Arena Anxiety? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 4 Old 04-18-2010, 09:11 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Ohio, USA
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Arena Anxiety?

Is it possible for a horse to have arena anxiety? I've noticed when I ride Gun outside the arena, he's much more relaxed, looking around, and listens very well to stopping. When we go into the arena, he becomes tense, moves out a lot more, is extremely sensitive to leg, and doesn't want to stop moving. In the arena, he tucks into the classic dressage headset immediately, without me asking (not that I know how to ask). Outside, he raises his head.

This is an arena I've only ridden him in very lightly, with no pressure to perform, no one watching us. I don't lunge or train him in the arena, and there is no equipment sitting out. I've done it some bareback and some with saddle, and he reacts the same way.

He does have a history of ulcers and had been pinfired in the past, leading me to believe he was competed rather hard. Could he have some form of performance anxiety? How do I help him with it?

"Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high. Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky. And live like you ain't afraid to die...don't be scared, jut enjoy the ride." - Chris LeDoux
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post #2 of 4 Old 04-19-2010, 07:13 AM
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: Ontario, Canada
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My horse is the same way! Well, for her it's not anxiety. It's because she's extremely bored staring at the boring wooden walls of the arena and doing a bunch of the same patterns she already knows how to do. My horse gets bored, so she makes fun for herself (by spooking at stupid things, trying to run, ignoring me and things such as that). She's a natural trail horse, and as soon as we go outside exploring a new environment she's totally chill and is looking around but isn't spooky. Even outside though, if we just do the same thing day after day she gets really bored and really difficult to handle. It could also be that your horse has had a bad experience in the arena.
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post #3 of 4 Old 04-20-2010, 12:59 AM
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Location: Australia
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Definitely. Horses don't generalise well & are very aware of particular details, circumstances & environments, so it's common for them to behave differently in different environments. For eg. a lot of horses are trained & ridden almost solely in arenas, and when they are taken out into the wide open, they blow a fuse, because they're neither trained in that environment, or comfortable & confident in it.

It sounds to me as if your horse was trained rather forcefully/mechanically to perform in the arena. That he goes into automatic, robotic kind of mode when in there. That he wasn't taught to be comfortable, relaxed, confident in this environment. If you want to change this, get him left-brained & thinking, not just reacting to his 'programming', I'd be inclined to just go there & hang out with him, feed him, groom, walk around with him, etc. Once he's confident & relaxed just being there, then you can try same sorts of things when you're aboard.
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post #4 of 4 Old 04-20-2010, 10:26 AM
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: New York
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I agree with Loosie ,he is going through the check list of expectations. Change that expectation . The way to do this is make things better for him when he relaxes. When a horse has experienced alot of pressure to perform without thoughfull preparation on the trainers part THIS IS WHAT YOU GET, A SCARED MINDLESS HOLLOW ROBOT. The way to prevent this is to allow enough time for the horse to process the request. Too often we stack up pressure until the horse does what we want. The problem with this is our focus is on the pressure. The focus should be on what we want the horse to do. When that happens the release comes in when the horse is reacting not thinking. You want your horse to think ,they are able to do this when we are polite enough in the set up. If I am understanding your horse correctly just being in the arena is pressure. Look for things you can clearly show your horse. It doesn't matter how simple they might be. The thinking here is when he is soft in his reaction ,things will get better for him. Look for signs of him relaxing ,blinking ,lowering his head,yawning,chewing,feeling soft. If it helps start outside before reintroducing the arena. The good news is he trying for you. Help him out by showing him what you want is for him to rexlax. When you can do this all the other stuff will reappear with a much better look.
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