Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Riding Etiquette

Riding Etiquette

It is that time of year again when more of us will be taking lessons and competing at shows, local or otherwise. If you are new to the sport, perhaps you are not aware of riding etiquette policies. If you are already a rider, a quick refresher course may help you remember the rules you learned at the beginning of your riding career. Sometimes I wonder if trainers have not done their job of educating their students in the basics of riding etiquette and instilling a sense of courtesy, safety and discipline in riders. Too often, it seems the trainers themselves breach these rules of etiquette, either because they lack the knowledge or discipline to serve as proper role models for their students, or simply feel they are above such courtesy to other riders. Either way, the problem needs to be addressed. Safety is the key concern; the moment we board a horse our duty is to take care of our horses, ourselves and others at all times, and to keep our riding as safe and stress-free as possible.

In General

A person entering an indoor arena should call out whatever the barn suggests the code word be. I have been at many barns over the years and some of the code words were simply, “door” or “coming in” or “heads up”. This is a simple courtesy to other riders so as not to spook their horses or have a collision at the in-gate.

The first rule followed at all times when traffic is moving in opposite directions is to pass left shoulder to left shoulder. Always leave at least one horse’s length in front of you when following, and one horse’s width between you when passing. Young or excitable horses may require more space, so be conscientious. It is also rude and unsafe to run up behind another horse (this can set-off the horse in front,) or cross a diagonal directly at another horse (the horse will feel cornered and may panic.)

Passing riders in the same direction should elicit a call (not a shout) of “inside” or “outside,” alerting the rider on which side you intend to pass. If jumping is taking place, the jumping rider takes the inside, and those riding on the flat will take the outside. During a particularly intense jumping lesson with an excitable horse, you might want to stop in a corner and let the horse and rider finish their round (after which, it is courteous for the jumping rider to take a short break before any more jumping to allow other riders to work.)

Another consideration to your fellow riders is not to practice your dressage movements with total disregard for the other horses in the arena, particularly those who may be schooling over a jump course. Bottom line: it is rude to cross another rider’s jumping line, circle continually, etc. or otherwise monopolize the arena. The same goes for riders who may be jumping or doing any other kind of exercise that may be disruptive to others. We once boarded at a stable where English and Western riders shared the same arena, and I can tell you from experience that dressage tests and barrel racing drills are not necessarily compatible. If your facility does not have a policy or scheduling regarding use of the arena, try to work out a compromise with others using the space so that all can be accommodated.


When longeing, quietly take the inside circle at one end of the arena, leaving other riders the outside rail. Do not make the cardinal sin of longeing an undisciplined or excitable horse, or cracking the whip as if he were a circus act. It is never appropriate to have him bucking and running amok. Forgetting for the moment that uncontrolled running and playing on the longe reflects poor training and horsemanship, such behavior is a danger to the horse, the handler and other horses and riders in the vicinity. If you cannot longe in a controlled manner, do not longe at all. If your horse needs to run and buck, turn him out.


This may not qualify as riding etiquette, but anyone who has to move or set jumps will thank you to insert all jump pins in the same direction so that they don’t fall out when the standards are moved. Additionally, do not leave the jump cups and pins on the ground, as a horse could step on them and be injured; likewise, do not leave cups on standards without a rail in them, as these pose a potential threat to both horses and fallen riders; reset a jump if your horse knocks it down.

Please think of the others using the arena besides you. You may be a paying customer who feels it is not your job to restore these items, but remember everyone should work for the harmony and safety of all. We boarded at a barn years ago and the owner had a sign that read: “Clean up after yourself! Your mother doesn’t work here.” It is up to everyone who uses a facility to take responsibility for keeping the barn areas neat, clean and safe.

At Shows

When you decide to compete at any show, there are some additional rules to observe. In the warm-up ring, call “heads up” followed by a brief description of the jump you are heading for (i.e., “heads up oxer” or “outside line,” etc.) to alert other riders of your intentions, or if you are coming down a line and someone is blocking your way.

As soon as your schooling is completed, leave the ring. Schooling areas are usually overcrowded and the quicker you get in and out the better for all concerned. This is not social time where you get to hold court, and it is unfair to your horse to make him stand in a busy, high traffic area while you socialize.

In almost every show I have been to over the years, it seems some trainers feel they own the warm-up area and will never offer others a chance at the jumps. This is plainly rude, and seems there is no likely solution, and you will just have to deal with the situation. You may have to be prepared to assert yourself and make the most of it.

Being Prepared

As for myself, I would rather forgo the schooling ring, as it is disorganized chaos, potentially dangerous, and often upsetting to the horse (and sometimes the rider.) The schooling ring is not the place to train your horse or student for the show. If you have not come prepared enough to do a basic warm-up and enter the arena, you do not belong there. At any given show, you can witness trainers trying to put month’s worth of training into a student or horse 15 minutes before the class, which any sensible person will see is absurd and futile. Frankly, I feel embarrassed for these trainers, but more than that, I am annoyed by them. There is simply no excuse for disrupting a show and inconveniencing the other competitors just because you have come unprepared.

The last suggestion concerns both trainers and students. If you are planning to compete in a popular recognized show, make sure you can justify being there. If you are not comfortable with your present riding skills, do not let anyone – not your trainer, your fellow riders, or your own ego – pressure you into competing. A lack of confidence in your skills to participate at a certain level is a debilitating feeling, and if you are not properly skilled, or not confident in those skills, you could become the accident waiting to happen and put yourself, other riders, and the horses in jeopardy. Similarly, if you do not feel your horse is ready, try a lower-level show or ship-into a neighboring facility for some “away from home” practice first. There is absolutely no benefit in rushing unprepared horses or riders to a competition where they may have a negative experience, lose control and disrupt the show, or put other horses and riders in danger.

As for the trainers, we all appreciate you would like to bring students to shows and see them do well at competitions, but at what cost? Isn’t it better to have confident, competent riders and well schooled horses representing you and your barn, rather than just entering the whole barn into classes where they may or may not be equipped to compete successfully? Or are the fees that important to you? Be honest with yourself and with your students about their preparedness and find competitions and environments that are suitable for all involved.

Until next time

Quote for today

There are no problem horses, just problem riders.

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