Warm-Up Pen Etiquette

Warm-Up Pen Etiquette

Rules for correct behavior in the horse show warm-up arena.

a bay horse canters in the warm-up pen at a horse show (Credit: Journal)

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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.”

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.

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

“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,” Renae says. “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.”

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.”

Rule No. 4: Use Common Sense

Common sense is actually not all that common. Matter of fact, it can be pretty scarce in the warm-up arena.

One of the most foolish things seen at horse shows is an exhibitor attempting to longe an overly excited horse in a pen packed with riders. Renae points out that unless it is a large warm-up arena, horses should not be longed around horses being ridden.

“It is just a train wreck waiting to happen when you longe a horse that is acting wildly, kicking up his heels and racing around, in a crowded pen,” she says. “It’s not only dangerous for the horses that are riding around the horse on the line, it’s dangerous for the horse on the line.”

If a horse must be longed, Renae recommends that it be done when the arena is less crowded, like early morning or late evening. Also, show management will sometimes set up areas just for longeing or times when the warm-up arena is only open to longeing.

Safety is of the utmost importance in the warm-up pen, and that is where common sense comes most into play. Riders practicing patterns or fencing their reining horses should be watchful of others. Also, if warming up in an area where jumps are set up, avoid riding a horse near them.

“If you’re not using the jumps, then stay away from them,” Chuck says. “I’ve seen some bad wrecks just because somebody runs in front of the jump as somebody else is trying to jump. They crash into each other.”

Rule No. 5: Don’t Park Your Horse

Riders who park their horses in the warm-up arena are not only annoying, but also dangerous.

“You wouldn’t park your car in the middle of a traffic lane, so why would you do the same with your horse?” Renae asks.

And, most of all, don’t talk on the cell phone while warming up.

“If you are in there to ride, you need to be riding, not talking on your phone,” Chuck says.

If a rider must park her horse, Renae recommends either leaving the warm-up arena or riding to the center where there isn’t as much activity.

Rule No. 6: If You Move It, Put It Back

Remember that if you disturb a jump or trail obstacle, return it to its proper place.

“It isn’t the job of the next rider to reset the obstacle; it’s the job of the person who disturbed the obstacle to reset it for the next rider,” Renae says. “We’re generally all jammed up trying to get through the trail obstacles, and there are always more riders than there is time. If the obstacle has been moved and not reset, then the next person can’t practice it the way it should be done.”

The solution? Bring along a companion to reset jumps and obstacles.

“Take someone with you so if you knock over a jump or move an obstacle, then it can be fixed right away,” Renae says.

And there’s nothing better than having an extra set of eyes, especially when jumping.

“Somebody on the ground can watch to make sure another rider doesn’t run in front of a jump as you’re coming to it,” Chuck says.

Rule No. 7: The Golden Rule

Treat others how you would like to be treated. In other words, avoid rude and impolite behavior.

“Sometimes, you’ll get some rider in there who thinks he’s Joe Horse Trainer, and go running around and not even watch who he is running into. He only cares about himself,” Chuck says.

Renae sees this type of self-absorbed attitude most in the warm-up pen where youth and amateurs practice their patterns.

“I have witnessed this many times where a set of trainers take their students to a quiet area in the arena that is just big enough to kind of go through the upcoming pattern,” she says. “The trainers will be helping their people work the pattern, and as the students are moving through the pattern, you’ll just see another rider blatantly ride through the pattern area where these people are trying to learn.”

Renae usually asks these riders to not interfere with the pattern practice.

“Most of the time, these people are in their own zone and don’t realize they have done it and they are, like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ and they will move,” she says. “But I have actually had a rider one time that refused to move and continued to ride through the pattern. Finally, I just walked up to him and said, ‘I am going to go to show management and report this.’ I had to do that to get him to stop because he wouldn’t do it when I asked politely.”

Chuck points out that riders whose classes are not coming up right away need to stay out of the way of those exhibitors preparing for more immediate classes.

“You need to stay out of their way, and just because you want to do something doesn’t mean the other riders should stop what they are doing,” Chuck says. “Give them the courtesy you expect them to give you.”

“Unfortunately, there are just people who are focused on themselves more than trying to help those around them,” Shannon says. “But we need to remember that we all have to work together to get the proper warm-up for our horses.”

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