Busy riding rings: I had the chance to work medical standby at a horse show, and it gave me a different view of the warm up ring than I normally do being in it with our horses. As I sat and watched I saw riders almost collide, some riders even cutting each other off. What is awful with all of this, is riders are so focused on THEIR warm up that they don't seem to put as much care into their surroundings as they should.
Is lack of experience with busy warm up rings the issue? is the stress preventing riders from making proper decisions? Even in the best case scenario it causes more stress in an already stressful situation and upsets horses and disrupts your warm up. If all of us paid better attention to the warm up arena, it would make a world of a difference in our safety and the quality of our warm ups.
Riding in an arena you don’t normally ride in, is stressful enough. Different smells, lighting, footing. Every arena has it's demons and monsters that the horses always seem to find. You have lots of people watching you and of course you feel like everyone is judging every movement you make. Different horses and different types of riders with different riding styles. Spooky horses, hyper, lazy, small, large and green animals. Warming up is not an easy thing to do when you’re away from home(or even at home really), but the thing is we are all trying to achieve the same thing so why are we watching each other's backs.
Having grown up in France, I know that even in crowded arenas these issues can be easily dealt with. Horse shows down there never run into these issues and they sometimes have 2-3 times the amount of horses in 1 warming up arena than we have-and they do incredibly well! I don’t believe that Americans lack respect or are inherently ruder but why is this happeneing?(and being European myself I can confirm that European folks win THAT rudeness competition). I think the issue really comes down to the riders might not as educated on ring etiquette and should take it more seriously. I feel like the general handling of riding in the ring in European countries, is taken just as importantly as the competition itself. Because of this anyone making a ring etiquette mistake is dealt with immediately either by the ring stewart/ or a trainer. We need to act together as a community, treating each other better and be more courteous so that every horse in the arena feels a sense of calm and security.
I think if we all followed some basic rules(which I do see some of them followed in warm up ring, though not consistently), we would really improve this embarrassing problem that we are having. Here are some rules that I feel would make a big difference:
Continuously look around: We’re all concentrating on our own warm ups and focusing on our mount so it’s easy to forget when you’re stressed but really, do you walk around with your head down? Do you know your daily activities staring at the ground? Keeping your eye up and watching the other’s riders warm ups and respecting their space, will also allow you to anticipate where they are going next. I think it is fair to say that really young riders will likely not always follow this because of their age and lack of experience, but for everyone else there is no excuse.
Keeping your eye up will also give you an indication of the horse and rider pairs and their skill level. It will give you an idea of the personalities and overall vibe that they give off. I personally stay away from pairs that seem out of control or horses that have been dressed with a red ribbon. Perhaps there are some really spooky horses in the ring, or horses that are bullies with tail swishing and ear pinning. Those things will affect where you want to be in the ring and how you are going to plan your ride.
Passing left to left: when approaching other riders head on, passing left shoulder to left their shoulder is a safe rule. It eliminates the guessing game of who is passing who on what side.
This rule might have some exceptions when there are jumps in the ring as that might not work if they are coming across a line or otherwise. Horses coming across the diagonal, jumping a line, pairs etc etc. There is always an exception to the rule.
Speak Up!: Even in a busy ring you can be vocal about some of the things you are planning to do. A good example is a calling out “outside line!” or “yellow oxer!” so everyone no knows which way you’re going and give you the space you need. Broadcasting your intentions makes it a lot easier. If you have noticed is touchy in the arena when near horses, or you notice a horse with a red ribbon ahead of you and you are passing, call out "coming up behind/passed you?". I know I myself have had to yell “heads up” on many occasions because I’ve watched a rider not paying attention heading my way and would likely lead to a collision.
Give Others Space Your job is to be your horse’s protector starts when you first arrive on the show grounds all the way to the warm up arena, during your warm up, in your class and once you load on the trailer to head home.
I have a mare who while out fox hunting has double barrelled at other horses who have come up her rear end, and she does it without an ounce of warning. She is a phenomenal parade horse, and will babysit horses all day long and allow them to ride her bum on the parade routes. In settings where things get exciting, her tolerance for that goes out the door and she demands her space.
I have never had her kick in a warm up ring, but I have also always done everything I could, to give her as much space as I can and prevent her from getting upset and giving out a kick. I now have a 3 yr old filly that I am about to start who is also a natural alpha and it will be interesting to see how she handles a busy arena and show ring.
Let's all try to be safer out there and watch each other's backs in the warm up. At the end of the day it keeps ourselves and our horses safer.