Rider Insider: Show Tips

Horse Show


Going to a horse show is a great way to add some excitement to your equestrian life. Competing gives you goals to work toward. It provides an opportunity to meet new horsey friends. And yes, it’s a great outlet for the competitive side you didn’t even know you had.

But taking your horse in front of a judge can be a daunting task the first few times you do it. Unless you are able to work with an experienced trainer or you have friends who are seasoned competitors, you have a lot to figure out at your first show. Study the rule book all you want, but there are still certain unspoken bits of knowledge you can only learn through firsthand experience or guidance from someone who’s been there and done that.

Even if you’ve competed in horse shows throughout your life, if you decide to make the switch to a different discipline, everything is new again. Moving from A-circuit hunters to competitive trail or from western pleasure to cowboy mounted shooting can make you feel like a complete beginner.

While it’s always a good idea to join up with an experienced competitor for your first outing, that’s not always possible. So in the interest of sharing wisdom among horse people, we want you to share your advice for newcomers to the world of equestrian competition. Whatever your discipline, tell us your secrets to success. Some of our favorite responses will appear in an upcoming issue of Horse Illustrated!

This month, Noble Outfitters is sponsoring the Rider Insider column in Horse Illustrated with a prize for the selected featured response. If you’d like to be considered for a prize, make sure to include your contact info in the email field of the comment form (emails will not be publicly displayed.)

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  1. Don’t be close minded going into a show. Keep yourself open to learning new things both from your horse and other competitors. A show is not only a place to show you and your horses skills, it is also a place learn something new. Everything is a learning experience, especially the not-so-great-things that tend to happen every now and then. If something goes wrong, count it as experience; if something goes right, count it as a reward.

  2. Go to every horse show with a goal. And try not to make that goal “winning the blue ribbon”. If you do that, you will be disappointed because you can’t win all of them. For example, having the goal to get through a trail class and conquer the lope poles or gate. Then, when you complete your goal, you win! A ribbon would just be the cherry on top!

  3. I like to make a checklist so I don’t forget anything important. Pack the truck and trailer the night before (in fact, do as much prep as you can the night before) to avoid feeling rushed on the day of. This will ease the pre-show jitters..

  4. I cannot stress the importance of packing the night before. I have a checklist on my computer that I go through when packing to make sure I don’t leave the house without a helmet or anything else I will need (including snacks!) I also have a list of bad weather stuff I might need. I ride for my college’s IHSA team and we have had to be outside in bitter February weather for hours and I make sure to never leave without handwarmers and extra layers. Other times, it is raining or rained the night before and leaves the ground soaked, so to protect my belongings, I bring a number of plastic trash bags to keep everything dry.

  5. It doesn’t matter how advanced everyone else is, or how good of a horse your friend has. Having fun and learning are more important than anything.

  6. You should have hopes and dreams but remember not to have too high expectations for your first show. Maybe you’ll go in and win everything but likely not. So, expect to have fun, miss a few things, forget something, and enjoy the company of your horse and friends.

  7. Winning is just like frosting on a cake, having the fun and work is more important along with having your best friend with you.

  8. I don’t show but do attend shows on my area I think people need to loosen up and have fun in some of the classes because I think riding is supposed to be fun for everyone

  9. Showing is exciting and fun. It can also be very nerve-racking and stressful, too. You can prevent the stress and nerves if you just remember what you are actually there for. Showing isn’t about the ribbons and the prizes. It’s about what you gain, experience and more trust between you and your horse. Focus on the present. Worried about your first show coming up tomorrow? Focus on getting your horse or pony spotless, and clean your tack.

  10. no matter what happens just have fun with your horse! Remember why it is you started riding and why you kept at it all this time (even if it’s only been a short time!) if you have fun you’ve already won 🙂 and finally, good luck!

  11. Don’t worry about the other horses or riders. If you lose today, don’t give up. There’s always another show tomorrow. Always praise your horse, no matter whether you placed first or last. Enjoy the experience and with just being around horses. Make sure showing stays fun for you and your horse!

  12. Believe in yourself, have fun, and don’t give up, even in you come in last place. The only rider your trying to be better than is the rider you were yesterday.

  13. Never blame your horse. Even if you win in last place, don’t get mad. It can ruin a relationship with your equine friend, and remember you are showing for the fun of it.

  14. Make a checklist of the things you’ll need and pack the night before so you’re not scrambling around looking for tack the morning of the show. If you get nervous, take a walk around the grounds with your horse to relax. And when you enter your class, don’t forget to sit up straight and smile!

  15. Always pack extra tack! I cannot stress that enough. I once attended a competition and my horse stepped on his reins and broke them. I didn’t have extra but thankfully a lady near by saw what happened and let me borrow a pair from her.

  16. I didn’t start riding until age 16. My first horse show the rest of the girls in my class were wearing pigtails and jodhpurs riding ponies while I was on my new 6 year old horse who was green in jumping himself. They kicked our butts! We had so much fun together and with the rest of our barn, it wasn’t disappointing in the slightest. Ever since my trainer says I’m a different rider. A show is only a tiny snapshot of where you and your horse are at, don’t forget to enjoy the whole experience.

  17. Stay calm. Everyone was a beginner once they know what’s going through your head and you’ll be surprised how many people will offer help if you need it. I did my first show this fall and half the people there kept saying how amazing it was that I tried so hard and was happy when I came out of the ring, ribbon or not. Just stay calm and have fun.

  18. Don’t let your nerves get the best of you. Shows can be nerve-racking, and that is okay. But you can’t let your nerves take over. Your horse will pick up on it and you both won’t show well. Try taking deep breaths and make sure you are well prepared for the day. Trying to make last minute preparations will just make it hectic and stress you out.

  19. My show tip-have a horse you are cnfident on. Practice your tests or course and know it. When you are comfortable on your horse and confident in your abilities, you’ll go far. It doesn’t hurt to be cool and collected as well as remaining calm. Another thing, make sure to practice in all weather…that way you and your horse are prepared for anything.

  20. Whenever I’m getting ready for a show, I always make a checklist. I check my things about ten times because I don’t want to forget something! And make sure you bring lots of snacks and treats- showing on an empty stomach is NOT fun. Don’t forget to smile!

  21. My show tip is to have good sportsmanship. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be competitive, but if you lose, so what? You win some; you lose some. Just because you lose doesn’t mean you can be rude and hateful to other people. Use losing as a learning experience, and keep working hard.

  22. My favorite show tip is: Never ever under any circumstances run your horse without warming up!
    I learned that the hard way! At state finals!!

  23. I can recommend some mental training before starting at a show – this gives you the opportunity of some extra “training” without your horse that can be done during daily life. A recommendation is the book from Jane Savoie, I read it after a pretty awful season 2012 and 2013 I was way better when it come to show nerves, concentration and delivery to the point. I am still working on it now!

  24. I have done some compeating, and I just ti be so nervous. I have also done some martial arts, and we have a saying: Train as you fight, fight as you train. Train your horse at home as if it is at the show rarena. Braid your horse, put your white breechers on and your riding blazer. Do that until it is a habbit.

  25. Before every show I always tell myself to not try to do how other riders ride in your class. They might make a mistake that could affect your placing as well! Just study your class patterns and have fun!

  26. Don’t invite a ton of people to watch you show. One of the biggest mistakes I made wss inviting to many people to watch me show. Instead of concitrating onmy horse and myself I spent to much time answering questions and making sure my non horsey involved friends and relatives were safe and not in the way of any one. Next show I am only inviting one close friend who is involved with horses to video tape my rides and then sharr them on Facebook for my friends and family to see

  27. My advice would be to go in focused on having a good ride on your horse. You will be happy even if you don’t win anything if you have a good ride.

  28. Make sure to attend a show similar to the one you want to go to first. Knowing how show day works before attempting it with a horse and show day nerves is a huge help. Also don’t plan for a major show to be your first one. Try a schooling show first, have fun and enjoy the experience without the pressure a big show brings.

  29. Remember to SMILE! It’s supposed to be something you are supposed to be enjoying. Enjoy the ride, the partnership with your horse. At the end of the day, the color of the ribbon doesn’t matter. It’s how you grew with your horse!

  30. Stay focused on your goal. It doesn’t have to be winning. Maybe a correct lead or breathing during a flat class. Learn from your mistakes, do your best and have fun! Whatever happens, these are the memories you are making with your horse!

  31. Moms/family members: smile and support! Your rider may already be nervous and only needs cheerleading and a water bottle from you. That is your ONLY job – any comments about riding should come from the trainer.

  32. The biggest helper to combat nervousness on show day that I’ve found is to trust your horse. It doesn’t matter that you might mess up a pattern, or make a mistake, but if you can trust your horse enough to get through it, you’ll be fine. Judges like to see confidence, and confidence comes from trust in your horse.

  33. Have fun and smile! This is an opportunity to show off your horse and yourself to people in the community about how much you have progressed and how much you enjoy the sport. You should be enjoying every minute of it with your horse cause with out them you wouldn’t be at that competition.

  34. My biggest thing when it comes to shows is that I go in a matter of seconds from a calm and excited rider to a bundle of nerves. I tend to hold my breath when I jump, which tells my horse, and everyone else, how nervous I am. My advice is just to focus on breathing during your ride, as it will help to calm you and your horse down, along with a guarantee to improve your ride by quite a bit.

  35. I have found that spending time with my horse before I enter the ring helps me forget the wrong lead we picked up in practice yesterday or the fact that I don’t have the most expensive show clothes. My horse doesn’t care. She helps me calm down and focus on doing my best!


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