30 Blue Ribbon Tips

  1. Blue ribbonIf you haven’t already, attend a show and watch the classes you plan on entering so that you know exactly what to expect.
  2. If your horse is a greenie, take him to a show and don’t enter any classes; just evaluate how he handles the new surroundings.
  3. Make a list of everything you need to take to the show; then pack the day beforehand, checking each item off your list.
  4. Have a friend or family member on hand at the show to help with last minute grooming, giving your boots a wipe before you enter the ring or just providing moral support.
  5. Before each class, visualize how you want your ride to be—professionals find this technique helpful.
  6. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on show clothes, stick to classic colors and avoid flamboyant trends.
  7. Dress up your everyday tack by using a special pad or blanket reserved only for show.
  8. Teach your horse to trailer load confidently, well before an event. Show morning is no time to discover that your horse hates straight loads or won’t travel alone.
  9. If your discipline calls for show-day braiding or banding, start practicing well ahead of time, or hire an expert to do the job for you.
  10. Bathe your horse for the show, and then cover him up for the night with a sheet/blanket; add a stretchy hood if you’ve braided or banded. If he has white stockings, protect his legs in standing wraps, too.
  11. School one level higher than you show. That way you can compete with confidence, even when nerves and distractions might get in the way.
  12. Give yourself—and your horse—plenty of time before your classes start to get accustomed to the showgrounds.
  13. Know how your horse behaves in the company of others. If he is unruly, it’s probably not time to show yet.
  14. Warm your horse up, but don’t burn him out. Save his best energy for the actual class.
  15. Don’t school your horse in gadgets and then expect him to perform in the show-ring without them.
  16. Clean your tack the day before the show: Make sure it’s in tip-top shape, and polish any silver.
  17. Know what the show-ring turnout requirements are, and make sure you comply. Poor turnout shows lack of respect to the judge.
  18. If your horse is having a meltdown in a rail class, head to the center of the ring and just stand quietly. Better to chalk it up to experience than create a dangerous situation.
  19. Some disciplines have strict rules and regulations about equipment. Study your rulebook closely to be sure that your tack is “legal.”
  20. Warm-up ring etiquette: Pass left shoulder to left shoulder; if you’re working at a faster pace, stay well to the inside. Keep your eyes on horses that are circling or changing direction.
  21. Hunters and jumpers: In the warm-up ring, call “heads up” on the fence you’re jumping.
  22. Hunt-seat riders: Attach your entry number on your back by threading a black shoelace through the number, then through your coat’s last buttonhole; tie off and hide the bow under your coat.
  23. Western riders: Affix your number to your blanket with safety pins, decorative blanket conchos or a number holder.
  24. At home, practice any special tests that you think might be added to your classes, such as riding without stirrups, sitting the extended trot or executing a figure-eight.
  25. Never hold a class up; you could be disqualified. If you are making a quick tack change, or have classes running simultaneously, have someone inform the show steward immediately.
  26. If you’re new to showing, pay your trainer a rail fee to coach you for the day.
  27. Dressage riders: Memorize your tests even if you have a caller. Practice the tests in your arena on foot during the weeks leading up to the show.
  28. Your day isn’t done just because your classes are over. Attend to your horse’s needs before relaxing with friends.
  29. Ask a show steward if you can see the judge’s scorecard or sheet to gain a greater understanding on how he or she pins a class.
  30. Don’t forget to close out your check before leaving the showgrounds!

This article originally appeared in the June 2006 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.


  1. I have a suggestion for the blue ribbon tips; Take your horse to the show a day early and ride him just to get used to the show grounds. And thank you so much, your tips were so helpful when I went to shows!

  2. Even though some (not all) of your tips are easy to remember and vary helpful and i love your wabsite. It is my first time on your site and i find it helpful.I am a huge horse fan and i have a 7 year old american paint pony and i think not only she will thank you for the advise,but i will to.

  3. Another tip is to set out all of the items you need the night before you show, so when you wake up early the morning of the show, you don’t forget something or have to run around the house to find it.

  4. I thought the tips were great. I’ll have to try them out in the 07 summer shows since i’ve never ridden in a show, but I have been to one as a groom.

  5. i’m a begining rider and havn’t been to a show yet but i will look at this before my first one for sure. thank you for puuting out simple tips they can be very helpful for people that are not sure what to do.

  6. I added these tips to my list I already have and they are such a big help. We get things togetherv2 days in advance and then double check the night before. I have never forgotton anything by doing this.

  7. This was VERY helpful! When I go to my first show I will use these tips and hopefully bring home the blue! I LOVE this website and I think that it is a shame that not all people would love horses as much as we horse lovers do! They have to be the best animals on earth. Happy trails every-one!!

  8. You do not have to be in shows in order to have fun riding. It is not that I think shows are pointless, it is just that riding can just be to exercise them and go on trail rides. Shows just get people stressed out and sometimes when a horse does not do well in shows, their owner gives the perfectly healthy horse away or sells them to a slaughterhouse. I know this does not happen all the time, but it happens often enough that the strain of competitions can change or hurt someone’s life.

  9. While preparing for a first show, this article really helps to calm your nerves and gives you good advice on how to not only come home with a blue ribbon, but also have an enjoyable show experience.

  10. some of these things will be very helpful. i have showed 3 years before this but the horse i rode didnt want to canter. if i have a problem like that again what should i do?

  11. This is a really great article – I’ll be sure to do some of these things before showing in the spring! Thanks again for this very helpful article.

  12. I have only won a few blue ribbons and I discovered that I am doing a few things wrong. Hopefully these tips will help, calm me and my horses nerves down.

  13. this was very helpful. although a lot of the things mentioned here i learned at my first show, i found a few things out that are going to be extremely helpful when i start showing for ribbons. thanks Horse Channel!

  14. items never to forget at a horse show!!
    Super glue. (never know when you will need that!!)
    Tape. (good to have)
    Extra black shoe lace (usually provided for your number, but just in case).
    Boot polish (what if they get scuffed at the show)
    If it is warm: FlipFlops to rest in after/way before your class.
    If it is cold: Sneakers or uggs.

  15. Yes this stuff is very true!!! My first show out of my schooling ranch. Tip: If you havent ridden horse in a snaffle for a long time don’t do it on your first show out of your horses confort zone!!! Another tip: just have fun, i know everybody says that it sounds like a bunch of crap. But it is really true!!!!!!!!!

  16. thanks that was really good help. I never knew that you could tell the judge that your classes run one after the other and you need a few extra seconds to change tack.

  17. I was just at a show and for the first time my horse and i did terrible but someone reminded me that showing is about having fun and i realized that it was fun and it didn’t matter that we didn’t place!

  18. Great list but there is also “If your horse does badly, don’t blame the animal. Instead take a look at what you missed in training, practice it, and remember, there is always another show!”

  19. These tips helped me a lot, well will help me a lot! I have my first horse show coming up in May! I hope I do good but since I read these tips I am not so nervous!

  20. These tips were pretty helpful, but i wished they told more about proper etiquitte such as smiling or clucking to the horse and when and when its not ok to do it. My first show is in 4 days, and its just a schooling show(: overall, great tips, though!

  21. This artical is great but i think you should have included what things are ok to do in the ring like clucking. Great job, though!

  22. good article. thanks. I wish they had been a bit more specific but i think they were a) trying to reduce stress–so if you have simple things to do it’s easier and b) trying to address all disciplines.

  23. another thing thats important at shows is to stay off of your horse as much as you can, unless he has excess energy, because many riders dont realize how much just sitting on your horse can wear him out. if you want him to last the whole show, get off between classes and loosen the girth, even take off the saddle, if you have time

  24. To some, this might be a boring, done that, set of tips, but to us who have never shown, and are about to start, they are all good sound advice.
    Thanks for the tips.

  25. Those tips are really helpful! I myself am a neat freak, and when I take my horse to shows, I’m always a nervous wreck that I have forgotten something! But I never thought of the obvious fix, a check-list!!! And all those tips for the actual show, like getting your horse used to stuff before even entering, pure genius!

  26. These comments help so much!! this is my first year in 4-h using a green horse so the show world is new to bith of us.. and the week before shows i am in panic mode!!!! but these notes calm my stress!:) thanks

  27. These are great tips! I have obtained so much info since finding this website i will know so much by the time i get a horse!

  28. I thought that it was useful because I, personally, have never done a show, but will use some of these tips for when I do compete in a show. Thanks for sharing this very helpful information with me today!!

  29. Those tips were handy! I never went to a horse show, It would be cool if i did! i couldnt go to one, though, even if i wanted to, its because i have an old quarter horse. again, cool article!

  30. i just love this article! i got a new horse, but he is also kinda old. but if i did a lot of practicing, mabye i could enter in dressage! can you enter 28-year old horses in shows? my horse is old, but he still is active! he survived 2 bear chases! again, awesome article!


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