Warm-Up Pen Etiquette

Navigate a barrel racing warm-up arena with the help of a producer's eight do's and don'ts.

By Abigail Boatwright; Photos by Kevan Sheppard

At first glance, a barrel racing warm-up pen can appear to be pure chaos. Horses everywhere, riders at different speeds, competitors flying in and out of the arena…as a newbie, how do you get your horse ready and survive the day0117warmupetiquette photo1Practicing good warm-up etiquette makes you a more professional competitor. Photo by Kevan Sheppard. without committing a faux pas or worse? Mike Gammelgard, owner of Barrel Racers National 4D (BRN4D), shares his thoughts on barrel race etiquette to help newcomers ease into competition.

Do find a mentor. If you’re new to the barrel racing game, Gammelgard recommends asking more experienced riders for advice. You don’t have to struggle to find out where to pin your number, when to pick up your check or how long to wait before you warm up—ask someone for help!

“Everyone has those barrel racers they look up to,” Gammelgard said. “So visit with those people when you have a question. Don’t just go out there and think you know everything.”

Don’t warm up too early. The warm-up pen for a barrel race works well when everyone is paying attention to each other and riding accordingly. When riders are over eager and warm their horses up too early, they can interfere with riders about to compete.

“If you’re going to warm up two hours before the class, choose a location away from the actual warm-up pen,” Gammelgard said. “I know you are excited, and for many riders, it’s your first time or you haven’t raced very often, but spending too much time in the warm-up pen clogs everything up. Figure out what your horse needs to do to warm up, go and get it done and then be prepared to race.”

Don’t block the alleyway. Ever. Many arenas have an “open throat” entrance, which allows competitors to run out and swerve to the left or right. When riders hang out too close to the alley, it can cause dangerous pileups. If you need to stand with your horse for some reason, choose an area out of the way. For the safety of yourself, your horse and other barrel racers and their horses, be constantly aware of what is going on around you in warm-up areas, alley areas and the competition arena. Always avoid remaining in a location where you may block a rider entering or exiting the arena at a high rate of speed. Be a conscientious and considerate competitor.

“If a rider is off pulling boots from their horse in the alleyway near the gate, the announcer will have to hold things up and ask them to move to another area,” Gammelgard said. “Avoiding this issue is really a matter of paying attention.”

Don’t pony your horse in the warm-up pen. Another faux pas Gammelgard sees is riders ponying another horse while warming up. This is dangerous, as horses led beside a rider can cause wrecks with other competitors in the crowded space, kick, get away, etc.

Don’t punish your horse at the show. Different horse sports have different protocols around equine discipline. But no matter what your background is, Gammelgard says a barrel race is no place to be rough with your horse. Most producers have a zero tolerance policy posted in their ground rules—read the rules and respect them as well as your equine partner.

“I see some novices be hard on their horses—they are jerking, spanking—that kind of thing,” Gammelgard said. “You are not doing your horse any favors. Save the training for at home.”

Do make sure your horse is ready to compete. Gammelgard says if your horse isn’t quite up to the challenge of a competitive barrel pattern, it might be a good idea to work on it at home before you tackle a show.

“It’s hard to watch a rider fight with her horse to get it through a pattern,” Gammelgard said. “When you go into that arena, you want to do a professional job running around those barrels. If that isn’t working out for you, relax, ride your horse back out of the arena, go home and practice. Come back when you’re ready to go. It’s not a training pen—you want to be ready to run in that arena.”

0117warmupetiquette photo2Consideration for others in the warm-up area goes a long way toward keeping yourself and those around you safe. Photo by Kevan Sheppard.Do consider others when sharing space. If you want to spin your horse to warm it up, pay attention to the activity in the warm-up pen. It might be better to find another area out of the way. If you want to visit with other riders, avoid riding or resting abreast with each other in the arena.

“It’s really annoying when there are three or four riders side-by-side [in the warm-up pen],” Gammelgard said. “It holds everyone up—people either have to stop or go around them.”

Gammelgard says keeping your eyes and ears open will go a long way toward easing your way in the warm-up pen.

“Slow down and watch what everyone else is doing,” Gammelgard said. “You see so many people just jump in the warm-up pen and start going the wrong direction, block the path because they’re visiting with friends, ponying horses and just riding all over the arena against the flow. That’s so disruptive in the warm-up area. Try to keep things moving.”

If you’ve got the hang of barrel racing competition, help out others who might not, says Gammelgard.

“Think about the other riders before you consider yourself,” Gammelgard said. “If you came into the warm-up pen and the object of your time there was to make sure everything moved smoothly so all of your friends also had the best opportunity to warm up before they ride, how would you respond? You would probably be more considerate—what can you do to make it the best experience for everyone? If you ask that question, you’ll find yourself in the flow, doing the same things.”

Do cheer each other on. Trying to be considerate carries on into the competition time. If you aim to have fun and enjoy the experience, your barrel racing becomes about more than just your time on the course.

“If everyone is thinking of others, things will go a lot smoother,” Gammelgard said. “That means everyone is helping each other get their horses warmed up and getting to the arena, making good runs, supporting each other and clapping for each other. Let’s try to make barrel racing fun, and be supportive of each other while you are here.”0117warmupetiquette meetexpert

Gammelgard compares this attitude to gift-giving on Christmas.

“Etiquette is thinking about what works best for the person beside you, instead of what works best for only yourself,” Gammelgard said. “If you do that properly, then things will work for you as well. It’s like Christmas—it’s always more fun to watch someone open up their present you got them than it is opening up your own.”


This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of Barrel Horse News as part of our Barrel Racing Basics series.
Abigail Boatwright is award-winning journalist based out of Texas. Email comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Tags: Barrel racing basics, Warm-up pen etiquette, warm up etiquette, warming up your horse