Bring It Inside

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Indoor arenas make great venues for horse shows. During inclement weather, the enclosure protects competitors from the wind, rain and snow. On hot days, the roof protects everyone from the beating sun.

“My arena is about ten degrees cooler than outside during the summer,” says Marianne Jackson of Twin Willows Ranch in Bend, Ore., where the high-desert sun is scorching hot during July and August. Jackson has hosted buckle-series open horse shows in her indoor arena for the past seven years and sees many benefits to holding an event indoors. Mainly, the enclosure extends the show season in an area where hail is known to fall in June and winter begins before Halloween.

Along with the benefits of holding horse shows under cover, indoor horse shows come with their own set of challenges, and there is an initial learning curve, Jackson admits. “It takes a lot of research to get it right, and then there are just things you learn along the way,” she says. With these tips, you can smooth out your own journey into an indoor horse-show venture.

Problem: Indoor arenas trap dust

Solution: Condition the arena footing

Loping horses in dried-out footing can make an indoor arena feel like a boxed-up dust devil. The swirling dust fills the lungs and eyes of horses, riders and the ground crew. To get her arena ready for shows, Jackson devotes three hours the day before to watering, raking and dragging her indoor arena. The end result is a well-manicured footing that keeps the dust down and her judges happy.

Investing in a good, dustless footing for your indoor arena is another great option if you plan to host indoor horse shows. Or, use an indoor footing conditioner to reduce the amount of water required to keep the dust down.

Ventilation also helps alleviate dust issues. “If the weather’s good, I’ll open up the doors on each end of the arena,” Jackson says.

Problem: Classes indoors feel crowded

Solution: Limit class sizes

Indoor arenas are typically smaller than their outdoor counterparts, so culling class sizes is important. Too many horses in too small a space can lead to disaster, especially in novice classes. So Jackson limits the size of classes held in her arena to “10 or 12 in regular classes, and maybe up to 15 in a walk-trot class,” she says. Any more than that can lead to chaos and put horses and riders in danger. “If a horse does get to acting up, I put a stop to the class right away and excuse the problem horse,” Jackson says.

Problem: Competitors outside mill around the in and out gates.

Solution: Create a designated catch pen

Contestants need a place to stand “on deck” for their classes to keep a show running quickly and smoothly. However, indoor arenas rarely have a catch pen or make-up pen where riders can congregate before their classes. To solve this problem, create a temporary area outside of the gate that’s only open to horses in the next class. Mark the area with cones.

On rainy days, Jackson creates a catch pen inside the indoor arena so riders have a place to stand out of the weather. The reduced arena size means reduced class sizes, but it’s a trade worth making when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. “It’s nice to be able to pull everyone inside,” she says. “It means we can show rain or shine.” And that’s the whole point of indoor shows, isn’t it?

Problem: Contestants outside or in parking areas can’t hear the class announcements coming from inside the arena

Solution: Find a way to communicate with competitors outside of the arena

For Jackson, the best solution is a bullhorn, which she uses to make important announcements, such as how long the lunch break will last. For everything else, “people have to be responsible and know when their classes are getting ready to go in,” she says. “If they miss their class, then they miss their class. They figure that out pretty quick.”

If you take the bullhorn route, find someone who isn’t shy and make it his or her job to repeat messages so contestants in the parking area hear them. Another option is to hook up an actual public-address speaker system near where people park.

Problem: Spectators clog up the indoor aisles

Solution: Designate a viewing and seating area

Spectators, usually parents and siblings at the Twin Willow shows, want to cheer on the riders. With an indoor arena, that can mean squeezing lots of people into tight quarters, often in an aisle that flanks the ring. To keep everyone one safe, Jackson bans horses and people from the barn aisles during horse shows. “I have wooden benches for people to sit on,” she says. “There’s plenty of seating and 180 feet of wall for people to hang on.”

Problem: Inexperienced horses become nervous indoors

Solution: Provide ample time for indoor warm-ups

Dark corners in indoor arenas often become hiding places for imaginary monsters. Horses, especially young or inexperienced ones, may act wary for the first few laps around. “Spooking indoors is a big thing,” Jackson emphasizes.

To create a safe experience for everyone at her shows, Jackson allows ample time in the morning for longeing and schooling. She also opens the indoor arena for practice during the lunch break. “The people who need to, get here early so they can work their horses in the arena,” she explains. “Some even haul in the night before to work their horses, and I let them rent a stall for the night if they want to. Usually, a couple laps around and everyone has calmed down.”

Problem: Dim lighting makes indoor photography difficult

Solution: Find a properly equipped professional photographer

Parents love photographs of their kids showing. Unfortunately, indoor arenas make getting great pictures nearly impossible for the average amateur shutterbug. Even for local schooling shows, consider bringing in a professional photographer to take pictures. A professional with the right lighting equipment will be able to deal with the darkness, and the riders will have the option to buy great-looking images.