional guidance and would like some answers.

  2. I wounder if she tried to lead the mare into the arena, give a treat, ride her for just a bit, lead/or ride her out, then go back into the arean, give treat, so that the mare will associate treats with the arena riding.

  3. I would start with groundwork. Work with her around the arena, lead her by it, around it, and if you can, lunge her by the entrance. Then lead her into the arena multiple times, put her away, and repeat every few days. Finally ask someone to lead her while you’re on her back, and ride her in. Hope this works!

  4. I love all the articles because they relate to a lot of horse and somtimes we need people to tell use what we are doing rong


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