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Acts Like a Fool in Indoor Arenas

15 August 2011 No Comment

Acts Like a Fool in Indoor Arenas
We asked horse expert Lynn McEnespy.
More about Lynn McEnespy

Dear Lynn:

Hello! I have a wonderful 9-year-old Quarter Horse who would be very competitive, but he acts like a fool in an indoor arena. When I say “acts like a fool” I mean he bucks uncontrollably and is stupid. When he is by himself or with just a few other horses he is fine, but in an actual class of 12 or so, he bucks and tries to run off. The first couple of times this happened I went to the outside warm-up ring and he was a perfect gentleman and as soon as I went back in for another class he pulled the same routine.

After several episodes with him in the indoor I refuse to waste my money by entering these classes. I have shown him successfully at several outdoor shows, but he refuses to stay on all four feet in an indoor. A trainer I asked suggested ear plugs, but I have not had time to try. If you have any suggestions I would be grateful!

Thank You!


Horses never cease to amaze me in how they can truly show they have a mind of their own – and will use it. We as riders can be really challenged to try figure out what the horse is trying to tell us. If we can actually solve the puzzle, then we have the problem of trying to get the horse to cooperate and do things our way.

If you are patient, persistent, and willing to experiment to find out what is the root of your horse’s problem, then you will be more able to influence his behavior. To begin, I would recommend you have a veterinarian assess your horses hearing and eye sight. Problems with either or both are certainly not insurmountable, but you certainly need to know what you are dealing with.

You don’t say what type of indoor arena this happens, the type with seating and spectators above the horse’s head, or the kind that is basically a big box. Many horses will be afraid of noises and moving things above their heads and act totally irrationally. The suggestion for earplugs is definitely worth a try and two wads of cotton will tell you if this is all or part of the problem.

Since your horse is fine outdoors in a large group you probably have a reasonable chance at resolving his apparent claustrophobia and resulting anxiety. Remember that horses have evolved over millennia to run from things that frighten them. That is a powerful instinct to overcome and you will have to be patient and NEVER punish him for being frightened. If you resort to anger and hurt him, he will associate that with whatever frightened him and you will have added to his fear compounding your problem.

If you can, try to take him to as many indoor arenas where other horses are working as possible. Don’t try riding him in shows yet, just going stand around in the center until he is bored out of his mind. (Probably you too!) I admit I resort to outright bribes in these situations. Carrots can also be a powerful incentive to pay attention to something other than the horse eating dragons in the arena. If necessary, lead him and just stand there.

Eventually, you should be able to start riding him in a small circle in the center and then gradually move out. If he becomes anxious, return to standing in the center or just stop and let him relax. Sometimes turning around to face traffic will help if horses running up on him from behind seem to trigger his anxiety. You will probably have to refresh this once in a while. As I said, you are trying to overcome very powerful instincts.

I am assuming you ride your horse in rail classes such as Western Pleasure? With your horse’s problem, I would strongly recommend you ride him off the rail and to the inside. This will not only be safer, but may keep him from feeling claustrophobic if he is pinned against the wall.

Lynn McEnespy

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