Safety (and etiquette) for hunter under saddle class?

Hi all,

What should I have done in the following scenario?

Hunter under saddle (“flat”) class. Ring is not large, and only the quarter line jumps have been dismantled and set aside.
There is barely enough room for one rider along the outside, with one to their inside. So, a 2 rider-wide area around the ring is all that works… or directly down the centre line. Ring was crowded, but do-able.

During this “flat” class, the following happened:
At the canter, 1 horse is on the outside, and I am on the inside. We have been in this orientation for at least half a lap of the ring.
As we round the corner, TWO large horses come up on my inside, rapidly cut me off, and I was effectively squeezed between three horses! ZERO room, VERY unsafe, and my feet even touched the horses on either side of me!!!
This all happened within 2-3 strides… I went from completely safe, to suddenly touching horses on either side of me, and one in front of me!

Thank God my horse is good natured because it could have ended very badly if anyone kicked or bit! As it was, the sudden squeeze caused him to HOP on the spot, pin his ears, and he nearly reared up.
It forced me to break from the canter down to a dead stop… I was told by spectators that it was very scary, what happened. A few said it was their “worst nightmare in a flat class.”

After the class, we did not place. My coach asked the judge, who said I was docked marks for breaking at the canter…
(we did not press the judge or second guess their decisions, we merely asked and got an answer, then walked away.)

There’s a good chance I would not have placed in that class even if this situation never happened…
BUT, this post isn’t to blame the judge, so much as it is to ask what should I have done?

I wish at the time that I had yelled loudly… “LOOK OUT!!” or something.
Because if I was going to lose so many marks anyways, who cares if I lost “etiquette” for yelling after that scary scenario?
Does hunter etiquette state that I should have stayed silent?
Should the other horses get docked marks too?
… (for the record, the horses who pulled that dangerous move both placed in the ribbons…)

Thanks for your input.

p.s. this was NOT at a high ranking show. It was basically a glorified schooling show, at a “schooling show circuit” across the province… so it’s not the end of the world that I did not place. But the situation left me with a horrible gut feeling, and realization that not only did it feel unjust, I wish more people were witness to that bull$*&t move!

The judge may not have seen the whole thing. If the judge was looking down to mark the card, or looking elsewhere in the ring, and looked over to see one horse stopped while everyone else was still at the canter, then break in gait is the obvious call for the judge to make.

As far as traffic issues in the flat class, I would always give other riders the benefit of the doubt and figure it was accidental. Without a pretty solid reason to think otherwise, I wouldn’t bother to worry any more about it. Stuff happens, especially at a lower level show, where there might be inexperienced horses and riders.

​​​​​​​Going forward, if the same situation arises, maybe be more proactive about asking them to tear down more jumps so the ring has more room. And a clear “Heads up” or the like may come in handy.


Yes. Calling out “heads up” would be my go-to strategy. The rider(s) that cut you off may not have realized they did so. Ignorance of the situation doesn’t excuse the rider(s), and a loud “heads up” will hopefully cause everyone to immediately check their track and their surroundings.


The only thing you can control is you-- so be sure to always leave yourself space to maneuver. Schooling show flat classes are pretty sketchy at the best of times since there is always a variety of experience levels and often ponies/ school horses/ big green warmbloods hacking together.


You yell heads up in the show ring?


I believe OP was in a situation where horses were about to collide. If the situation is dangerous, and calling out “heads up” might prevent a terrible accident, yes, I would call out “heads up” in a show ring. Have never done it. But would do so if it would possibly keep someone from harm.


As opposed to a collision, yes! But it can also be done more discreetly if you are in close proximity. If I’m in a tight ring, I have no problem saying “heads up on your inside/outside” to make sure the other rider is aware where we are or where we are going!

In this situation, where the OP is getting cut off, I’m not sure you have much choice but to pull up, even if it knocks you out of the ribbons. It is frustrating when it happens, but safety is preferable! The real-life Madison was the hack winner, but we lost a hack to someone at a local show who was clearly going to t-bone us. Unfortunately the judge didn’t see the dangerous riding and that horse won, but the judge saw me picking back up our canter. I’d do the same thing 10 times out of 10 to avoid the collision.

You just have to do as much “defensive driving” as you can and try to leave yourself an alternative path if at all possible in case you need to circle or escape!


I clearly am too stressed to speak! :lol: Although I have had people intentionally cut me off. I tend to cut across the arena a lot in classes like that.

If the horse is suddenly close enough to touch stirrups, there’s no need to yell. The other person is well within earshot.


Riders need to have eyes in the back of their heads. Just as you need to know what the opposite side of the ring looks like before deciding to cut through the middle, a rider can glance back when turning a corner to see who is right behind them.

That way if a rider is coming up to cut you off you have the ability to preemptively say “outside” or “inside” These are the words I use to make people aware of my presence and plans. And I have said it quite often. As MHM said, you do not need to yell; you need to speak in a normal to quiet voice.

Keep other riders aware of your intentions. Once it is already happening, it is too late to say anything



In any flat, the rider needs to be aware of the entire surroundings. It’s actually a more technical class than most people think, and positioning oneself in the most ideal situation for the entire class is an art and a skill. If the rider is close enough to touch, it’s definitely too late. Everything happens in a split second, so awareness is key. And as riders, we have a responsibility to protect our horse from situations like these. I’ve had to collect my horse a bit to avoid a collision, and I’ve also had to leg him up, and that’s something you can do as a rider who is about to be sandwiched - you generally can see it coming but you have to be aware of all 360 degrees of your surroundings. For the OP, if they are about to T-bone you coming from nowhere at a runaway gallop, you can certainly yell heads up as there is about to be a serious wreck and everyone needs to be aware, but if it’s a slow, more subtle oncoming move and they simply aren’t aware you are there, it’s certainly okay to use your voice and let them know “inside” or “outside.” Think of this like cars merging on an interstate - would you have let the collision happened or would you have honked your horn? Stepped on the brakes? I always think of the best piece of advise from driver’s ed - aim high in steering. This means to always be looking ahead for what might happen.

Things for the OP to do in the future that will help - listen for the sound of horses coming - even when they are coming up behind you, you need to be aware. Will they go inside? Outside? Do you need to change your track? Slow down? Speed up a little to get in front? Since this happened in a corner, were they circling? Was there awareness of where they were tracking? And one more thing I always do if I have some incident - I make a mental note of who they are and I try to track opposite them in any future classes. Sometimes there is just that rider on your circuit that isn’t super aware, so I generally just avoid them at all costs. You can create more room by riding longer and deeper into your corners, or making a shorter, shallower corner, strategically.

I’ve always thought it is easier for kids to learn to drive a car if they know how to ride. They are already familiar with the concept of following traffic patterns and avoiding trouble when someone else does something unexpected.


Agree with all of the above! I used to show in a schooling pleasure-show series that would sometimes get chaotic like the OP describes. Try to be aware of where everybody is in relation to you and definitely use “inside” or “outside” when passing others.

Some other things I used to do (I wouldn’t recommend all of these at rated shows but for schooling shows they used to work well for me):

~ride deeper into the corners
~enter the ring first. Yes, this can be intimidating because the judge will definitely be watching you but it gives you an opportunity to plan your spacing from other riders.
~similar to the above, if you’re not the first to enter, wait 5-8 seconds after the horse in front of you enters before entering.
~circle (in a scenario where the judge isn’t actively looking in your direction, and there are a lot of people in front of you and none behind you. Circling once would give you a better buffer and leave you by yourself on the rail).
~cut the arena, again, not right in front of the judge
~ put a red ribbon in your horse’s tail even if your horse doesn’t kick. If you know your division has a lot of riders that crowd and don’t follow ring etiquette, a red ribbon can be a non-verbal reminder to them to not crowd you.

Sorry the judge docked you for breaking OP. It does sound like the judge didn’t see the whole thing, but as others have said, it takes real finesse to be able to navigate a flat class in such a way that you don’t clump up with other riders, stay on the rail by yourself, don’t get cut off, etc. It gets easier the more you do it :slight_smile:

She said “call out” not “yell out”

But that’s too non specific…you need to call “I am outside you” or ’ I’m inside of you, stop drifting" or " no, don’t cut me off". Tell them what’s happening or what they are doing to you.

Some novices just ride around in a fog with no clue anybody else can be impacted by their actions. They don’t know, their trainers don’t teach them and they are unaware of the consequences of their inconsiderate, even selfish, riding in a big flat class. The excuse of being novices doesn’t fly with me when they can, and do, run others into a jump standard or into the arena fence cutting them off in a corner. If they can’t get around without posing a risk to others, they don’t belong in that ring yet. It’s not a suitable learning opportunity if they knock somebody else out, figuratively and/ or literally. Unfortunately, they and their trainers don’t think it’s them and they will always be in there.

The only thing you can do is be aware of everybody else in your class and their apparent ability and do NOT let yourself get trapped. Have never been in a flat class where you could not circle through the middle of the ring navigating around the jumps to stay out of trouble caused by other riders. You might have to steer and quickly plan an escape route but if you see you are getting trapped, you need to get of there. Do it nicely, you should still pin well and even if not, you can ride out of the ring instead of lead your horse out with a bloody nose from hitting a jump standard or even brushing dirt off your butt.

Was once in a big class with a good spot all by myself about 5 feet off the rail and didn’t see a gal come all the way across the center of the ring until she turned inside me and within a couple of seconds drifted out hard into the rail with me between her and rail while calling, “outside, outside” to her. We hit the fence post, she canters on oblivious, I got clipped from behind, judge saw that, called hold hard and excused me. I had to hop off to lead my horse out as it was bleeding from a knee) All ended well, that gals trainer was waiting for her at the out gate and let her have it, made her seek me out to apologize and ask if the horse needed a vet ( that was a negative turned out to be just a scrape) Judge told me later he had no choice as all he saw was my horse on its knees with others piling up behind, he thought we had tripped and gone down.

Practice watching everything and everybody every time you school flat work so you don’t get surprised. Try to ride with a group more. Staying by yourself in a group and knowing where your other riders are and which ones you should stay away from is a learned skill. Just takes time and a lot of observation. Flat classes only look easy, doing them well is an art. Especially at shows that don’t move jumps for flat classes.

I totally agree with using inside and outside but in this case the OP was on the track (the inside rider of two using the same track basically) and was not passing. The other riders were cutting the OP off, the OP was not interacting with them, they were interacting with the OP.


I didn’t read any interaction between OP and either the horse outside OP or the two that cane up from behind inside and cut her off ? There sure should have been somebody calling or yelling something and that might have helped the situation. You can call something in a class, it’s not necessary to stay silent and get squashed.

I have before, and always will, if there is a situation where there is a potential collision - I understand it’s a show, but safety is most important.

OP, I think you have gotten some great advice here! I think it should be important for all riders to look out for eachother in flat classes, but sadly that’s not the case, between kids not paying attention, new riders who arent aware of etiquette, and, God forbid, the uber-competitive riders who will put themselves anywhere to get seen, even if that means cutting another rider off. My advice is plan your space well - and if you see someone coming too close, even from the side, circle or cut across the ring. I never trust the other rider to give me space, and use a “heads up” if you need to. Always better to be safe than “polite,” IMO!

Totally agree!

So, I tell my kid to always ride defensively, as in she needs to be aware.

I’m imaging the scenario you described. Much like in driving- there isn’t anything you can do about the other people, they should have circled or cut across the ring if possible (if it was that tight I’m not sure why the show didn’t split the cantering but hindsight and all).

As a rider, you can use the corner and go deep, you could cut the corner a tad to give you some space to get away from Horse #1. The other horses, if I found myself in that situation I would have spoken “inside, outside” whatever in voice they could hear- safety trumps- but not in my schooling “INSIDE LINE” voice. It also may have brought focus from the judge that this was a no-win situation (even though you broke so that’s the break). I haven’t had to do it but wouldn’t have a problem with it if I did.

I’d practice using peripheral vision to watch the ring. You can do this without turning your head (if it’s an eq class you that’s a worry). You always need to be aware of other riders, as you would certainly notice 2 much quicker horses coming up on you and possibly evaded, or at least moved faster (still make get dinged) to get out of traffic.

Last year a wild pony in a flat class was out of control, galloped up behind my pony and kid and body slammed right into them. Pony lurched forward, bucked, my kid came off bridle and all. Now, my kid was exactly parallel with a jump so there wasn’t any way to avoid, but be sure in the next flat where that pony was in (they split the class) my kid was MUCH MORE AWARE of who and what was around her.

Judge went up to trainer after (schooling show) to see if kiddo was ok (she was) and check on pony (he was) and said to trainer “that’s too bad, she would have won the class”. Those are the breaks…

It is so much like driving a car… you have to always be aware, have some kind of evasive maneuver if needed and sometimes things are going to happen that you just can’t avoid.

An accident recontructionist we used on the force once told me (re: car accidents) only 10% of accidents are truly 100% the other persons fault.

So, in all kindness, I think maybe examine how your own actions also played into this outcome.

Half a lap is too long to be side-by-side and in step with another horse, especially if the rail is “barely” wide enough for 2 abreast. I would have sliced that corner/cut off the end of the ring and headed off to find my own spot, which likely would have prevented the entire crash scenario.

Also, if you’re on the inside you’ve got the girl on the rail trapped unless she makes a major adjustment to pace… she may be writing a similar post wondering why you didn’t create more space when you were the one with that opportunity, not her.

on that note MHM might be on to something… I am very aware of cars beside me, in blind spots, following too close, etc and I make adjustments to get out of those situations (instead of relying on Stranger Joe to do so). Must be from all those years in the hunters!

Placings seem correct. Break in gait is an immediate line through the card, regardless of the cause. And I have been cut off a zillion times by the winner (but since I try to always maintain a comfortable bubble of space around me it does not result in a break in gait).

The under saddle is so much more than just a “flat” class, and to ride one successfully is a bit of an art. Both defensive and proactive riding must be done in order to A) stay safe and B) show off the horse to the best to his abilities. At every moment you must not only be aware of where the other riders are, but where they are likely to be in 20 strides, and make your plans A, B & C accordingly.