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Warm Up Ring Etiquette

Published on 5/28/2018

Just in time for the WDAA Western Dressage World Championship Show, Nicole Chastain brings us some tips on surviving and thriving in that most dreaded of arenas: The warm up ring! 

Nicole has navigated the warm up rings of many western disciplines (including cow events), hunter/jumper arenas, eventing trials, and traditional dressage courts, and survived them all. She went on to earn her USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals for dressage, and graduated from the USDF “L” Judging Program. Thanks Nicole for these very timely tips for the Western Dressage warm up! And to those showing at Worlds, good luck and good fun to all!

So you want to show?
You’ve spent months in preparation, hundreds of dollars on lessons, you’ve picked your outfit to perfectly compliment your horse’s gleaming coat. Your trailer was serviced recently, your truck just got new tires, your entry is in, you know your tests, everything is packed…what haven’t you prepared for? You’re ready.

You get to the show, unload your gear, get settled and you’re ready to school.  You enter the warm-up ring to start walking, visualizing your test, remembering all of the things you need to work on…And whoa!!! Your horse bolts off, considering a buck…What was that?! Was that really a horse loping right up your rear? And just as you look up and start to get control, whoa – here comes another one right at you, and it’s going right- no left- no right….Duck! Wait, your horse doesn’t know the duck command! Ugh.

The daunting Warm-Up Ring. Anyone who competes has to endure it. And let’s face it- this is a place where not everyone is at their best.  You have a lot of energy from pure environment: Lots of horses + a very small space = Lots of energy. You’ve heard the expression ‘Unbridled Enthusiasm,’ right? Throw in different levels of riders, varying ages of horses, show ring nerves, 7 a.m. cold and foggy ride times and you definitely have added to your show challenges.

So how do you negotiate a warm up arena, stay safe and use your time productively to not only prepare your horse but also get yourself in the proper state of mind to show? Besides knowing your horse and riding your plan, (which of course you and your trainer have developed over those hundreds of dollars worth of lessons), you need to know that there are some proper rules, etiquette if you will, to using the warm up areas.

  1.  First, and most importantly, if your horse is just too high – he rates past 8 on the ‘I wanna get off and take up golf scale’- you may want to bypass the Warm Up ring and find the designated lunging area for the show. Often it is not the same area used for riding warm ups. This will allow you to get some of that fresh energy off without putting yourself or others in harm’s way.
  2. This can be tricky; in the Western Dressage world you are blending two cultures. If you come from a  Western background this is the norm:  Walking, stay to the inside; jogging goes out to next loop; loping, you stay to the outside.  If the ring is busy you will do best if everyone stays going the same direction until someone, (and that may need to be you), requests that the arena reverse direction.  If you are coming from a Dressage background, the same rules apply, but when you are going different directions from one another the traffic going around the rail, or outside of the ring, always passes left hand to left hand. Those practicing figures like circles or serpentines, or movements like turn on the forehand or turn on the haunches, stay to the inside of the arena (still abiding the pass left to left with one another).  I have been to Western Dressage shows where I see a blend of both of the above happening, and others that were just plain chaos…..I imagine from misunderstanding the differences between the above two. In general faster traffic moves to the rail, slower traffic moves in.
  3. When in doubt, shout.  Ok, no not literally.  But if you are headed towards someone and are not sure who is going where say “outside” or “inside” or “rail”- politely of course, but you need to be clear.  Be clear or be run over!
  4. Standing is not warming up.  If you do need to stop your horse and feel the need to “settle” for a moment, do it to the middle of the ring.  But if you want to “park” your horse and have a little social time with your friends?  Best do that outside of the Warm-Up area.
  5. Do not tie your horse up to the rail inside the Warm Up pens unless horse show management has approved this and it is obvious that this a safe place to do so.  I have seen more than one wreck from a reckless rider buzzing a tied up horse who didn’t appreciate their space being invaded….
  6. Be courteous and be kind.  Everyone is under the same pressure. Competing means something different to everyone; remember we all started somewhere, so try to be patient with new riders who may not understand the rules. Help to show them the way. You may all be competitors but remember — you are all here for the love of the horse and hopefully, the love of the journey.

Now you know what to expect from the Warm-Up ring. Go out there, ride your plan, and most importantly, enjoy the precious time with your horse that you have spent so long preparing for!  Good luck!

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