My favorite place at a show is the warm up ring. Though the booths selling incredibly fashionable riding gear that I would have to sell a kidney to afford are great, and the classes themselves are informative and ever educational, but nothing tops the melting pot of emotions, skill levels, riding and training styles that must co-mingle in the warm up.
There are a cast of characters that are ever present:
The Arrogant Professional – You move for them. Period. If they are half passing across the warm up and you and Dobbin are on the other side attempting a stretchy circle, well then you better pray Dobbin isn't intimidated by the fire breathing dragon that is heading your way.
Didn't you know that this horse won the CDI Schrizenhofchenberg last year? And by god they are not going to let that young girl in pig tails posting the trot across the warm up get in the way of their success! Keep your head on a swivel, Susie!
The First Show – Though they are in a Training level class that is not going to stop them from trying to do the entire warm up in an eight meter volte, tucked into the corner closest to where their trainer is standing. It is as though their trainer radiates an aura of safety that diminishes at around ten meters and woe be to those who move beyond that perimeter. And, really, we don't have to canter do we? I mean, a canter free warm up isn't ALL that unusual is it? How about a canter free test? In fact, is it too late to change riders? I need to pee! I'm thirsty! WHERE IS MY READER?
The Confident Kid – Deep amongst the jungle of warmbloods a pony appears, war paint on its haunch. The little girl sits deep and drives her steed into an extended canter across the length of the warm up. It swoops under the legs and bellies of its larger brethren as onlookers watch pop eyed and gasping. Her pig tails are sticking straight out behind her as she rides a few playful bucks, grinning all the while. She doesn't notice her mother fainted by the sidelines and her trainer has gone pale. She is show ready!
The Young Horse Rider – Aside from perhaps the judge, this thick skinned individual receives the bulk of dirty looks from riders and onlookers alike. Steering is on the fritz and her horse cannot be bothered with the concept of 'aids' when it is so busy screaming to its stall mates who have all abandoned him. And what is that? A baby stroller? Nay, methinks it is an ogre! Now I shall bolt across the ring bucking, heading straight to that lady making an eight meter circle in the corner. That sounds like a great plan!
Mr. Hyde – Whenever this horse is at home he is perfectly on the bit, executing his changes effortlessly and is a general pleasure, but once that last hoof leaves the property, he changes. The skin beneath his coat turns green and a wild glint appears in his eye. By the time he reaches the show grounds he has forgotten what it to be collected, roundness is a foreign word and no amount of sobbing on top of him while a horrified trainer looks on is going to change his mind.
The Fashion Plate – As you lug yourself into the saddle wearing your first edition troxel and fifty pound black wool coat you see her pass. Everything is flawless from her perfectly tailored coat with real baby unicorn skin cuffs to her matching boots, tack, pad, bridle and earrings. In fact, did you know that the super healthy, gluten free, raw diet, vegan breakfast that she ate this morning was color coordinated to her outfit?
The White Rabbit – They are running late, running late, running late for a very important show! Their trainer has been warming up the horse for the past twenty minutes while looking wildly about for any sign of them, when finally they screech around the corner wearing two left boots and pulling on their show coat. Warm up? Nah! Just head straight into the ring.....What was my test again?
The Walk of Shame – With head held low, both horse and rider walk back into the warm up in a despondent circle after their tragic test. The rider waits for the horse to cool down so she can dismount and begin some serious heavy drinking.
It is something that I try to remember as I am riding before my test. Amongst the nerves, the preparation and the handling of my horse I try to remember that we are all doing the same thing out there, working hard and trying our best. So wish someone good luck, give them a smile and don't begrudge them if they look at you like you are an alien. These characters are the reason I love the warm up, because they are us. They are dressage. Dressage is by its nature an individual sport for the most part, with one horse and one rider. It is only in the warm up that we get to see the triumphs and tragedies of all of these individuals together.