Written by Clinton Anderson
Like any problem you’re having with your horse that involves him not wanting to be where you want him to go, make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.
You’ll do that by hustling the horse’s feet where he wants to be (outside the arena) and letting him rest where you want him to be (in the arena).
Depending on how arena-shy your horse is, you might only be able to get him within 150 feet of the arena before he starts misbehaving. That will be your starting point. Using one rein to direct him, put the horse to work, constantly making him change directions. The more you change directions, the more he’ll use the thinking side of his brain.
Some examples of exercises you can use are serpentines, rollbacks or cantering circles. You’ll be wasting your time if you let the horse drag his feet and daydream about his next meal. Make him hustle his feet and give him a reason to want to go in the arena and relax.
Work the horse for 15 to 20 minutes away from the arena and then take him into the arena and let him rest. Initially, you might only be able to bring the horse within 90 feet of the arena. While the horse is resting, rub him and let him relax. After letting him rest for 10 minutes, go back to working him 150 feet away from the arena again for another 15 to 20 minutes.
Each time that you work the horse, take him back to your original starting point — the place he wants to be. And each time you let him rest, bring him closer to the arena. The second time you might get him within 60 feet of the arena, and the third time you might get him in the arena.
When you let the horse rest, drape the reins down his neck and dare him to move. If he wants to move, let him. Take him back to where you were working him and hustle his feet. Instead of sitting on the horse and saying, “Don’t go!” let him move, and then offer him the chance to stand still and relax. You have to give him a reason to want to be in the arena and to relax.
Once you do get him in the arena, do the opposite of what he expects. The arena-shy horse thinks that as soon as he steps one hoof in the arena he’s going to have to work hard and sweat. Instead, once you get in the arena, let him relax and get off of him. Loosen the girth and take him back to the barn. With repetition, he will learn that he has no reason to fear the arena.
The worst thing you could do at this point would be to get the horse in the arena and then work him really hard. That would prove to him that his fear of going in the arena was correct.
Once you’ve built the horse’s confidence about going in the arena, you can start working him there. However, this is a problem that requires regular maintenance. Don’t be surprised if it comes up again. If you compete in timed events, you may be able to put three good runs on your horse before he starts getting anxious about going into the arena. At that time, you’ll need to practice the method I just outlined.
About Clinton Anderson
Born and raised in Australia, Clinton grew up with a love of horses. Although he lived in the city with his father, Rob, mother, Cheryl, and sister, Andrea, he looked forward to the weekends he got to spend on his grandparent’s farm where his grandmother would give him rides on her old Thoroughbred mare. By the age of 12, he began playing polocrosse and was eventually chosen for a national team representing his state. In 2001, he became the first clinician to create a made-for-TV horse training program that aired on RFD-TV.
The use of untrained horses and a variety of topics covering common problems faced by horse owners quickly made Downunder Horsemanship the network’s number one equine program. Nearly 15 years after establishing Downunder Horsemanship, Clinton continues to instruct horsemanship clinics, presents Walkabout Tours across the country, produces two television shows, hosts an internet TV website and is constantly creating comprehensive study kits and training tools to make learning horsemanship as accessible and easy as possible. Clinton and Downunder Horsemanship are recognized as world leaders in the equestrian industry and continue to offer the very best in innovation, inspiration and instruction.