By Susan Dudasik, Salmon, Idaho
Every event has a set of unwritten rules which are usually based on safety and simple courtesy to other competitors. But unless someone explains them, a newcomer is often in the dark and only learns that they’ve broken one of the “rules” after doing so. While showing’s a fun activity, there are some ego-based competitors that go a bit overboard and won’t hesitate to complain about a person for what they perceive as breaking the rules. Therefore, observing more experienced competitors is the best way to figure out what’s the proper protocol at each show.
One area where these rules apply is the warm-up arena, a small arena or open space that competitors use to get ready before they enter the ring. This can be a very congested place as you may have riders of all disciplines and riding levels in a confined area. As a general rule, the warm-up arena is for those getting ready to enter a class. The number of equines will thin out when a class is called to the ring so try getting in the warm-up arena then. When in the arena, faster moving equines are closer to the rail and slower ones to the inside. If you need to pass, pass wide on the inside and vocally let the rider know you’re coming around him. Never go between a equine and the rail and be sure to leave plenty of distance between animals before returning to the rail. Watch those behind you. Don’t go from a canter to a walk if someone’s right behind you. A good rule of thumb is to leave at least one or two equine lengths between equines at all times. But this isn’t always possible so stay alert. If you need to stop, go to the center of the arena; if you want to chat with your friends, leave it completely. Stay with the flow. If everyone is going to the right, don’t go left. If you change directions, announce it before doing so. The warm-up arena can be chaotic since there may be folks jumping, doing slidings stops or lunging their equines. You need to be aware of everything around you as well as your own mule.
Before a class starts, they usually announce that the class is on deck, then give a first and second call followed by a final call, at which time all contestants must be in the ring. Once they announce, “Judge, this is your class,” you will not be allowed to enter. If you need more time between classes to change tack or mules, ask the ring steward for a short time extension of about five minutes. This needs to be done before the current class leaves the ring.
How competitors enter the ring depends on the judge, so pay attention. Some prefer that they walk in while others want them to enter at the trot. Whichever you do, keep at least an equine length away from the animal ahead. Upon entry, most riders follow the first mule instead of spacing out. Follow the lead equine for a reasonable distance, but if he’s moving slower then you, by all means, don’t be afraid to pass or cut across the arena to an open space. It’s easier for the judge to see your mule when he’s in the open instead of boxed in by slower moving equines. If you’re coming up on a traffic jam, go ahead and cut across to an open space as most accidents happen when equines get jammed and you don’t need to be in the middle of it.
As the class proceeds, the announcer will call out various instructions such as walk, trot, canter, reverse and line up. While you need to respond promptly, you also need to be aware of what’s going on around you. If there are equines blocking your path, you don’t want to instantly break into a canter and run into them. Judges watch for this. They want to see if the rider is a thinking rider or just a passenger. At the end of the class, riders may be asked to line up and back their animals. That doesn’t mean the class is finished. Don’t slouch in the saddle or start chatting with the rider next to you. A good competitor maintains his show attitude until he walks out of the arena. It doesn’t take much to understand the basic rules of showing, it just takes observing more experienced competitors, paying attention to one’s surroundings and following simple safety practices.