Warm-up ring (noun): The equestrian version of “chicken” wherein you maneuver your horse around 20 other riders trying prepare for a good class whilst not losing your mind, nerve and/or jump.
Enter: the rider.
You climb aboard and steer your faithful steed into the fray, cradling the futile hope that your warm up might actually accomplish something.
Horse show nerves often have the magical effect of completely dissipating arena etiquette. You, of course, are clearly looking where you are going. You’re also desperately trying to swerve the riders whose focus is more on their horses’ headset than the flow of traffic.
While you avoid the riders running down the competition with narrowly missed collision courses, your frustration levels slowly begin to climb.
You see that the outside line and landing zone is finally clear and call out “Outside line!” in your best projecting voice. By the time you clear the first fence, a rider decides the landing zone of fence number two is a great place to stop and adjust her stirrups.
As you duck out of the second jump, your horse can almost feel your horse grinning inwardly.
Meanwhile, the local aspiring trainer with her current project horse enters the ring. Experience is important and unfortunately there are no horse trials this weekend, so into the hunter ring they must go.
Aspiring trainer parks the horse right inside the gate and ignores the dirty looks from the riders going by as she tries to climb aboard. Project horse seems to sense that just inside the gate is not the best place for her rider to mount and bolts sideways as soon as her rider’s foot goes in the near stirrup, causing a shock wave of alarm from all the horses nearby.
Spectator on the rail catches horse. Aspiring trainer goes for a lunge line while spectator uncomfortably holds project horse blocking the “speed takes the rail” lane.
Mental note, there’s another one to swerve.
Meanwhile, your class is starting in five minutes and you’ve only gotten to jump once so far—a jump that confirmed your horse’s idea that ducking out of a line is indeed a plausible option.
You scan the arena briefly (all the while keeping your valuable peripheral vision majorly switched “on”) and observe that there is no one remotely near that white flowerbox on the diagonal! As you pick up your canter and shout, extra loud this time, “WHITE FLOWER BOX!”, the trainer of one of the local riding school decides that the flower box makes an excellent place to sit while she shouts directions at her pre-teen riders.
You briefly consider going for it. She’s close enough to the standard to be using it for her coffee cup holder after all. But then shut your confused horse down and scan the arena again.
At the opposite end of the ring, aspiring trainer is ignoring the “no lunging” rule to apply a little bit of “The Method.”
Your friends on the rail take a break from watching that dizzying spectacle to wave their hands vigorously at you and point out the open cross rail on the diagonal.
You take a deep breath. You check the approach and the landing areas. You look EXACTLY where you are going, you scream shout as loud as you possibly can “CROSS. RAIL.” And go for it. Sure, it’s about a 12 incher, but beggars can’t be choosers.
You set your horse up beautifully, she takes off at just the right moment. As her front feet hit the ground, you hear that telltale thud of a forgotten back hoof knocking down the rail. Seriously?
As the pole bounces on the ground, that static-y blare of the announcer’s stand chimes in with “Can we please clear the arena? We are ready to start our first class.”
About the Author
Ashley Haglund is a horse professional living in Minnesota. She is proudly owned by a sassy sport pony mare, and together they enjoy competing in the hunter/jumper rings. Ashley enjoys instructing, training, and is currently completing her equine science degree through RCTC in Rochester, MN.