There’s No Room for Rudeness in the Warm-Up Ring

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I really don’t get it when riders can’t follow the “rules of the road” when sharing a ring with other riders. I see it a lot in the warm-up ring at shows. I often wonder if rude riders never have to share ring space at home and thus don’t learn polite behavior when out in public.

Horses of all levels can come at you from all directions in a dressage show warm-up ring. In the foreground is a young hunter rider trying her first dressage show while in the background is a Grand Prix stallion. Both riders have their eyes up and are looking ahead.

Horses of all levels can come at you from all directions in a dressage show warm-up ring. In the foreground is a young hunter rider trying her first dressage show while in the background is a Grand Prix stallion. Both riders have their eyes up and are looking ahead.

I suppose it’s also possibly the nature of the dressage rider. We tend to be too much within ourselves, focused on our own riding and our own horse. Our eyes are on the poll, not on the track ahead. I think, though, this is just another form of bad riding. Your eyes need to be up and you need to be aware of the space around you if you want your horse to fill that space, to go forward with confidence and expression.

I did most of my early riding in very crowded rings, so crowded that often a one-way rule was established – everyone went the same way until the senior rider in the ring called out for everyone to reverse. One barn I was in might have six or eight riders in the small indoor ring at the same time, with maybe a couple jumping lessons and a flat lesson going on at the same time. Looking up was a matter of survival, and everyone did. No one collided.

Then there was the time I spent at Lendon Gray’s Gleneden Farm. The indoor was both shorter and wider than a standard dressage arena. There would often be six or more horses in there, ranging from walk/trotters to Olympic riders, all sharing the same space. Someone would be schooling changes, someone doing half-passes, someone doing walk pirouettes, someone learning to trot a round circle. There might be an instructor tucked into each corner, with several lessons going on at the same time. No one crashed into anyone else or cut anyone off, because if you did the wrath of Lendon would come down on your head.

Besides the left hand-to left hand mantra, Lendon had several basic rules for sharing the ring:

1. If you are schooling circles, stay inside the track so others can easily go around you.

2. Don’t halt or free walk on the track. Don’t walk on the track at all, unless absolutely necessary or you’re alone.

3. Don’t walk side-by-side, which prevents others from passing.

4. Keep your eyes UP.

I have often heard that lessons should be given priority and that makes a bit of sense. However, it is still no excuse to constantly look down and take the chance you might collide. In Lendon’s ring, with multiple lessons at the same time, who would have priority? The answer is to look out for everyone, not just yourself.

The first time I had a lesson at Lendon’s was with an assistant instructor young enough to be my granddaughter. There was only one other rider in the ring at the time, and I didn’t realize she was behind me on the inside track. I went to do a transition from trot to walk and my horse unexpectedly stepped sideways. The instructor absolutely shredded me: “If you thought there was any chance at all your horse wouldn’t stay straight, you should have waited until the other rider was past you,” she practically screamed. “You don’t ever cut someone else off. It’s dangerous and it’s rude.”

I thought I was pretty good with ring rules, but this brought my awareness to a whole different level. Yes, I may still spend too much time looking down at the poll but not when someone else is anywhere near my line of travel.

Common sense and courtesy sometimes seem at a premium at a show in the warm-up ring. I’ve actually heard people call out that they “own” the rail or the diagonal or maybe even the whole ring to practice a freestyle. No, they don’t. It’s shared space. You need to look up at all times. You need to call lines. You don’t stand on the rail and gab with your friends. If you are just schooling and not warming up for a test right away, you need to be thoughtful for those who are on deck.

The advent of headsets for coaching has changed things up somewhat in warmup rings. You no longer have as much shouting, and you are less likely to serpentine around instructors standing in the middle. But a headset also tends to create a cocoon effect, with the rider tuning out everything going on around them. When that happens, crashes are more likely to occur unless riders keep their eyes up.

Sometimes warm-up ring issues happen with riders who don’t have decent manners, but often they happen with riders who are otherwise a model of politeness on the ground. They just can’t think of anyone but themselves when they warming up for a test at a show, maybe because they are concentrating too much or have a case of nerves. But, if you are going to go to a show and enter that shared sandbox, you must learn to play well with others, not just for the safety of others but for your own safety as well. 

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