Equestrian Etiquette 101

Like any sport, equestrian has its own etiquette and subtle rules to be aware of as a spectator. For any type of horseback riding, the etiquette is even more critical to know about since safety is at stake due to the prey instincts of horses. Following these guidelines is necessary in order to avoid spooking the horses and causing any accidents or injuries to the animals and riders.

As a Spectator

Whether you are new to the equestrian scene or are looking for a refresher, these 5 tips will help to ensure safety, keep the competitors and horses at ease, and ultimately allow you to enjoy Red Hills or any equestrian event to the fullest:

1. No sudden movements or running

Many factors go into why horses are so easily startled. One is the placement of their eyes on the sides of their head. They have blind spots – areas that they cannot see around their bodies – and if they perceive a fast movement from a direction around them that they cannot fully see, they will spook. A horse may simply look quickly to the motion, or just step to the side when they’re scared. However, a horse doesn’t know how strong or big it is, and if they get truly frightened they could take off at a full-speed gallop, or rear up on their hind legs.

Horses also have the “flight” instinct when it comes to being a “fight or flight” animal. If they see something remotely new, they will want to explore it slowly and get familiar with it. This includes new people, so if you
are approaching a horse with the owner’s permission, you will want to move slowly to avoid the horse’s defenses flaring up.

Also consider your attire for the event with this in mind. Don’t wear loud jewelry or attention-drawing color, and avoid scarves that could easily become undone and fly away!

2. Use the right lingo

There are many types of equestrian sporting events. Red Hills Horse Trials is eventing, meaning there are three days of the event, each persisting of a different type of discipline. The opening day of eventing is always dressage, a ballet-like performance done by horse and rider with the goal to make transitions look as seamless as possible. Most often, day two consists of  cross country, arguably the most exciting of the three days since the equestrian duo races through natural settings and flies over naturally-themed obstacles. Eventing closes with show jumping is the final day with a ring filled with beautifully-designed jumps though some events will reverse the order of days two and three.

In sum, eventing consists of dressage, cross country, and show jumping..

3. Know when to cheer (and when not to!)

It is fairly obvious when a rider has completed their ride. In dressage, they will return to the middle of the ring and take a bow. Show jumping tends to end with a loosening of the reigns by the rider and a big pat on the horse’s neck as they exit the ring. Cross country wraps up with the horse slowing from a gallop to a trot. Applause is always welcome when a rider finishes up, whether it was a perfect run or not. Their hard work should be recognized by the audience.

However, a fault is more noticeable during show jumping and cross country than in dressage. If the horse’s hoof touches a pole on a jump, or even knocks it down, the team will get penalized and ultimately, receive a lesser score from the judges. If a horse refuses a jump three times in any of the two jumping events, the team will be disqualified. Thus, if you see a horse and rider exiting the area midway through their run, they have been disqualified. Applause will likely still be happening to say “better luck next time”.

4. Keep a safe distance from the practice rings and horses

The warm up rings are extremely busy, with lots of horses and riders warming up accompanied by their trainers instructing them. Needless to say, it is a very crowded space. It is best to stay away from these areas as a spectator to avoid getting in the way of trainers walking in and out of the ring, and horses and riders.

The horses you will see at equestrian events will be so perfectly groomed and majestic, it will be hard to not walk up and pet them, however be sure that you don’t approach a horse without an owner’s permission. At these events, especially Red Hills since it is technically difficult and early in the competition calendar.

5. Horses always get the right of way

If you see a horse and rider coming in your direction, always stop for a moment and give them the permission to continue. It is easy to assume that they will see you since the rider will be higher up, but there is a lot to pay attention to when you’re on your mount, so it is best to play it safe and let a horse and rider cross if you do intersect in your path.

The most important thing to remember when at an equestrian event is to enjoy it and have a blast! Equestrian is such a unique sport, and provides spectators all around the world with an excuse to spend a day outdoors, admire gorgeous horses, and to cheer on incredible athletes.