“Everybody, keep right” my father used to say. In fact, everyone from dads to grandmothers to school teachers said it to us when we were growing up. It was a rule that everyone knew and used. If you were climbing the stairs, walking in a crowded airport, bustling along a shopping aisles, riding your bike on the lawn you knew where to go and you could anticipate that those around you would keep to the right too. In this fashion everyone was polite and safe. Somewhere along the way we have lost the rules of the road.
There were only two horses in the warm-up ring this weekend when I stepped near to observe. It would seem a simple thing for two to share and yet there was discord. For those of us who began riding more than 35 years ago (uh-oh, I’m letting the cat out of the bag here on the age thing) there were definite rules of the road – etiquette for riding in a ring with others. They may have been forgotten but they have never been rescinded, and never should be, as they are the foundation of courtesy and safety for all equestrians.
To begin with there is truly a hierarchy in riding rings. The rules of etiquette are in place primarily for safety and secondly for the comfort and efficiency of a number of people working in a confined space. A few rules, common sense and courtesy take care of all the horses and riders.
“Everybody keep right” prevails. Those riders working to the left have the rail. Those working to the right give way or take the inside track. With that said, our instructors drilled a few common sense courtesies into us. If you are walking and particularly if you are on a rest or loose rein get off the track/rail , take an inside track, and you’ll gain sainthood if you try to stay out of others way. If all the horses are going in one direction and you can join them in that direction that is great. If you are going to stand around, go outside of the warm-up ring. Keep in mind the length of YOUR horse’s leg. When passing anyone in either direction keep in mind that your horse or theirs could strike out and kick you or your horse.
It was drilled into us that horses doing more advanced work should be given way to whenever possible. If you are trotting around on the bit and someone is already on the rail in shoulder-in it is kind to just allow them to continue. Riding aggressively directly at another rider/horse is dangerous. Collisions do occur and injuries happen. Horses frequently become unnerved by oncoming horses so care and consideration can be paramount in safety. It is particularly dangerous to cutoff or challenge an oncoming rider who has initiated the Medium or Extended gait. Recently, one arrogant rider on a first level horse told me that the Grand Prix rider that she just cut off mid-way in extended trot was a much better rider than she; therefore, she had the “RIGHT” to go where she wanted because the Grand Prix rider should be able to instantly ride a transition to avoid collision. No amount of discussion on my part changed her mind until I tweaked her conscience that she might cause that beautiful horse to pull a suspensory. Injuries from unplanned turns or abrupt transitions are a strong possibility. It amazes me that these supposedly horse loving individuals are so aggressive in the warm-up rings- truly having no clue the damage they might inflict on their equine partners.
Currently, one of the most dangerous situations is warm-up rings full of riders wearing headsets looking down concentrating on listening rather than “looking where they are going.” Their multitasking involves listening to, and obeying commands while simultaneously receiving and reacting to bio-feedback from the horse. They have no more processing room to even think about where they might anticipate going. They pay little or no attention to where others are riding. One of the strongest safety measures and most influential aids to the horses is the rider’s eyes. Looking where you will go directs the horse before steering even begins. When riders look where they are going, other riders are able to see where a rider intends to go. They can anticipate your line of travel and ride appropriately with you, rather than into your space.
Advanced riders should take what responsibility they can to keep their horses away from others if their horse is fractious, and whenever possible to be quiet and safe getting around riders who are obviously in trouble or green. Be prudent when reprimanding your horse in case he jumps around or lashes out a leg. Excessive clucking, whipping and strong riding may affect others around you and excite other horses. If it is you that is upsetting the apple cart, think of the others. Leave the ring. Find another place to warm-up. It you are not yet ready to be in very busy warm-up rings, remember to have a conversation with ring steward or management and explain that you have a horse that might need a quieter warm-up. They may suggest a solution to you offering a different area or ring that is less congested. Attend a schooling show, if possible, to just deal with warm- up or invite your friends over in groups to simulate a busy warm-up ring and practice. Be polite. Just because you paid your money do not put everyone else at risk because your horse is acting up. Primarily, I am finding that riders need to look up and look where they are going. By looking up and ahead you can often anticipate the other horse’s movements and maximize your ability to ride your horse into open spaces. If you and your horse don’t do this well, then find opportunities to practice and remember when in doubt: Everybody keep right.
READ MORE ABOUT AUTHOR BY IDA ANDERSON NORRIS