Horse show warm-up rings can be busy enough to strike fear in even the most-seasoned professional’s heart. Use these tips to survive the chaos so you can shine in the show ring.
By Sarah E. Coleman
As the weather gets colder, warming up before a dressage test or jumping round becomes even more important to keep equine limbs and muscles limber. However, with the onset of cooler temps comes the issue of limited space to warm up, as all competitors are forced to do their riding preparation indoors before stepping into the show ring.
The warm-up can be a chaotic place for even the most seasoned exhibitors. Horses seem like they are going every which way, people are calling (or not calling) fences you happen to be riding by and without fail there is at least one horse who is truly losing his mind. Add in trainers calling out instructions to their students, people standing and having a chat on the rail or in the middle of the ring, and you have one potentially harrowing experience, for both humans and horses.
So how can you make the most of your show-ring prep time? While many of these are common sense, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of how to make the warm up as safe as possible for all horses and riders.
- Make sure you are 100 percent prepared to work before you walk into the warm-up ring. This means having the girth tightened, helmet secured, stirrups adjusted and gloves on.
- Keep a safe distance between horses. At least one horse length between you and any other horse (and more space for more-anxious horses) ensures your safety and that of your horse.
- Always pass left shoulder to left shoulder.
- Go with the flow of traffic whenever possible. Some horses cannot mentally handle other horses coming at them head on, no matter how many warm-up rings they have been ridden in.
- Look where you’re going. Yes, your horse’s ears are super cute, but looking up and using your peripheral vision will help you know where others are in the ring to keep you both safe.
- Speed takes the rail. If you’re going slower than others in the ring, or if you’re working on specific movements or lateral work, stick to the inside track.
- If you’re in a warm up ring for jumping, be sure to call your fence, every time. If there are multiple warm-up fences, call out which one you’re taking (red cross rail, middle vertical, oxer, etc.) so others have time to get out of the way.
- In a jump schooling ring, if at all possible, avoid the urge to circle. If you don’t see a distance, riding to the side of the fence is preferable to circling and potentially getting in another rider’s way.
- If you’re sitting on a coffee-and-chat horse that doesn’t need a lot of show-ring prep, get in the ring, school and get out. Don’t lollygag around, chatting with friends or riding multiple riders abreast. Others need the limited space in the ring more than you do.
Remember that the warm-up ring is not a place to train your horse; it’s meant to be a place to go in, show the horse his surroundings and work off some anxious energy before going in to compete. Additionally, if your horse truly is having a breakdown in the warmup, it’s best to remove yourself from the situation before you make things worse of other riders. Your best bet to warm up may be hacks up and down the driveway or lunging in a smaller area outside of the designated warm-up ring.
Minding your manners and being aware of other riders goes a long way to making the warm-up ring safe for both horses and riders. Understanding that you may not get to work on everything you would like to and remaining flexible will allow you to have a safe, productive warm-up ride and set the stage for a stellar show-ring round.