Learn the lingo: Different types of equine facilities
When it comes to equestrian sports, there are a lot of terms to learn. Even narrowing your focus to the types of places people ride horses returns more than a dozen options. The good news? With a little practice, you’ll be speaking our language in no time!
Most often, the place where you ride a horse is called an “arena” or a “ring.” These facilities can be indoors or outdoors, depending on your location and the type of activity you’re doing.
Types of horse riding facilities
This is the most universal term for the location where people ride horses. An arena describes a (typically) rectangular space that is usually enclosed on all sides by fencing, walls, low-hung chains, or other boundaries like pruned shrubberies.
The interior of the space, though, should be free from any structures like posts or beams that could interfere with riding.
Arenas can be located inside or outside, and riders often refer to ‘the indoor’ or ‘the outdoor’ as shorthand.
Depending on the location, the type of riding, and the property owner’s budget, common arena sizes are 60′ wide by 120′ long or 80′ wide by 200′ long. That said, some spaces are much smaller. Others are larger, like those used at Olympic competitions.
Generally, dressage riders tend to gravitate to the term “arena.”
This label is synonymous with “arena” when it comes to equestrian terminology. You’ll hear this name a lot if you head to a horse show of any size. Competitions often run multiple classes simultaneously, so the event program may note “ring 1,” “ring 2,” etc. to specify which arena is hosting which classes.
Generally, jumpers tend to gravitate to the term “ring.”
Horses can also be ridden on a big dirt or grass oval called a track. This is most common in the horse racing world, whether it’s race horses that are ridden by jockeys, horses that pull drivers in carts, or a race with jumps called a steeplechase.
Just to be confusing (sorry rookies!), you may also hear phrases like:
- Track right: This means to ride in a clockwise direction.
- Track left: This means to ride in a counterclockwise direction.
- Stay on the track: This means to ride along the rail, or the edge or the arena.
You’ve probably seen plenty of photos of riders galloping through open fields, and those are certainly viable places to ride (as long as the footing/ground is safe).
You may also hear the term “field” used to describe a cross country jumping field or a polo field.
Cross country is one of the three phases within the sport of eventing (along with dressage and stadium jumping).
Polo is a fast-paced team sport where riders try to score points by hitting a small ball through the opposing team’s goal.
If a rider is short on space, or if they’re training a younger horse, they might ride in something called a round pen.
A round pen is a circular (hence the name) enclosure typically made from metal panels fastened together. A metal gate allows access in and out of the pen.
Some round pens are made with wood sides instead of using metal panels.
This term may be used interchangeably with “field,” though often times “pasture” describes a large open space used to graze horses vs. a field used to grow crops.
At larger competitions, you might watch horses and riders in a true stadium. These are larger spaces with spectator seating around the outside.
Many equestrians love riding out in nature instead of in arenas, and they are often called trail riders. Trails are normally narrow dirt paths through woods and other natural spaces. Footing varies greatly, from carefully maintained trails to very rough and rocky pathways.
Rookie Tip: Be sure to check what types of animals and vehicles are allowed on a particular trail before setting out!
You’ll hear the terms “corral” or “pen” used most often in a western riding context.
Sometimes pens have other livestock, like cattle, in them that horses are used to control. Other times, cowboys and cowgirls use “corral” to describe any smaller paddock-style space where limited riding is done.
These are not spaces where you would practice complicated movements, but rather ranch-style work spaces used for particular for a particular purpose (e.g. sorting cows).
Few places are as breathtaking to ride horses as the beach! Whether you’re taking a warm-weather vacation or enjoying a crisp beach ride in the midst of autumn, a good gallop in the sand will refresh your soul.
If you’re watching a barrel race, you’ll hear the term “alley” used to describe the narrow chute space leading to the arena.
Riders use the alley to gain speed so they enter the arena very quickly. It’s also where riders slow down their horses after running the barrel pattern.
In the eventing world, equestrians ride a cross country “course” that spans an entire field or other natural space. For large competitions, like the Rolex in Kentucky, courses are miles long.
Note: A “course” is also used to describe the order of jumps.
The other instance for this term is in an obstacle course, where riders navigate a pattern that includes physical obstacles or challenges in a particular order.
A broader location for riding can be a ranch, which describes an entire property vs. a specific enclosure. Typically, ranches are western style — and they’re a popular choice for horseback riding vacations.
Depending where you live, riding the roads can be a wonderful change of scenery from arena work. Be sure to choose low-traffic roads, ideally dirt (vs. pavement) that your horse can travel safely and comfortably.
Your horse should also be “traffic safe,” meaning he doesn’t spook at passing cars, trucks, bicycles, or people walking their dogs.
Barn or Stable
As riders, one of our favorite phrases is “I’m going to the barn!” This is another broad term, interchangeable with a stable, used to describe a property where horses are kept and ridden.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I exercise my horse without an arena?
Not every private barn or boarding facility has an arena, but don’t worry: there are lots of options for exercising your horse without one.
If your horse is car safe, you can always ride along some quiet back roads. Hacking out, or trail riding, is another great option. You can still practice leg yields and transitions, and your horse will appreciate a few long trots.
If you have a trailer, see if there are any tracks or arenas nearby. Many will allow people to haul in and use the facilities (though some may charge a fee).
You can also lunge or ride your horse in whatever pasture or open space is available on the property.
How big should a horse arena be?
Arena size recommendations often vary based on discipline. A dressage arena can be as small as 60’ x 120’, whereas a hunter or jumper arena should be closer to 80’ x 200’ (100’ x 200’ is better).
If the arena is covered, the ceiling should be at least 16’. If large groups will be in the arena, consider making it longer.
Sometimes, arena size comes down to budget. Always make the arena as large as your budget permits to allow more flexibility during training. Consider whether you really need the arena to be covered (leaving it open can often save thousands of dollars).
No matter where you ride, the important thing is to enjoy yourself. And the best way to do that? Educate yourself so you can have a safe and fun experience.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
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