Warm-up arena etiquette

When it comes to competing at a show, both horse and rider usually find the warm-up arena more stressful than the actual ring. The warm-up arena is a chaotic place, and a rider who doesn’t exercise arena courtesy only makes things worse. A rider who gets in the way is not only frustrating but also poses a danger to the other horses and riders. Don’t let that person be you! Follow these steps and make the warm-up arena the least of your worries come show day.

  1. Stirrups and girth

Before you mount, check the length of your stirrups and the tightness of your girth. Once you’re on and before you go into the warm-up, check again and adjust your stirrups if you need to.

  1. Pass correctly

We are constantly reminded to pass left shoulder to left shoulder, but somehow there’s always a rider who forgets. Be diligent about keeping to the outside track if you’re on the left rein and leaving enough space for a rider to pass if you’re on the right rein.

  1. Paces

As a rule of thumb, slower gaits work on the inside track and faster gaits work on the outside track. That means that if you are at a walk or trot, stay off the arena barrier so that a horse working at a canter can come past on the outside track. At the same time, be mindful of the space you need to allocate to riders traveling in the opposite direction – it’s a mess, we know!

  1. Keep your distance

A red ribbon in a horse’s tail indicates that he is a kicker, and a green ribbon indicates that the horse is young or inexperienced. While it is especially important to give these horses their space, try and keep at least one horse length in between you and the horse in front of you at all times. If you are overtaking, pass with as much space as possible – those side kicks are no joke!

  1. Check your ‘blind spot’

Just like when driving a car, have a look over your shoulder before you turn or pass another rider. You never know who might be coming around the corner at a canter. The same goes for when you’re stopping – look behind and next to you that you’ve got enough space to slow down without another rider ending up on your horse’s hind-end!

  1. Misbehaving horses

If another horse in the arena is starting to act up, it’s best to safely come back to a walk or halt until the rider is back in control. Try to be understanding and patient and continue your warm-up once it is safe to do so again. If it’s your horse who is performing, inform the riders around you to keep clear. Try not to make the situation worse by shouting or panicking. Try to calm your horse by talking to him or reassuring him by rubbing his neck. Sit as still as you can – don’t start pulling on the reins or kicking him forward. Once he’s calm, walk him around a few times before resuming your warm-up.

  1. Save your socialising for later

Possibly one of the most frustrating things in a warm-up arena is a group of riders plodding along having a chat, while unfairly blocking the path for other riders. The warm-up arena is not a place for social gatherings. Rather chat and catch up outside the warm-up arena where you won’t be in the way.

  1. Warm-up fences

At a jumping show, a warm-up arena will usually consist of a cross in the middle and an upright and oxer on either side. Ensure that you approach the jumps with the red flag on your right and the white flag on your left. If there is high traffic in the arena, be vocal to the riders around you and announce which jump you are approaching by calling out “cross”, “upright” or “oxer”. There’s no need to scream, just be loud enough that the riders in your immediate vicinity can hear you. Make sure you have someone helping in the arena to pick up poles or change heights. When it comes to the height of the jump, make sure you adjust the jump back to its original height so that other riders don’t have to go over it too big or too small. Do not change a cross into an upright, or an oxer into an upright or cross.

  1. Instructors

Coaches and instructors should help from the sidelines rather than from inside the arena, unless they are helping the rider to adjust the jumps or pick up poles. Riders should never stop in the track to speak to the instructor over the fence. Rather exit the arena if you need to have a long discussion or if you are struggling to hear.

  1. In an emergency

In the event that a rider falls off or a horse gets loose, all riders in the arena must immediately halt and are also advised to dismount until the loose horse is caught. A loose horse very quickly creates havoc amongst other horses. Try your best to stay calm and focus on controlling your own horse. If a rider looks to be injured, alert a paramedic (who is always on standby at a show) for medical attention.

  1. Young horses gaining experience

Some riders bring along their young or inexperienced horse to have a taste of the warm-up arena before they enter a show. This way, the horse is not so unfamiliar with the environment on the day it matters. If you are bringing your youngster along to school him in the warm-up arena, do so towards the end of the class when there are fewer riders in the arena. You can always hold him on the outside of the arena during high traffic and he can watch the others – chances are he’ll be calmer too by the time you get on.

  1. Lunging your horse

Never lunge your horse in the warm-up arena, even if you think there is enough space. If your horse is fresh or starts to buck or gallop while on the lunge, other horses may spook, buck their rider or try to bolt as a reaction. If you need to lunge your horse before getting on, take him far away from the warm-up arena and parking lot to an open piece of even land. Ideally, ask the groundsmen if you can use their lunging arena.

  1. Listen out

Keep an ear on the arena steward to hear where they are in the running order and listen out for the number they’re calling in. If you know you are going to run late for a valid reason, inform the judges and the steward ahead of the class. Don’t wait until they’re calling your number to tell them that you’ll be going out of order.

  1. Be polite

The warm-up arena is a stressful place for horses and riders! Be polite to the riders around you. Let them know when you’re coming past by saying, “passing by on your left.” Thank those who have been courteous to you with a smile or a nod. Apologise if your horse is not co-operating or if you have done something wrong. Be patient around young horses or novice riders. Offer your help if you see someone struggling. It’s a tough sport so be encouraging to one another!