I know what you’re thinking: You’re a show veteran, and you are well-aware of schooling ring etiquette.
However, just because you’re a veteran doesn’t mean you remember all the rules. In fact, at the shows I’ve been to, I’ve found many show veterans that seem to forget how to compose themselves in the schooling ring, especially if it’s super crowded.
Based on my experiences, I’ve compiled a list of what you should and should not do when schooling your horse or pony at a horse show. These are basic tips of which every rider should be aware.
Pass left shoulder to left shoulder: This is a basic rule, and if everyone was consistent on how they passed, many a collision or almost collision could be avoided. Of course, there may be times when a pass is poorly planned or unexpected. If left shoulder to left shoulder isn’t possible for some reason, let the other rider know whether you will be going to the inside or outside by saying so.
Leave plenty of room when passing: This is super important. You never know what other horses are in the ring. You could have kickers, young horses not used to being surrounded by other horses, a horse that is acting up, etc. If you have to pass another horse, make sure to leave enough room between yourself, your horse, that other horse, and that other rider. I’ve had many a time where riders cut it super close when passing me and Monte. Since he’s young, he doesn’t always enjoy this, and sometimes it gets him a bit excited. Plus, passing too close is just dangerous, especially if the other horse is a kicker.
Know tail ribbon colors: Though I’ve really honestly only seen the red ribbon in another horse’s tail (this means that horse kicks, stay away), there’s actually a whole color-coded system. I’ve inserted a handy color chart above for those of you not familiar with what each color means. Again, I’ve actually only seen the red ribbon at shows, but you never know when you’ll be confronted with a white, green, or yellow.
Call your jumps: If you are schooling in a ring where other horses are flatting or jumping, make sure to call where you are going. You and another rider may be headed to the same jump, and you want to avoid a collision at all costs. Even worse, you may be headed to the same jump in different directions or another rider may have decided to circle right in front of the jump you are headed and have committed to. You don’t have to scream bloody murder when you call your jump, but make sure you yell it loud enough for everyone in the schooling ring to hear.
Don’t stop on the rail to have a conversation: If you need to speak with someone, whether it be your trainer or another individual, don’t stop on the rail. You’re inconveniencing a lot of other riders, and this is just rude. Obviously there may be a point where you need to halt and speak with your trainer. If this happens, try and find a spot in the ring where you won’t be in a way. If the conversation goes for a long time, exit the ring and be courteous to your fellow riders.
This is not the time to work out major training problems: If your horse is having a meltdown and doing something dangerous, or if you are simply trying to work out a major training issue, utilizing the schooling ring when it is most busy probably isn’t the best idea. Not only are you putting others at risk, but your horse (and you) will probably be distracted trying to find an appropriate spot where you can work on the problem. There are times when schooling rings are empty or close to it. Take note of those and use those times to work out any huge kinks. Obviously, if your horse is fine and then has a meltdown in the middle of schooling, you are faced with no choice but working out the issue then and there – but if you go to the schooling ring solely to work out a training issue, leave that to a “down time.”
Use safe following distances: This goes for flatting or jumping. If you are jumping the same jump as someone else, don’t ride up their ass while doing so. The same goes for walking, trotting, or cantering. There is generally plenty of room in the schooling ring, and if it is crowded, there are ways around the other horses. Don’t ride up another horse’s butt. Again, it could be an unidentified kicker or a young horse not used to having another horse so close to it. I have also had this happen to me and Monte, so not only were we faced with another horse running up our butts, but then that horse and rider passed at an incredibly close distance which frazzled my youngster.
Sometimes things happen, and following these tips isn’t always possible. Additionally, you could be the perfect schooling ring rider and have to deal with others who don’t know proper schooling ring etiquette. Despite this, always enter a horse show schooling ring with a plan to be as courteous to other riders and horses as possible. Address issues as they arise, and be prepared for “emergencies.” If a schooling ring situation gets too uncomfortable, dangerous, or scary, leave. You can always come back later. Your and your horse’s safety are much more important.
Finally, if someone is riding in a dangerous, rude, improper manner, don’t be afraid to speak up – especially if they are putting you or others at risk. There have been many times when my trainer has asked other riders to be more mindful because she was on a youngster. You also have the option of making other riders aware of an issue upon entering the ring and beginning your school. For example, when on a youngster that’s notoriously weird about other horses passing closely, my trainer always makes the other riders in the ring aware that she is riding a young horse and to leave some extra room when going by.