I enjoy browsing real estate listings. I feel like I get a personal tour of each property and then get to mentally assess if it’s worth (in my mind) the asking price or not. I love seeing the houses, with their custom kitchens and big showers, but it’s a real bonus if it’s a horse property. If so, I generally scroll right past the home photos and go straight to the pictures of the barn and arena.
I’ve noticed, both from my meddling on Zillow and from actual in-person arena visitation, every arena has it’s own atmosphere and vibe. Some of the arenas I’ve seen are so pristine, crisp, worked over and beautiful, I feel just as uncomfortable riding my horse around in them as I would sitting on someone’s white fabric couch after a 3-hour bareback ride. I know the goal is to have a good place to ride a horse in, but too much perfection makes us horse people feel out of our zone (although, if it’s climate controlled, I can usually put up with the perfection for an afternoon or two).
I’ve also been to arenas that offer a total immersion experience for your young horses – that is, they will have exposure to all sorts of things one could never even imagine. There’s a plastic graveyard of kid’s play kitchens and swings sets in the corners. There are blankets, sheets and more than100 dusty bits and pieces of bridles and tack draped over the dilapidated panels. Riders can count on old banners catching the wind with sponsors that haven’t been active businesses since 1996, and a cresty ol’ burro in a holding pen on the outskirts. There may be an emu, definitely dogs underfoot and, no doubt, lots of stories behind each crumbling foot of its walls. Every gate has a special combination to get in and out of it (such as: push down, pull toward and lift), and, if you’re super-strategic, you may even find a spot here and there with footing good enough to pull off a little slide when you stop.
The most important thing that adds to the vibe of any arena is the atmosphere around it. Not every situation fits for every type of rider and trainer. Our own arena swings between a have a quiet, focused space that’s challenging but comfortable, and a loud, chaotic, colorful scene, depending on the time of the year, who the DJ is and how many kids are on ponies.
Of course, beyond pure aesthetics, we can’t rule out the general demeanor of the riders, trainers and horses that inhabit each arena. Sometimes, it’s a relaxed party with witty jabs going back and forth and a cabana boasting three different beers and several types of whiskey. Some arenas are all business, with a hushed environment and an intensity and focus amongst those riding and using the space. Most of the ones I know and love swing between both extremes. They are set up as a place to enjoy and share our desire to ride horses, but also offer a space to learn in, train in and shut out the rest of the world, when need-be.
To be honest? I would just as soon take a trot outside as I would be confined to the walls of an arena, but I understand the benefits. I’m thankful we establish places to gather with good footing and a place to trap a cow. I’ll still scroll through my listings, and I’ll still drop my jaw in awe at some of the places I’m lucky enough to go ride my ponies and colts. I’ve always got my notepad and camera ready to capture ideas and inspiration, but if there’s something I’ve learned from all the arenas I’ve seen and the places I’ve galloped around: there’s no place like home.