The warm-up ring at a show can be a particularly interesting place to navigate. Given all the nervous horses and riders, and the general air of tension and broken focus, riders have a tendency to “step on each other’s toes”, so to speak, which often leads to an attitude of “every rider for themselves”. Consequently, riding etiquette goes out the window. However, just because other riders are being inconsiderate (whether consciously or unconsciously), that does not mean you need to follow suit.
There aren’t really any “official” rules of riding etiquette, but here are some generally known ones.
Riding Etiquette in the arena
- When riders are going in opposite directions, pass left shoulder to left shoulder.
- Do not lunge in an arena when someone else is riding there, unless you speak to her and determine a safe way to do so (i.e., the arena is large enough that you can lunge at one end while the rider stays at the other).
- Be respectful of riders in the middle of a lesson or training session.
- In the arena, give the right of way to the person riding at the fastest gait.
- Call out changes of direction or pattern.
- When approaching another rider from behind, call out whether you intend to pass him on the inside or outside.
- Do not crowd other riders.
- If you are jumping or doing other exercises, call out what fence or obstacle you are heading for.
- If you are using jumps or obstacles and your barn requires the arena be kept free, put them away as soon as you are finished using them.
- Clean up after your horse.
- Do not mount or dismount in the way/on the track, and do not stand to chat in the path of other riders.
- Avoid disturbing other people’s rides. Cracking lunge whips, yelling and so on are not productive.
- Do not free lunge while others are riding.
- Keep dogs out of the arena.
- Spectators should stand or sit outside the arena.
- Call out a warning before entering or exiting the ring, especially if you are opening or shutting a gate or door.
- If someone falls off or a horse gets loose, dismount and wait until it is safe to get back on.
Riding Etiquette in the warm-up ring
Riding etiquette rules here are similar to those you practice at home in the arena, but there are added points to consider.
- Pay attention. In a warm-up ring, there are horses of all ages, breeds and temperaments, and riders of all experience levels. Your arena at home may run smoothly with riders who are used to your barn’s etiquette, but this may not be the case in the warm-up ring. Call where you are going – when changing direction, doing a pattern, passing a rider, heading to an obstacle and so on. It is your responsibility to know what is going on around your horse.
- Try to go with the flow. If people are trotting to the left around the outside track and walking to the right on the inside track, do the same – don’t create a third track unless you have to.
- Take care of your horse. This will likely be a much busier place than the arena at home. If your horse has space or aggression issues, do what you need to maintain a proper space bubble around him. If someone seems to continually ride up close behind or beside you, politely let them know your horse is not comfortable with it, and that they are putting themselves at risk.
- Know where you are allowed to lunge your horse and where you are not. In many cases, you will not be allowed to lunge in the warm-up ring. There are usually designated lunging areas.
- Do not stand around in the warm-up ring, blocking traffic. If you are waiting for your class to start, waiting for placings, etc., leave the ring for those who need to prepare for their classes.
- Leave the ring the way you found it. If you knocked down a jump, put it back up.
Riding Etiquette on the trail
Riding etiquette on the trail is a vaguer area, probably because you are going to come across riders from every discipline, not to mention hikers, bikers and ATV users who may not know how to act around horses.
- Talk to bikers and hikers on the trail, and engage them to speak with you. Once your horse hears their voices, he will know they are human and hopefully not fear them.
- In an ideal world, bikers and ATV users will yield to horses, or at the very least slow down and pass at a respectable rate/distance.
- Unless you are riding on your own private property, leave your dog at home. Loose dogs on the trail are not usually met with enthusiasm.
- If you are riding in a group, maintain a respectful distance from the other horses you’re with.
- Communicate any changes of direction or pace, hazards (holes, branches), and intentions to pass another rider.
- Refrain from “roughhousing” on the trail. Do not crowd or gallop past other riders, or take off while people are mounting up. If you pick up a fast pace, be very aware of what you might be approaching on the trail ahead, and be prepared to slow down/stop quickly if you come across another trail user.
- Obstacles (bridges, water crossings, etc.) should typically be taken one horse at a time.
- If you come across another rider or group of riders on the trail, communicate who will yield to whom, and how. Usually uphill traffic gets the right of way.
- Be respectful of the environment in which you are riding – leave things the way you found them, and be careful where you ride so as to not destroy the landscape. Stay off private properties unless you have permission to use them.
- Stay to the right of the trail, and ride single file unless the trail is wide enough to accommodate two horses abreast without getting in the way of other trail users.
By following basic rider etiquette wherever you go, you can make the experience safer and more pleasant for yourself and your fellow riders!