My favorite dressage exercises for a small arena

Having an indoor arena in which to ride is awesome. When it’s 20 degrees outside and the wind is blowing 15 miles an hour, it’s miserable. While it isn’t much warmer in the arena, it’s a lot less windy, which counts for a lot! 

Gina appreciates the indoor!
However, the indoor isn’t very big. It’s smaller than a small-sized dressage arena. It gets uncomfortable when you have more than one horse in there- especially so when the other horse and rider are beginners with questionable steering skills! (It isn’t quite so bad when the other horse and rider are capable of avoiding you!) 
Since I ride early in the morning before anyone else is at the barn, I have free rein in the indoor. I typically work on my dressage skillz. I don’t have a lot of space, so I don’t do a lot of work on things like extended trot, or even much leg yielding along straight lines (like on/off the rail or on the diagonal) since it’s such a small space.
Here’s what I do instead;
Spiral in/spiral out at all gaits: I particularly love this exercise. It’s very effective for getting Gina supple and bending. It also helps engage her hindquarters, which is something we sometimes struggle with!
Transitions: I feel like half of my ride is spent doing transitions. I do them on the rail- sometimes every 15 strides, sometimes in each corner, sometimes at E and B. Having a small arena really prevents us from getting strung out or stressed out. 
Square corners: I’ll ride very, very deep into the corner, halt, and do a turn on the haunches, then proceed at a walk or trot. I find this to be helpful in getting Gina focused if she gets mentally zoned out with circles and figure-eights! 
No reins/no stirrups: When warming up, I frequently knot my reins and drop them. I stretch my arms up, make big circles with them to loosen up my shoulders, and twist back and forth with my arms out. I’ll also ride with them clasped behind my back for a bit. The arena is small enough that Gina sort of putzes around at an ambling walk or trot and I never feel like she’ll get away from me. (It’s a lot like being on a longe line!) When we’re both warmed up and working, I drop my stirrups and work on sitting trot and canter. I sometimes feel like a sack of potatoes, but I can tell it makes a difference in my riding! When I really feel like torturing myself, I drop both at the same time.
Anyone else stuck in a tiny arena? What kind of things do you like to do?

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

9 thoughts on “My favorite dressage exercises for a small arena”

  1. Unfortunately I don't have an indoor anymore, but it was big enough for a few people, as long as they were courteous (which they rarely were unless it was the rough board girls and I). Now B and I just have an outdoor and it's big enough to share which is great. Even when there are kids having starter lessons. The BM likes to teach when other people are riding because it's more realistic (as long as your horse isn't being a dick). Other than that, we're allowed to hack a little out in the fields if needed which is nice as long as we don't tear it up too bad. Having a small arena is never too bad if you don't have to share, it's like make shift round pen which I'm always okay with.

    1. Our outdoor is definitely big enough to share, too! I love it. I'm also super into hacking out in our hay fields when it isn't so cold. I turned into a big weenie at some point…

  2. Such fab exercises, I hope to pinch some of these when I camber back aboard my beasties – we need to buckle down to a bit more serious work on transitions – spirals are a fab tool imo. I also love (sorry for lack of a better description) the S-bend to s hang the rein.
    Namely a bending semi circle on the short side of the arena 2-3 straight strides then bend back the other way for another semi – circle = a fun exercise which doesn't take up much room.
    If I'm not making sense I'll try to get someone to video my attempting it on my in fit girls *blush*

  3. ooh interesting! i need to add the 'hands free' bit to my warm up routine – give the horse a little while to just walk around and chill while i loosen up my upper body… i like it!

  4. Sometimes I'll do seat work in the round pen on my trustier animals – pull the stirrups off, knot the reins, close my eyes, and start talking to myself. "okay, there are the back muscles and now the inside hind is doing…" you know, whatever inane babble I have for myself at the time

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