Warm Up to Etiquette: Part 1

AQHA Professional Horsemen offer rules for excruciatingly correct behavior in the warm-up arena.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Rule No. 1: Go With the Flow

There is no better way to go than in the same direction everyone else is going.

Many years ago, riders would come into the warm-up arena and go one way until someone whistled and asked the riders to turn the other direction. No one squabbled. No one got their feelings hurt. No one rudely ignored the request. Everyone just turned around and started riding in the opposite direction.

But if you tried this today in the pen, the other riders would look at you as if you had lost your mind.

Occasionally, though, there is a semblance of order in the warm-up traffic with most of the riders going in the same direction. If this is the case, AQHA Professional Horsewoman Shannon Johnson recommends that you enter the arena, go to the rail and ride in the same direction as the majority.

“Don’t try to go the opposite direction of the flow just because you need to work that direction. The easiest and safest thing to do is go with the flow,” Shannon says. “Then, when you notice a lot of people reversing, turn around and go the other direction.”

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Rule No. 2: Keep Your Eyes Open

There will be times when the pen will be crowded with riders and horses going in many directions at once. Then it is time to bring in your driving skills and negotiate the arena traffic.

“Navigating through traffic in the pen is probably the hardest thing to learn,” says AQHA Professional Horsewoman Renae Dudley. “But it’s something every rider has to know how to do.”

“You can avoid wrecks if you will just look where you are trying to go,” says AQHA Professional Horseman Chuck Briggs.

When you’re in the warm-up pen, always be on the lookout for trouble. Renae says a rider must assess the warm-up arena even before she enters it. Then, when inside the arena, she has to treat it like a five-lane highway at rush hour while approaching a toll booth.

“You have to not just watch your lane and the car in front of you, you also have to watch all the other lanes and avoid any cars that might jump into your lane. That’s what a lot of these arenas are like,” Renae says.

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Julie Goodnight demonstrates the proper way to stop your horse at her clinic from Quarter Fest in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Be on the lookout for the novice exhibitor, who might be timid or unaware of show-grounds rules of etiquette.

“You know who they are,” Renae says. “You can look at them and say, ‘OK, this is Joe’s first horse show.’ As a professional horseman and an experienced rider, you need to open your world up and look around you and say, ‘OK, wait a minute … ,’ rather than be irritated by the things that novice riders might be doing. You need to be on the lookout for them and not make their experience more difficult.”

Chuck says you should also keep your head up while warming up.

“I see it all the time, people looking down instead of looking ahead and knowing where they are going so they won’t run over anyone,” he says. “Usually, when you see a collision in the warm-up pen, it’s because the riders never looked where they were going. Always keep your eyes up and look ahead where you want to go, and be distinct in where you want to go. Pick your spot and then move your horse to it. Be decisive in your ride.”

Rule No. 3: Respect Other Riders and Horses

Shannon points out that you need to show respect for everyone trying to warm up.

“Not everyone around you does the same discipline as you, and they might not be warming up their horse in the same manner as you,” she says.

For example, in Shannon’s chosen discipline of barrel racing, she doesn’t warm up her horse with the slow pleasure trot.

“We extend our trot out to make sure our horses are real loose and get their muscles stretched out and warmed up so they are less apt to pull muscles,” she says. “And my cantering is not slow. It’s not a full-out run around the arena, but it is a controlled canter that is faster than anyone else in the arena. There are speed horses that work slower than mine, but my horses don’t like to work slow, and I don’t make them.”

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Even though Shannon’s horses move at a faster pace, she is still quite respectful of the other riders around her.

“I try to be considerate of other show people because our horses don’t go slow,” she says. “I try to give them space because even trotting fast past younger horses can make them a little spooky.”

Stay tuned for the last half of the list of rules for good behavior in the warm-up arena.

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