Teaching Techniques: Arena Management

I have a lot of notes on teaching techniques that I’ve given ITs (Instructor in Training) that I’m going to share here, because they’re already put together and easy to post 🙂 Mostly all the ones that are missing from the Guide to Certification’s Teaching Techniques sections, shown in red. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments section, or use this information for your own ITs!

Arena Management Techniques

  • Instructor Position
    • Central figure, typically stays in the middle of the arena to have the best view of all riders, but if you can move elsewhere and still see everyone well then go for it. The point is you should never/rarely have your back to any rider.
    • Have riders come to middle if you need to fix/check anything
    • Have riders walk to the middle and halt for tack checks – it’s easiest to have them come right down the center line and check their tack as they halt by you one at a time or halt in a line all at once
    • See this post about when (and when not) to teach from the center, and how to do it!
  • Rider Spacing
    • You should be able to see all riders at the same time, for safety – so keep them close enough that you can always see them all
    • Between horses keep at least 2 horse lengths or “an elephant’s distance”
    • If a rider gets too close to another, ask them to halt, circle, pass, or cut across the arena
    • If riders get too far apart, ask them to halt or circle to wait for the rest – probably give them something to do while they wait, like give their horse some pats and thank him for obeying so well
    • Keep in mind horse order – put the faster horse in front, or you’ll have a pile up (unless you’re working on controlling speed, then put the slow horse in front!)
    • Use cones – ex) ask riders to stop at cones placed on the wall that mark the correct spacing between horses, then walk on
  • Reverse Directions
    • Options, in order of least tight turn to most tight (pick which to use based on how balanced your riders are, and consider progressing to tighter turns throughout the lesson):
    • Across the diagonal, following each other
    • Cut across the middle or down the centerline, following each other
    • Through a figure, following each other (half figure 8, serpentine, etc.) – this could actually be a shallower turn than across the diagonal, but the turns last longer so it could be harder, its use depends on the rider and your leader
    • On the rail, all at the same time make a half circle/teardrop (on the count of 3…)
  • Explanations
    • Options for managing riders while explaining the skill or giving feedback (your choice depends on the riders’ abilities and how they listen best):
    • Have everyone halt in front of you
      • If they have a hard time focusing or hearing when you are far away
      • If they will practice the skill at the halt first
    • Have everyone walk on the rail and listen
      • If they horse’s motion helps them focus
      • If they are more advanced and do not need to practice at the halt first
    • Incorporate the arena set up to make lining up easier
      • if you have a series of cones or poles, ask them each to halt at a cone or pole (probably tell each rider specifically which one you want them to stop at)
  • How to Run Practices & Activities
    • One at a time from the halt – everyone line up at one end or on the rail, and take turns, ex: barrel racing pattern
    • One at a time from the walk – everyone stay on the rail walking, while one rider goes at a time, ex: the first rider trots all the way around the arena to the end of the line
    • Everyone at once – ex: the next rider starts the trail pattern as soon as the rider before her is on the second obstacle; everyone trots the long walls and walks the short ones
    • Note: it is not preferred to make riders stop and wait because they are losing valuable movement input from the horse, but you may need to have them stop if you don’t have much arena space, the rest break is good for them, you have something productive for them to do while halted, or they learn best by watching others do it
  • Managing Talking
    • The instructor is the primary speaker – if you are speaking, the sidewalkers should be listening as an example to the rider (not distracting the rider)
    • If too many people are talking to the rider (such as both sidewalkers at once) gently designate only one sidewalker as “speaker” so the rider can focus (and perhaps switch speakers halfway through the lesson).  The sidewalker may need direct instruction about when to talk – such as a rider that needs them to wait 5 seconds for processing time before repeating the instructions.
    • If the leader is talking too much to the rider, gently remind them that you need them to focus on the horse, as it’s unsafe for the leader to keep looking back and talking to the rider.
    • Give the rider and volunteers opportunities to talk! A good relationship between the team helps the rider relax, improves the rider’s experience, and can motivate the rider. Opportunities to chat might include letting them chat during warm ups, giving them questions to ask each other during warm ups or before the lesson or while waiting for others to mount, letting them chat during tack checks, etc.
    • The key is to keep it short and at appropriate times – the amount of talking (both conversational and instructive) should be beneficial to the rider, and not interfere with the rider’s ability to pay attention to their riding or to the instructor. Remember, in the end it is the instructor’s responsibility to return the rider’s attention to the task at hand.
  • Plan Your Arena Management
    • When you are first learning to teach, include in your lesson plan:
      • where to mount
      • where to go after
      • where to do each tack check
      • where and how to reverse each time
      • what you’ll do if things don’t go as planned (ex: the first rider misses the corner you asked them to turn at)
    • It probably won’t go exactly as you planned, but at least you have thought about it and are prepared, especially regarding what types of turns your riders can handle.
  • Be flexible!
    • As always, adjust to how the riders and horses are doing today.
    • Ex) If you planned to mount then have the rider stand right after to get their stirrups BUT the horse today is antsy, have them walk a few laps to calm down and get their stirrups later.
    • Ex) If you planned to mount and have them line up for stirrups and a tack check right away, but notice one rider is especially tense after mounting, have them walk a few laps to relax their legs before asking them to stretch their legs down for their stirrups.
  • Consider Consistency
    • It may help to always manage your arena the same way – such as always doing the mount, stirrups, and tack check the same way. Some riders do better when things are always the same, as they know what to expect – some volunteers, too! Once they know the usual routine, you won’t have to explain so much every time and you can depend on your volunteers more for guiding the rider.
    • For riders who need an additional challenge or get bored with repetition, changing up your arena management choices can help keep them on their toes and focused.

For some more ideas for groups in particular, check out the post Group Arena Management!

What are the arena/class management techniques that you have found the most helpful in your instructing?



Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement! If you would like to contribute an activity or article, please contact me here, I would love to hear from you!



3 thoughts on “Teaching Techniques: Arena Management

  1. I find your posts invaluable! I am in the processing of gaining my PATH certificate remotely (I’m in Canada) and this blog and the blog have been fantastic!

    • I’m so glad you find the blog so useful! That’s my hope for it 🙂 Especially for those remotely learning or with less resources. Best of luck to your certification journey!

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