If you’ve been riding and showing for a while, then you have encountered a rider that clearly doesn’t know the “rules of the road.” While it can be frustrating to deal with someone who doesn’t understand the basics of common courtesy in an arena, the real issue is safety. Ring etiquette is designed to keep you and your horse safe, and when people ignore this, someone almost always suffers.

Be aware

This is the most important rule. Don’t be on your phone or otherwise distracted when you are on a horse. Pay attention to what’s going on around you and ride defensively.

Entering the ring

You will encounter horses going in different directions when you enter an arena.  Especially in the warm-up ring at a horseshow. Take a minute before you enter to assess the traffic and then go in the direction most horses are traveling. Ask someone to close the gate behind you if you are entering, and dismount (if necessary) to close the gate when you leave. A loose horse could easily bolt through an open gate and get himself and others into very difficult situations if it is left open.


Mounting in the ring

It’s best if you mount your horse before entering the ring, but if it is necessary to mount after you are inside, move to the center of the arena. Watch for people who are riding over jumps and be sure you stay clear of their path.

Right of way

In the warm-up ring, certain horses and riders have the right of way. When jumps are in use, the horse and rider approaching the jump always have the right of way. Yield to them, even if it means you have to stop your horse and stand still for a moment. If you are jumping, be sure to call the jump you are planning on going over. “Red cross rails!” lets other riders know to vacate your path and not to try to jump at the same time you are. If you’re on foot, mounted riders have the right of way.

A similar rule applies in the dressage arena. FEI and horses have the priority, and the expectation is that a horse using the diagonal line for changes or half-pass has the right of way.

Making a pass

Horses in the ring will be going in different directions, so it is important to know how to pass. When approaching another horse, pass left shoulder to left shoulder.  That means the horse coming toward you will be on your left. If you are going in the same direction and you need to pass a slower horse, announce your intention and pass on the inside. Saying “Inside!” allows the rider you’re about to pass to expect your horse to go by, possibly preventing a collision if she should suddenly decide to move toward the inside of the ring. Whether you are passing each other face-to-face or from behind, leave plenty of room.

Too many cooks in the kitchen

Unless you’re setting jumps for someone, stay out of the ring if you’re not on a horse. That goes for trainers, too. There are enough distractions without having to watch for people on foot. If you are setting jumps, wear your helmet.

Don’t be a roadblock

If you need to have a conversation with someone, leave the arena to do it. Do NOT stop on the rail to talk to your friends, other people, or your trainer. Shouting from inside the ring to someone on the outside is a no-no, too, as there are people needing to be heard (like calling jumps). Just take it outside the ring.

Pretty ribbons aren’t just for looks

It’s important to keep at least a horse distance between you and other horses, but especially if the horse in front of you wears a ribbon in its tail. This color coded system keeps other horses and riders safe by letting them know about potential problems.

Here’s how it works.

  • Red ribbon – Horse may kick or strike
  • Yellow ribbon – Horse is a stallion
  • Green ribbon – A young or inexperienced horse (or rider)
  • Blue ribbon – Aggressive horse
  • Pink ribbon – Mare in heat
  • White ribbon – Horse for sale

Don’t be a hog

This one is for the show ring. Every rider wants a chance to be seen by the judge, and the judge needs to be able to see every horse to do his job. If you pass between a judge and the horse he is looking at, not only do you prevent the other rider from being fairly evaluated, you put yourself in a bad light, too. And the judge will remember.

Wrapping up

Riding in an arena or ring can get a bit tricky when there are a lot of horses there. Using common sense will keep most things on track. Not only can you inconvenience others by ignoring ring etiquette, but you or someone else could get seriously injured.

Let’s use horse sense when riding together and stay safe!

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