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Does Arena Size Matter? by Monty Bruce



Monty Bruce

Monty Bruce

Monty Bruce – I get asked the question often:  What size of arena do you prefer to train in?  My answer:  The bigger the better.

In the north country that can be tough because of the winter months.  We are confined to in-door arenas and some of them can be small.  Small is better than nothing but as soon as I can, I am in a bigger out door arena or out side.  There are several problems that can arise from using a small pen.  Horses will tend to get chargey and pushy in a small pen; especially in reining maneuvers or fence work training.  In our rundowns to stop, they will either get chargey or short out, not wanting to free up and move out.  Our horses are thinking: it’s such a short distance, the wall is right there, if I fly down there I’ll get to stop or they think the wall is so close I’m not going to run so they move, bound up, with the stop on their mind.

Monty Bruce

Lead changes are a big thing that can be tough in a small pen.  When we ask for a lead change, our horses can get pushy and chargey because they know if they resist us a wall will come soon and they will have to turn, often times allowing them to get out of changing for us.  Horses have to be loping free, relaxed and not pushing or leaning in order to change leads, lope circles, rundowns or stop effectively and smoothly.  When they are in a small pen it is just natural they are going to lean on the walls.  The solution…..wide open spaces.
As soon as I can I get my horse out into the open spaces; such as a pasture or a bean field, where I have a lot of room to free up my horse and take the pushiness out of them.  I’ll start off by loping circles, then put my hand down or turn loose of the reins and see where my horse will take me. Just let him go.  If my horse drifts to the right I will pick up and pull him to the left.  If he drifts or leans to the left, I will pull him to the right.  Whichever way he pushes or leans, I will pull him the opposite way to eventually take all the push and lean out of them and teach our horse to stay right with us and to wait on us to tell them which way to go.  I will also use a straight gravel road to help take the lean and push out of my horses when I am working on lead changes.

Monty Bruce

A common problem when working on lead changes in a small pen is that the horse will get chargey and lean because they know if they get to the wall first it’s harder for you to change them and they have to turn.  On a straight gravel road a horse gets chargey, pushy or speeds up, I let him and keep asking him to change.  After about five miles of that he’s looking to slow down and back off because they start to realize that there is no fence to stop at or no end to this pen.  He also has no way to judge when I will ask him for a lead change like they can in the arena to help take away the anticipation which removes the pushiness from the lead change.

So keep in mind when we are training for lead changes, circles or rundowns. If our horses get pushy or chargey, maybe it’s time to get into a big arena or better yet out into the wide open to help get our horses relaxed, freed up and take out some of the anticipation.

Till next time, keep riding.


Monty Bruce is a multi-time Reined Cow Horse and Reining Futurity and Derby champion. Monty, his assistants, and students have won numerous World and Reserve championships and are continuing to succeed in the show pen.

The Monty Bruce Training Center is a full-service equine facility that specializes in Reined Cow Horse, Reining, and the Performance Horse.  The Center strives to provide superior care and training for all equine needs. Visit for more info.


READ ARTICLES BY MONTY BRUCE   Monty’s Official Website


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