Show Survival


Horse Illustrated MagazineBefore You Go
1. Give new equipment a test run at home first to make sure it fits you and your horse comfortably. Some items, such as boots and saddles, require significant break-in time.

2. Tack cleaning should be part of your everyday routine, not just for shows. Regular maintenance helps keep your tack in safe condition.

Tips on how to survive a horse show3. Consider packing spare parts, such as stirrup leathers, reins, or an extra bridle, so you won’t get derailed in the event of a tack malfunction.

4. Know your rulebook to avoid disqualification for illegal equipment or another easily avoidable infraction.

5. Compete at an appropriate level for you and your horse—at or below what you are currently schooling at home.

6. Use a checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything (download one here.) If you compete frequently, you may want to leave some show-specific items stowed in your trailer during the season.

7. Prepare as much as possible the day before so you aren’t rushing around on show day. If your classes start early, bathe your horse and braid his mane the night before.

Getting There
8. Avoid trailer drama: Show day is not the time to teach your horse to load. Practice well in advance of the big day. 

9. Keep up on trailer maintenance. Check tire pressure and fluid levels the day before you haul out.

10. On show day, allow plenty of time to load your horse in a leisurely, relaxed manner. Leave early so you have sufficient time to get to the showgrounds, park and settle in. (Remember you’ll be driving safe and slow with a horse trailer in tow.) 

11. Put protective gear on your horse to help ensure he arrives unscathed.

At the Show
12. Remember that horses are unpredictable, especially in a show environment. You may have to adjust your riding strategy.

13. We get by with a little help from our friends—bring one along to help you out, or pair up with a barn buddy. A ground helper is invaluable to hold your horse, knock the dust off your boots at the in-gate, provide a last-minute touchup for your horse’s turnout and give you confidence before you go in the ring.

14. With an inexperienced or nervous horse, consider bringing along an equine babysitter. A “been there, done that” pal will help him keep his cool.

15. Protect your show attire with a change of clothes or cover-alls.

16. Be aware of your surroundings—wandering kids, spectators, dogs, golf carts and the occasional loose horse can present hazards on the showgrounds.

17. If you sense a meltdown coming on (human or equine), find a quiet spot to take a moment and gather your composure.

18. Don’t let the pressure of showing cause you to forget good sportsmanship. Keep an upbeat attitude around your fellow competitors, friends, family, and most of all, your horse.

19. Concession stand fare can wreak havoc on a stomach that may already be full of butterflies. Pack healthy snacks to keep up your energy.

20. Drink up to stay hydrated. Bring plenty of water for yourself, and invest in some camping-size water jugs to bring familiar-tasting H2O along for your horse. 

21. After the show: Clean out your trailer and put everything away so it’s ready for the next show.

22. Remember, showing is supposed to be fun!

This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.


  1. I like to clean my horses before show day and organize the trailer also. It’s so hectic on show days and we owe it to our horses to not be stressed when we are in a class. It saves time in the morning, too.

  2. Most of the time i am leaving my house early to go to a show so packing the night before it always a plus. It helps to also have a checklist to make sure you have everything and look over it the night before and the morning of. Showing is soooo much fun and so being prepared keeps it fun.
    Great article


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here