Three weekends out of four, for most of the year, find me at a USDF/USEF competition in one of my capacities as competitor, coach, organizer or judge. As an “S’ judge working coast to coast and in between, I get around a lot and see a great deal of America. Over time and across the miles, I have observed a disturbing trend at our dressage competitions…..The shrinking warm-up area.
Having been a show organizer and participated in all aspects of competitions I am sympathetic and cognizant that shows must work towards profitability. Shows hardly ever make money and it is increasingly difficult for competitions not to lose money!
Every weekend managers work diligently to squeeze eager competitors into open time slots to be sure judges view as many tests as possible in their working hours. It is a fact of efficiency and economics. Scheduling as many rides as possible improves the bottom line.
Increasingly show managers are telling me that they added rings at the last minute at competitions so as to accommodate more entries. I applaud the enthusiasm of the competitors and appreciate the efforts of show management. My concern is that this was accomplished by sacrificing warm-up footing/areas.
Admittedly there are competition grounds with surrounding flat grass areas where competitors (if they can deal with grass footing) can spread out to their heart’s content. These areas are a god-send to folks that need to lunge horses, accommodate young stallions or have insecure riders or horses that really need to be away from others, but for every one of those there are two more competitions that have restricted space from being in rodeo arenas, paved parking lots or housing developments. One warm-up ring of “dressage footing” serving four show rings is not uncommon. Grass footing for warm-up can be workable for some horses but is sometimes tricky if you are working pirouettes, tempi’s and extended trot to say nothing of passage.
The shrinking of the warm-up area has put more horses in a much more confined area, producing congestion.
Lack of ring riding skills and etiquette has produced some collisions, lots of near misses as well as exasperation and aggressive riding. Dangerous situations occur.
A case in point, at a recent competition a young rider’s horse after working a good deal of the Prix St. Georges work began to resist in the only “warm-up” ring. The horse was trying to rear, throwing itself sideways and bolting. The rider looked loose in the saddle at points. The horse was careening towards others. The nationally well-known trainer was hollering “Turn her! Kick Her! Don’t let her get away with that!” I directed my PSG rider out of the nearest exit. Now if we wanted to continue our warm-up it would have to be on grass. We were about 16 minutes to ride time. The rider with the resisting horse had 15 minutes to go before her ride. The horse would settle down but periodically began running sideways and resisting right up until her ride time. My guess is that if you’ve been showing a bit you’ve experienced something like this at least once. This warm-up ring was serving four competition rings. The other areas available for warm-up were irregular grass areas with trees, tree roots, canals etc. The trainer of the resisting horse should have excused her rider/horse from the warm-up so that others could get on with their work safely, and of course the TD can always be called to ask someone who is unsafe to retire from the area. But that takes necessary time away from a competitors focused warm up. The important point here is that there were just too many competition rings running for the amount of legitimate footing available for warm-up on that particular day. It may come to a point that the amount of warm-up may need to be inspected or legislated by USEF or other governing bodies.
I know and sympathize that we all have at least one horror story of an incidence in crowded warm-up. As riders, we can alleviate this problem bybeing vigilant in polite riding rules and having our horses accustomed to riding with others.
As an industry, economics aside we must remember that safety for our horses and riders is paramount. When competitors pay a fee to management to go showing that fee includes judges, a competition ring AND an adequate warm-up ring/space too. Accepting our entries but failing to provide enough safe footing and sufficient space for adequate warm-up for correct performances does not meet our needs. I think we all agree, no competitive performance should occur without adequate SAFE warm-up.
READ MORE ABOUT AUTHOR BY IDA ANDERSON NORRIS