Driving in Rome. It can be a horrifying experience. Giant unlined thoroughfares heading into a main artery. Vespas suddenly appearing just as you’re preparing to squeeze left into another lane. Wait! No, go! It’s now or never! Go, go, go!

Riding in the warm up arena at a dressage show can induce the same sense of panic, especially for novice riders. You think you know what the rider ahead, behind, and in the distance may do, but do you? You may not even be certain what YOU are going to do. You’ve been fighting off panic, but with the chaotic deluge of horses and riders all doing their own thing in the warm-up arena, uncertainty begins to rear its ugly head. You opt to just walk around and hope for the best when you get your opportunity before the judge.

Knowing the rules of the road and knowing that your fellow competitors are working from the same playbook can be very helpful. The United States Dressage Federation has published and has available online a document entitled Dressage Protocol. It covers a variety of topics including etiquette in the warm-up arena.

Those standards of etiquette are summarized below with arguably the most important points first.

• Early arrival? Don’t assume you can school in the actual competition arena. Inquire about the designated warm-up and schooling areas.
• Numbers should be worn.
• Competitors soon to compete should have priority in the warm-up arena. Schooling and riding lessons should be done in a schooling area.
• Enter warm-up and schooling areas carefully. Don’t cut off another rider when entering.
• Riders should PASS LEFT HAND TO LEFT HAND when going in opposite directions. Give plenty of clearance.
• Slower traffic should stay on an inside track. If overtaking traffic, pass on the inside and call out your path, “On your left!” or “On your right!” Better yet, circle, or travel across the arena.
• Halts should not be done on the rail. The closer to the center, the better.
• Keep at least a horse’s length between horses. Shoot for two lengths.
• Be aware of your whip. Accidentally tickling an adjacent horse with your whip could prove disastrous.
• Pay attention to traffic behind you when turning.
• Eyes up. Ride defensively.
• Be polite. Avoid frightening green horses.
• Remove fractious horses from the ring.
• When you enter the warm up arena, enter with a plan in mind. What is your purpose? What figures will you execute to achieve your purpose?
• If you’ve completed your warm up and find yourself with extra time on your hands, exit the arena to chat with friends, rest, or hang out.
• Do tack adjustments outside of the arena.
• Be pleasant to show volunteers. Remember…they are V-O-L-U-N-T-E-E-R-I-N-G. Speaking of which… when was the last time you volunteered?
• Ultimately, apply the Golden Rule. No, I’m not talking about the genetic formula to insure the breeding of a palomino. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Otherwise, you could find yourself the subject of a viral video.

To those people I’ve offended by stopping, wandering, dilly- dallying, and chatting, my apologies. 2019 is a new year!

Article by Dale Sue Wade