From Endurance to Dressage
Taming the Warm-Up Chaos
I don't think it's really possible to eliminate the warm-up chaos, but apparently Louisa Zai thinks it can be done. She wrote an article for the April edition of Dressage Today entitled, "The Golden Rules of the Warm-Up Arena: Learn how to stay sane amid the pre-test chaos." It's a good article, mostly. But before I share her rules, I would like to share an epiphany I had while at the Santa Barbara Dressage Show. Here it is ...
Politeness is not the driving force in dressage. Holy shit, Batman! That's where I've been going wrong. And before you get all hostile on me, I am not saying that dressage riders aren't polite, although I am saying that some of them aren't. What I am saying is that politeness isn't an integral part of the dressage mentality. And, so what? Well, here's what! I've been operating under the assumption that being polite was necessary to the functionality of the dressage show process. Why would you do that? Because in endurance racing, politeness (and by extension, friendliness) is the cornerstone of the sport. What?
I know. It sounds weird, but it's true. Politeness is valued over just about any other thing in the endurance world. It's so important that most Ride Managers clearly state on the entry form that if you demonstrate unsportsmanlike conduct or are rude to any race staff member or volunteer, your butt will be disqualified and you will be thrown out! There are many ways in which you are expected to be polite: if you come upon a horse at a water trough, you are expected to wait quietly and not barge in. If a horse comes up to a water trough while your horse is drinking and that rider waits patiently, you are expected to wait while he or she drinks rather than go racing off and leaving the horse distraught. If you come upon a rider on foot, it is expected that you will offer assistance or at least inquire as to what you might do to help. If you arrive at a gate that has just been opened, you are expected to wait until the rider who has just opened the gate has remounted her horse and is ready to leave. And it would be even more polite to let her take the lead.
And the list goes on ... there is no end to the number of ways that you are expected to be polite. You should thank the in timer, the out timer, the P & R person, the vet, the vet secretary, and especially the volunteer who is holding your horse as you scramble to pee behind a bush (if there is one). When you show up to camp, you thank the RM for hosting the ride. You thank the ride secretary for checking you in. You thank the the guy that grease-penciled your number across your horse's butt in lime green goo. And you definitely thank the water truck guy.
You thank anyone and everyone who has anything to do with the race because you know that without them, there would be no event. There's no money being made at en endurance race. There is no trainer earning big bucks coaching her students. There is no one showing off a barn full of horses to sell. There is a just a group of people who want to ride the crap out of 50 miles and know that it can't be done without a butt-load of volunteers. So you are NICE TO THEM! Politeness is the driving force behind an endurance race.
So back to the rules of the warm-up arena ... No wonder I've been bumbling along. I thought being polite was required. It's not. It's a nice way to behave, but you're not getting kicked out for giving someone a dirty look or crashing into them because no one knows where anyone else is going.
So what are the rules? Well, according to Louisa Zai, here they are: (her words and ideas are italicized, mine are in standard font)
1. Riders should pass each other left hand to left hand. There are exceptions however. If you are circling, stay to the inside of oncoming riders. But what if they're coming across the diagonal and you're circling? Who's on left?
2. Slower gaits take the inside track. Again, me asking, But what if they're coming across the diagonal?
3. The warm up arena is for work. So basically if you're just standing there, get out. That one I understand.
4. Control your whip. Really? That needs to be a rule? Sheesh ...
5. Prepare for the pre-test warm-up. This one covered a broad range of things and actually seemed to go in favor of the green horse or green rider. If you have a loud, thundering horse, know that he is probably scaring the crap out of those intro and training level horses. Since no one knows where you're going, please give a heads up or on your left.
I love this next one. It's so good I'm quoting her directly, "If you can steer, you are supposed to be more generous and self-aware than those who cannot. If you are a princess, you get no dispensation. Make your tempis around the helpless novice rider, not through them!" THANK YOU!!!!! Oh, and one more, "I think it's up to the advanced riders to keep their antennae up."
6. Using wireless headsets - basically, pay attention. No one else can hear where you're being sent. Even if your trainer says do this and that, make sure there is room to DO this and that!
7. Use warm-up time effectively. The warm-up is not the place to run through your test. You should do that at home. Seriously, I've tried to warm up in a standard-sized court with someone riding their test. What would you like me to do? Follow you?
And basically, that's it. If you follow these rules your warm-up should go super-duper. Oh, wait. There was a follow-up paragraph, "Polite riding can keep you and your ringmates from getting further stressed out. Niceness often perpetuates itself."
Well, hell. Maybe the endurance riders have it right after all!
I don't frequent crowded warm-up rings very often, but I do occasionally ride during another rider's lesson. I always subscribe to the courtesy of giving the student the right of way. I listen to the instructor and make sure that I am not where the rider is headed.
4/15/2012 12:29:09 am
I think there may be a more overlap in politeness than you're giving credit for. The expressions of gratitude and waiting your turn and safety concerns are all very familiar to me in the sport horse world.
4/15/2012 12:31:15 am
Hannah - thanks for sharing. The one rule that really needs to be agreed upon is where the walkers go. I like walking on the rail as it keeps me farthest from the action and if I have to stop, I am not in the middle of everything!
4/16/2012 10:59:21 am
Walking on the rail is a big no-no. Sorry.
4/16/2012 10:53:27 pm
Do you think that varies by region as there doesn't appear to be a consensus in practice ... ?
4/13/2012 02:02:33 am
I definitely don't have much dressage warm-up ring experience, but I would still have to say I agree with the other comments. Politeness is in the eye of the beholder. I mean I think most people do (or should) say thank you to all the gate keepers and scribes and show managers in much the same way as what you described at a race. I also think your question about going across the diagonal relates to #7 in that you should not have such a need to go across a diagonal in warm-up anyway. Your warm up should be flexible, because it is a warm-up, not a practice test. I also agree with Hannah that I prefer slower should be outside, but you should always call out if it isn't extremely obvious anyway. Regarding #4, yes, this needs to be said more often than you would believe. There is at least one person at my barn who talks with her hands and her whip is like an extension of her hand and it flails all over the place. She doesn't even notice or realize I think. To some degree, I think she may have started the practice as a way to desensitize her horse, but now the whip is a little out of control. Good luck at your next warm-up!
4/15/2012 12:33:08 am
Katharyn - I would NEVER ride my test in the warm-up, but I kid you not, I have been to more than one show where that is precisely what happened. How rude is that? And the whip? Seriously ... if you have to be told to control your whip, you probably shouldn't be carrying one! Just crazy!!!!
4. Control your whip. Really? That needs to be a rule? Sheesh ...
4/15/2012 12:35:33 am
Sarah - I just commented to Katharyn about the whip ... if you can't control your whip, you shouldn't be carrying one. Yikes! Both of my horses would go sky high if someone whacked them in passing. And I would rather hear a terse, on your left, than ride a bolting horse who is startled by a horse passing unexpectedly!
4/13/2012 04:13:08 am
I will tell you the DQs at my barn are rude, rude, rude, rude.
4/15/2012 12:39:26 am
Fortunately there are only three of us in my barn, and I am the only daily rider. I don't have to deal with DQs at home, thankfully. And when I walk over to my trainer's barn (h/j barn), life is grand. She insists on politeness and courtesy. So far my only experience with DQs is at shows.
4/13/2012 09:41:09 am
wow, what a lot od controversy over a simple politeness issue. I thought it was customary to be courteous to everyone. I know you are!!
4/13/2012 12:07:35 pm
Thanks, Mom! I had a good teacher. And yeah, this tends to be a hot topic. More about it in a day or two.
4/13/2012 12:09:02 pm
I LOVE the comments y'all! I definitely want to respond and will do a follow up post day after tomorrow. I LOVE this topic.
4/13/2012 12:10:05 pm
Karen, talk to your farrier as to what discipline he dislikes due to the behavior of the riders/trainers...yet he still is willing to be a sponsor to the upcoming dressage show.
4/13/2012 12:11:59 pm
Bwahahahaha! Seriously!!! Gotta love the guy! I hope he reads this post. :0)
Cha Ching's Mom
4/14/2012 01:37:31 pm
Common courtesy is common courtesy!!.. The age old rule "do unto others as you would have done unto you.." And, you my friend, are very courteous..
4/15/2012 12:41:04 am
Thank you, Dearie! We try, don't we? :0) Read the comment above I made to Sara about DQs and JL! We train at a polite H/J barn - don't we? :0)
4/15/2012 01:50:30 am
Note to you the Post has been read, and I do love it!!!!!Here's my take on this: I think whether your an entry level or Prix St George/Grand Prix rider dressage is the most true discipline in the equis bubble. It is a craft that can NOT be mastered. You have to have a calmness and harmony with not only yourself but along with you pony in a 60 x 20 meter sand box to get to your next level. But like Golf for me the Gods giveth and the Gods taketh away at any moment, but all it takes is to have that one AAAAH Ha moment to keep you coming back for more punishment. Problem is with Dressage that I see is that money is killing the purity of what I think the forefathers set it up as, and the DQ's keep that campaign moving forward. He with the most money does not win in this sport( it certainly helps) because at some point your true riding ability and connection with your horse will shine through. Dressage is a rich man(woman's) sport and like golf with Tiger Woods... Money seems to clout/dilute reality, and what is really important about the sport as you climb the Levels to the top. Politeness should be the cornerstone to dressage as well. You should say Thank you to all of the volunteers - horse - helpers - Judge............ for the events. There should be an edicate in the warm up arena between competitors that is friendly and fair to all at all levels. This for alot of DQs seems to vanish tough as they pile up blue ribbons in there corner.
4/16/2012 11:02:04 pm
To the World's Greatest Farrier, thank you so much for sharing your alternate point of view (being a man, a farrier, a non-competing dressage rider, and a guy with a lot of common sense). I loved your anecdote, and I agree that not all endurance riders are polite. In fact, what seems to happen is that the higher up in any sport you go, the more elitist and perhaps mean-spirited, the attitudes seem to get. This is not true across the board of course.
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About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
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