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How to Handle a Less Than Perfect Warm-up Arena at a Dressage Competition

How to Handle a Less Than Perfect Warm-up Arena at a Dressage Competition how to dressage


Warming-up at a competition before your class can make or break your performance in the arena. So, what do you do when the area isn’t ideal, or your horse is not co-operating?

Here are some top tips to help you cope with the less than perfect warm-up arena.

First things first

Before you tack up, get the lay of the land.

Go round to the warm-up area and have a look at it. Once you know what you have to work with, you can formulate a plan that works for you and your horse.

Common warm-up arena problems

We’ve all been there; the area designated for working-in is the size of a postage stamp, and it’s already full when you get there. How you handle this will largely depend on your horse’s temperament.

If you have a quiet horse, a crowded warm-up area might not be a problem, but if your horse is inclined to be fizzy and explosive, you’ll have to adapt your working-in routine accordingly.

For the quiet horse

If the location permits, it may be possible to walk your horse around the carpark or perhaps go for a short hack to get his muscles warm before you start working-in properly.

Concentrate on getting into a good rhythm in each pace.

You may not be able to ride large circles or changes of rein, so ride lots of transitions instead to help keep your horse’s attention on you and keep him engaged and balanced.

If you can’t run through the whole test, ride small sections of it, focusing on movements that your horse finds easiest to build his confidence and help to settle him.

Managing the hot horse

Some venues have a lunging arena that you could use. That’s especially helpful if your horse is very hot and you fear an explosion in the warm-up area.

If you’re working-in on grass, try to find a corner of the warm-up area where you can work your horse without upsetting others. Some youngsters find the hustle and bustle of a crowded warm-up area very intimidating, and finding a quiet space can help to keep things calm.

Even though you’re keen to compete, you must be considerate to others. If your horse is very naughty or uncooperative and you can see that this behavior is upsetting other riders’ horses, do the decent thing and take your wayward equine out.

Make a mental note that next time you come to that venue, lunge or school your horse at home before you set off. That way, you’ll take the sting out of your horse before unleashing him on other people in a small working-in area!

It may be worth considering stabling your horse overnight at the venue so that you can work him early in the day before the warm-up area begins to get crowded.

Alternatively, ask the organizer for a very early or very late slot in your class. That way, you have a good chance of having the warm-up area pretty much to yourself.

Warm-up arena discipline

No matter how busy the warm-up area is or how peculiar its shape, you must always observe the appropriate working-in area discipline.

  • When warming-up, remember to pass left-hand to left-hand.
  • Give way to anyone riding in counter-canter on the track.
  • Don’t walk on the track; move to the inside so that you don’t cause a traffic jam.
  • Be very aware of those around you. Treat the tiny warm-up area as you would when driving around a busy city center. Look before you make a turn or change of rein so that you don’t cause a collision.
  • If someone falls off or has a serious problem, stop and wait for them to sort themselves out.
  • Pay attention to the warm-up area steward’s instructions.

Finally, if your horse is misbehaving and making a nuisance of himself, you should take him out of the warm-up area, especially if it’s crowded. You won’t be popular if your mount upsets everyone else’s horses, and you could even cause a dangerous situation.

In conclusion

Not every venue has a generous working-in area, and you may find yourself trying to warm-up in a crowded or cramped space.

If you don’t know what to expect at a new venue, make sure you arrive in good time so that you have plenty of time to warm-up. If your horse is providing difficult and his unruly behavior is upsetting others, be prepared to remove him from the working-in area and save him for another day.

Do you regularly compete at a venue with a small or oddly-shaped warm-up area? If you do, tell us how you cope in the comments box below!

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