Warm-Up Pen Etiquette

With the Lucas Oil AQHA World Championship Show upon us, now is the time to brush-up on horse-showing warm-up pen etiquette.

Sometimes the practice pen can feel as intimidating as the show ring. Journal photo

I like to prepare for a show weeks in advance.

I usually pull my horse’s mane at least two weeks ahead of time. I clip his socks around the same time. I start packing the trailer with various assorted items at least a few days before the event.

But I have a good reason for doing so. In the past, I’ve forgotten a girth, a bridle and – horror upon horrors – my English riding boots. There’s nothing like that stomach-dropping moment when you realize that you can’t show because you apparently left your brain back at the barn – along with your boots.

I think this is why most of us are stress-messes the morning of an event. I don’t know about you, but I start to relax once I’m warming up. Boots: check. Brain: doubtful.

Unfortunately, sometimes the practice pen can be as terrifying as actually getting to the show. I’ll confess, this is the whole point of my digression.

My friends, a refresher course in ring etiquette is in order.

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I recognize that everyone needs practice – I truly do – but I fail to see the reason certain individuals feel the need to point their horse in your direction, spur that horse into a death-defying gallop, then pull the parachute lever in front of your own mount.

Surely, I don’t own the only horse that takes one look at a horse skidding toward him and thinks that some kind of equine battering ram is about to knock him down. (I’ll confess: I’ve had the same thought.) And heaven help us if that same horse begins to spin. It’s the Tasmanian devil come to life, and my horse is utterly terrified.

The only thing worse than a whirling dervish is the NASCAR driver rider. You know the kind: They go 500 mph around the pen, usually passing you with inches to spare, so close that they disturb the hairs on your head and your horse’s peace of mind. I don’t mind galloping horses. I just wish they’d stay off the rail.

But by far, some of the scariest moments I’ve had over the years involved people longeing horses.

It seems everywhere you go – open shows, breed shows, U.S. Equestrian Federation shows – there’s always that one person who thinks the arena is his or her personal play pen.

These are the same individuals who often take an entire corner of an arena to longe their horse, thereby leaving those of us who are mounted feeling like pin-balls as we navigate between all the spiraling horses.

I think every show manager should have an arena safety meeting.

If electricians have to be reminded not to put their fingers in outlets, equestriennes should be given refresher courses on how to share their sandbox.

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It should be stressed that arenas are a public venue. That stopping on the rail when you have someone behind you is not a good idea. That if you have to circle your horse during the middle of a class, to please do so in the center of the pen – not on the rail. And that when you need to pass someone going slower than you, to please allow at least one horse length before moving back to the rail – it’s like operating a vehicle, though this may also be a poor example.

Showing horses is stressful enough without having to worry about Calamity Jane or a cantankerous colt that tries to take a chunk out of you.

Pamela Britton-Baer is a special contributor to The American Quarter Horse Journal.