Hors’Etiquette – the showjumping warm up
The showjumping warm-up can be the most chaotic, nerve-wracking event of your whole weekend, and at nearly every event I am reminded of just how many people don’t understand the necessary etiquette of this frightful place. There are some relatively simple rules to follow to make order from showjumping chaos.
The General Rules
The showjumping order at most ODE’s is based on the order of arrival (the easiest way for officials to keep numbers flowing smoothly and still accommodate multiple rides), so when you get to the arena, find the marshalling official and give them your number. Most of the time, you will be marshalled by this person into the warm up, and if the miracle person either has back-up or is multi-talented (thanks Rod!) you will also be marshalled into the arena. If you are riding in reverse order, you will probably find this out at the course walk, and you can expect to be appropriately marshalled throughout the warm up.
If the warm up has three fences, usually one will stay as a designated cross for people to jump a few times to get going. Leave this fence as it is!! It dramatically helps the flow of horses and helpers as they go through the warm up- don’t change it! If the warm up only has two fences, it is usually the vertical that is made a cross. It’s expected that you will require a maximum of three cross rail fences before you can put the fence back up to a vertical, unless it’s obvious that you are going to get pelted through the bunting!
Each grade has a maximum allowable height for the warm-up fences, which is a hole or two above the maximum height of the grade. It is NEVER appropriate to put the warm up fence above this height, as you endanger competitors not yet ready to jump this height, and you inconvenience those who know they can’t jump that high and don’t attempt the fence while you have it at this level. Overfacing is the BIGGEST faux pas that you can make in the showjumping warm up.
It is a common occurrence for the rider who has warmed up but has had to wait a while before going into the competition arena, to quickly come back in and jump one fence in case the horse has ‘switched off’ in that time. It is usually only appropriate for this to happen once – if you come back and warm up three times you have definitely become a serial pest!
Generally, it is the right of the next person into the competition arena to call the shots, they particularly control the height of the oxer. The order of ascendancy works down the order from that next rider to the last one in. Some flexibility has to be shown in the control here, so that new riders to the warm up can have a cross to start warming up, and that others can have smaller verticals and oxers if they are needed before jumping at maximum height.
Communication is the Key
The easiest way to take the stress out of the showjumping warm up is to communicate what you want and what you are doing to the others that it affects. ALWAYS ask the group if it’s ok to modify a fence. Simple short statements like “Everyone ok for vertical?” or “Can the oxer go up 2 holes?” spoken clearly and loudly will synchronise everyone’s movements. Anyone who still needs a cross will very quickly speak up, zoom around and probably jump it once more and then permit you to put it up. It’ll cost you a whole 20sec but will be greatly appreciated by all those around you. In turn, when the shoe is on the other foot, you will appreciate it when someone gives you some notice that they are going to change a fence.
Help Others how you would like to be Helped
Helping others in the warm up does wonders for taking the pressure down! It’s also dead easy to do, and surely the positive Karma that you gain here can be used for all sorts of equine misadventure later!!! If you are standing around the showjumping, go and help the rider flying solo in their warm up. When you are leaving the showjumping warm up, put the fences back to where you found them. If you see that someone is having difficulty, ask if you can help at all? If someone is snappy and stressed, give them a little bit of understanding, because you know exactly how they feel!!
Eyes Up, People!
It is your most important job as a rider to make sure that you are aware of the happenings of the warm up, and looking at nothing other than the jump or your horses’ mane is not going to help your state of awareness. Even the busiest, most chaotic warm ups can be safely negotiated if you keep your eyes up and plan your way to the fence. You will get much less annoyed with other competitors cutting you off, if you develop an ability look up and around the corner and predict the movement and speed of the other riders, in much the same way that you assess traffic while driving. You can therefore slot in between riders and not have two of you arriving at the same fence at the same time, shouting at each other!
If you have a helper on the ground, they MUST adopt the same policies. I don’t know how many times I have either jumped someone’s helper or screamed at them for the near miss! Have your helper ask the other riders before modifying a fence, look up before walking in front of a fence, and help others where possible. Helpers that aren’t capable and confident can be a liability to those around them. Famously, I have kicked the front rail of an oxer into the back of my long-suffering husbands’ head, whilst he, unbeknownst to me, was trapped between the wings by another person!! I can tell you that apologies don’t sound sincere when, half an hour later you are still chortling with laughter :-)
It’s Just the Warm Up
Finally, remember that the warm up is just that- it’s a physical exercise designed to prepare body and mind for a task. You just need to warm up the horse’s body, and get your eye in so that you can feel ready to go in the arena. It’s far too late for schooling the horse or to teach it how to jump, so don’t go there. I have found that the way the horse jumps in the warm up can be surprisingly different to how it goes in the arena, so I have long ceased worrying about an uninspiring warm up, or trying to go into the arena on the perfect fence. I reckon that doing a good job in the arena will result in the horse going better than jumping a heap of extra fences chasing the ‘perfect’ one.
These measures will result in you improving your own stress levels and making everyone else’s life much easier as well. Give them a try, and discover how empowering it is to feel in total control of yourself in the warm up. If you have any other suggestions for how you manage the purgatory of the warm up, feel free to add a comment!! Happy Showjumping!