BY CIRA PACE MALTA
It’s another cold, early Saturday morning at the horse show. I check the courses quickly before I get on so I can school over the jumps. I peek my head into the ring to see where the jumps are set up and how many people are already schooling. There are a ton of people already jumping, but I cross my fingers that by the time I warm up they will be done and leaving.
As I swing my leg over my horse and give him some good morning pats, I take a deep breath and steer my way into the show ring. I get right on the rail so no one jumps into me. But almost immediately someone canters by way too close, and my horse recoils from them. Great, it’s going to be one of those mornings.
I walk around the ring a couple of times to make sure my horse is warmed up, and proceed to flat around. This particular morning has it all—equation riders with heavy footed horses wearing bell boots that make so much noise it seems to echo off the walls, trainers giving full lessons which involve practicing roll back turns and bending lines causing near misses between riders trying to jump the full lines, and other riders that maybe-should-have-lunged and are galloping around the ring until they feel their horses are quiet enough. Sounds like a fun Saturday morning, right?
Unlike many of my amateur rider friends, I have never had any fear associated with the schooling ring. I grew up riding and showing green ponies, so I still have that fearlessness in me. That’s not to say I haven’t been run into countless times while schooling. I literally had a novice adult rider steer directly into me and my horse resulting in both horses flipping to the ground, leaving both of us riders laying next to each other in the dirt. Things happen. People miscalculate their steering. Horses decide not to listen or get spooked and go in the other direction but in this case, while I was still laying on the ground experiencing my first concussion, the other rider’s trainer ran over to me to ask me if I was okay and cried, “I knew I shouldn’t have let her school!”
That was an accident that could have been avoided had the other rider’s trainer not let her inexperienced rider into the busy ring. If you have the schooling ring fear inside of you, let your trainer or another rider of your trainer’s choosing school your horse for you. You are not going to get over your fear while 20 other riders jump in every direction at or around you. Instead, watch from the ingate or viewing area. See how the lines ride for a horse that looks to have the same stride as your horse, and see where the turns are to each line.
If you do decide to brave the schooling ring, be present and mindful of the other horses around you. Pass people left shoulder to left shoulder (sometimes I swear that basic rule got lost along the way). If you see a dark grey horse, you should know that they are young and give them more room when passing. Stay away from horses with red ribbons in their tails. If you see a horse that is visibly upset and the rider is having trouble, give them more room. Call out the jump you are going to and listen to the other riders when they call out which jump they are going to and watch out for each other. Do not circle in front of the jumps if someone is jumping, and do not get too close to another rider unless there is no other choice. If your horse is nervous in traffic, protect them and let the other riders know to give your horse more room.
I have had many horse shows ruined because of a bad warm up experience that could have been avoided had the other rider been more mindful and courteous while riding around my visibly nervous horse. If we all just take a moment to watch out for each other, I believe we can make the schooling ring not such a dangerous place.