Horse warm up etiquette

ArticleHow to - General Equine AdviceTuesday 10 April 2012
By Nicola Strong

Ever wondered what the correct etiquette is when warming up your horse at a competition? Horsemart reader and blogger Nicola Strong looks at how not to 'hack off' other riders in the warm up arena.

Recently at a local dressage competition I found a corner of the warm up arena to work in and play about with some chages of the rein and a few 20m circles. We first went and had a stretch, wamring up slowly, before making our way back to 'our corner' and begun some circles.

Myself and another rider were just passing each other, and the next thing you know, a 3rd person comes up behind unannounced and tried to squeeze between us. This big chestnut then pushes past in front of us and lets out an enormous kick (it definitely meant that!) which sent it's back legs towards us, narrowly avoiding my horse Willo and going just above my head. No red ribbon in tail, the rider quickly mutters something about getting in too close and trots away.

Ok we came away unscathed, but my horse Willo is now very nervous passing other horses in the warm up arena, and only a few inches saved us both from being injured. The annoying part is this is all completely avoidable! I have recently heard some awful stories from friends about similar behaviour whilst warming up, and some have even been injured because of it. I would hate to be that person who caused an accident, so have taken the time to familiarise myself with some warm up arena etiquette before the next competition.

When competing, you can usually avoid a lot of trouble by simply remembering to pass left to left; always remember that your left hand, or the horses left shoulder should be closest to the other persons left. If everybody sticks to this, there should in theory never be any head on collisions. Remember too that you should leave plenty of room if you are following another; just like when driving a car you need to be aware of stopping distances, but also to avoid any flailing hind legs.

Do you know your ribbons and what they mean? For instance, if you are on a young horse, you can indicate with a green ribbon, whereas a red should tell other riders that your horse may kick.

When going jumping, you certainly won't be very popular if you are hogging the practice jump, and similarly your practice fence should be appropriate for the class you're jumping in; if you are jumping the 2'6" class, nobody will thank you for putting up a 4' spread.

Always observe the flags too; the fences should be set up with a white flag to the left and a red flag on the right, so you should only be jumping from one way, and be careful to ensure that you are not too close behind another horse in case they have trouble at the fence. If you have someone putting fences up for you, ensure they are clued up too.

Before now I've been approaching a fence to jump when a very helpful person has walked in front of it to mess about with the jump! Similarly if it's particularly busy, it can be helpful to shout 'jumping' if you are about to approach so people know to stand clear and not obstruct your path. Awareness is key; if you need to stop to adjust tack, or take a breather, don't stop on the track where you could potentially be in the way.

Every horse will require a different length of warm up, but you don't want to stay in there for excessive amounts of time. Basic common sense will tell you that it is not acceptable to lunge in the warm up arena as it will interfere with others, and also that galloping around will soon land you in trouble with other competitors and the stewards alike.

Lorraine Jennings, groom, rider, instructor and writer ( says; "One massive piece of advice for everyone is LOOK UP!! When you're nervous it's easy to stare at the floor. You probably don't know you're doing it but what it does mean is you don't see what's going on around you. Get in other people's way once and they'll forgive you but make a habit of it and it can make you unpopular!"

A lot of the problem stems from people who don't necessarily know the rules, rather than those who are deliberately being awkward (with the exception of a few maybe), and I think that more can be done at showgrounds to help make people aware of this etiquette. Having said that, I also believe that as riders we have a responsibility to make sure we are getting it right! The general rule of thumb as I see it, is to use your common sense and respect the other horses and riders around you. With this mentality, you can't go too far wrong!

Horsemart reader and blogger Nicola Strong has been riding for 23 years and is taking her first steps into the world of British Eventing and British Showjumping with her main horse Willo (Caherpuca Star) and is supported all the way by trainer and sponsor Sharon Kilminster.  She has her own blog at

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