‘If the arena’s like a church and someone opens a bag of crisps, it doesn’t always end well!’: 6 top tips for competing indoors

The temperatures are dropping and the dark nights are closing in, meaning more and more riders will find themselves with the prospect of competing indoors. While providing a welcome relief from the elements, at least during your test, riding indoors does come with its own set of challenges, especially if you and your horse are not used to riding in one. We ask international grand prix rider and trainer Anna Ross for her top tips to avoid indoor issues at your next winter show.

1. Find out in advance whether the warm-up arena is indoors too

At some venues, you’ll warm up and ride your test indoors, but at many others you’ll be warming up in an outdoor arena and competing indoors.

“If the warm-up is outdoors and the arena indoors most horses tend to back off a bit as they go in,” says Anna. Make sure you’re prepared to give your horse some extra encouragement on your way into the arena, if needed.

2. Consider buying your horse a pair of soundproof ears

“What is often different about being indoors is that noises are amplified, so invest in soundproof ears if your horse is sound sensitive,” advises Anna. “Outside there can be all sorts of things happening and your horse won’t notice, but when you go in to an indoor arena that’s like a church and someone opens a bag of crisps, it doesn’t always end well!”

3. Resist the urge to confront the thing your horse is spooking at

“If your horse is spooking at something, like a sign or banner, give it a bit of space — immediately confronting your horse with all the things he’s afraid of isn’t usually a good idea as horses are flight animals,” says Anna. “Instead, bend him away from the thing he’s spooking at and leg yield slightly towards it.”

4. Do what you can to spook-proof your horse at home

“Horses tend to spook at smaller things — rather than the judges’ table itself, it might be the fact that there’s a cloth over it, or rather than the banner itself scaring your horse, it’ll more likely be the block of dark or bright colour on it,” says Anna. “It’s definitely worth working to desensitize your horse to that sort of thing at home.”

5. Take advantage of an arena walk

If your venue offers an arena walk in advance of your class, it’s worth making the most of that to help your horse acclimatize to the ring. But make sure you’re not wasting the opportunity.

“If an arena walk is available and you opt to do it, don’t wander round chatting to friends,” advises Anna. “You’re better to go round on your own, otherwise your horse will glue itself to its friends and doesn’t take any notice of anything. It might feel anti-social, but it’ll be more beneficial.”

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6. Check if the arena has mirrors

“Usually, if a horse is alright with other horses coming towards him, he will be ok with a mirror,” points out Anna. “But if not they can pose a problem — make sure your horse is flexed to the inside as you ride past them.

“Even if you don’t have mirrors you can practise riding with, ask a friend to ride towards you, to help your horse become used to it.”

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