Horsemanship How-to: Line up Like a Winner

Saddle Seat Line Up

A horse show class can seem like a marathon torture session, especially if you’re aboard a cranky horse or trying to hold your position despite the fact that your body’s going numb. Yet you can’t relax just because the announcer instructs your class to line up. Instead, use the line-up to your advantage. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  • Always strive to create a straight, even line in the center of the arena. If the some of the riders are strung out like a snake, so be it. Join the portion of riders that made an effort to look like a cadet review.
  • Calculate how much room is available before you try to fit between another horse and an immovable object like a jump standard. There’s no sense in squeezing into a parking space where you’re not wanted.
  • Hopefully you used your showmanship skills and identified any troublemakers in your class. Remember the horse that bucked in the corner or the one that pinned its ears when you tried to pass on the rail? Don’t line up next to those horses.
  • Give the judge a final glimpse of what you and your horse do best. If, for example, you’re in a hunter under saddle class and your horse has a fabulous trot, orchestrate your ride into the line-up. Providing you don’t disrupt anyone else, demonstrate a few strides at the trot one last time.
  • In contrast, if your horse is tense or antsy, and unlikely to stand still for long, don’t rush to line up. Take your time. That doesn’t mean that you should hide out on the rail like a non-conformist, but let the more anxious riders scramble into place. Then ride calmly to the far end of the line. Your diversionary tactic will eat up some time and then your hyper horse will only have to stand still a few moments until the ribbons are announced.
  • What can you do if your horse gets tired of waiting for the ribbons? Unless he’s threatening to mutiny, do not leave the line-up and walk in a circle. Not only is that poor schooling but it can disturb the other horses. Instead, use some soothing techniques. Rub your knuckles against his withers, speak to him quietly in your “happy barn voice” or subtly pick up and jiggle one rein, then the other. Some seasoned show riders even carry sugar cubes in a pocket and discreetly reach down and slip them to their baby greenies in the line-up just to keep them happy.
  • Most of the time the judge will only change the ribbon order if someone does something egregious in the line-up. Don’t be that person. Be sure to maintain contact with your horse’s mouth so he doesn’t do something embarrassing like snack on the decorative shrubbery. Keep your eyes up and refrain from chatting with the other riders. If you keep your horse calm and your position correct, you’ll look like a winner in the line-up.

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Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.


  1. I remember one time it was my mares first time back in almost three years of not showing. When we went to line up, she tossed her head and started sidestepping and backing up/pawing, so much the rider next to us had to move. Lesson learned: Practice patience at home~!

  2. Good tips! I like the one about trotting put o the line if that’s what your horse does best. I always try and keep by posture and head up alllll the way through the class — you never know when the judge is looking and what they’re looking for.

  3. Always great pointers! The line up can be tricky because I’m always tired and relieved that the hard part is over! Ill have to remember this!


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