Round Pen vs. Big Arena


My riding space is my artistic canvas. I like trail riding but I rarely choose to make time for it.  I love working in riding spaces that have boundaries.  I love to perfect my riding and my horse’s responsiveness and action in either a round pen or riding arena.  I’m lucky to have both rounds pens and arenas to choose from at Bee Cave Riding Center and Signal Hill Ranch. For me, the round pen can bring a young project from disorganized and unfocused to connected and safe.  Then we can move into the big space, my arena, where I still have boundaries.

Just like some artists prefer oils to watercolors, or clay to wood, I prefer boundaries to open spaces when it comes to training.  We all have preferences and sometimes we can’t explain exactly why.

As a riding coach I’ve watched how the size of  a riding space can really impact the confidence of a rider. My new riders typically love to work in the round pen if they’ve had very little experience on a horse.  The small space provides a little extra security until they’ve built confidence and they have good control of the horse.  We often go back to the round pen when they’re learning to lope-the small space provides security.


However,  a small space doesn’t always provide security and comfort.  Once in a while the round pen can bring out a claustrophobia that inhibits riders’  confidence. The small space can make them afraid of hitting the sides, tripping or being less safe than more safe. I have become pretty good at figuring this out early on and have a smooth way of shifting gears without offending the rider. Some of us just are not good at fitting into every space.
So, if you are struggling to gain confidence and riding ability,  maybe you want to consider your personality and choose the size of your work space to match your needs?
Yesterday my student was determined to lope, she and the horse should have been ready to cruise smoothly in the round pen.  She was riding one of my master lesson horses.  He always lopes tirelessly for all of my new students as they learn to lope in the smallness of the round pen. I was intrigued as they struggled for the first 5 minutes, horse and rider looking strangely uncomfortable, even causing a few trips and stumbles…the pen was dragged to impeccable footing, the horse’s hooves were freshly shod.  I could see the anxiety growing. We headed over to the arena, me chatting away about “pushing reset” and starting fresh so that we did not end on a bad note.  My rider was open to the change.  She was determined to lope that day.

AMAZING discovery!  After a little prep,  our lesson continued with lovely lope transitions that exceeded both of our expectations. Later we laughed at the strangeness of this discovery:

I work all day in the great outdoors- no walls, no small spaces. She works in a small cubicle with very little opportunity to see outdoors. I like small riding spaces and she likes bigger riding spaces.  Maybe our personalities and lifestyles play a part in our riding area preferences?  It may just be a coincidence but it may just have some merit?

Just another discovery in the ever interesting world of horses.

Where do you prefer to ride?  Wide, open spaces?  A secure, small round pen?  Or, an arena with boundaries?  And why?  Comment and let me know!