Horse Shows: Preparation and Competition Tips
I like to think of a horse show as a stage on which a horse and rider team can display all the things they've learned, and have fun doing it. Whether you're trailering to your local horse park's Thursday morning dressage show or shipping horses across the country for national finals, if it isn't fun, find another hobby (or profession!).
That being said, there are so many different levels of competition, in so many different disciplines, that it's hard to decide where to start. I'll try to keep my advice general and simple, and link to tons of great resources for all aspects of riding and showing.
Always look your best
Like most things in life, getting a horse to sparkle takes time and effort. Daily grooming will keep a horse's coat shiny and smooth even in the dead of winter, and will make horse-show prep a lot easier. Here are some little secrets I've picked up for making your horse look his best:
- My favorite bath for a horse is a handful of Orvus and a squirt of Betadine (scrub, not solution!) in a bucket of warm water. Sponge it all around, or work it into the coat with one of these, then rinse, rinse, rinse, and rinse again. Squeegee all the water off, and make sure no little soap bubbles rise to the surface of the hair. I like to bathe the night before a show, and do a touch-up grooming in the morning.
- I never put cream-rinse conditioners in manes or tails - it makes them too slick to braid.
- For detangling manes and tails, I like a simple solution of 1 part baby oil to 5 parts Listerine. It's cheap and easy to make, and can also soothe itchies.
- To get socks and stockings extra-white, put a dash of bleach and a scoop of Ivory Snow detergent in a bucket of warm water, scrub it into the socks, and rinse thoroughly.
- Do touch-up clipping on nose and ears one or two days before the show. If you don't know how to clip properly, have someone teach you, and practice on a horse that doesn't need to be out in public for a while!
- If you need to do major make-over work like body clipping or mane-pulling, get it done at least a week in advance.
Depending on your discipline and the size of the show, your horse may need to be braided, banded, and decked out in a variety of ways. Your trainer will help you make that choice, or look into some of the books below. One lesson I learned the hard way - don't braid your own horse unless you know exactly what you're doing, and you're darn good at it.
Don't forget your own good looks! Check with your trainer or a book to find out what to wear and how to style your hair for your discipline, level, age, and gender. For local shows, neat, clean, and safe are the only requirements for attire. The bigger you go, the more effort (and money) you'll have to put into your look.
Great all-purpose advice books
Grooming tips from Laurie Pitts
Boring, boring, safety first!
The first thought that popped into my mind when I read amy jane's request for this hub was this: Always show a level below what you can comfortably and safely do at home. If you have just learned to jump a cross-rail, enter into your first show in a walk-trot, or walk-trot-canter class. If you want to enter a trail class, make sure you and your horse are familiar with every obstacle. You can't shine in public or enjoy what you're doing unless you're confident performing what the class requires. If you want to move up a level, especially in rated, competitive shows where the pressure is on, make sure both you and your trainer agree that you're ready.
With proper practice at home, your riding and your partnership with your horse will be your best memories of a horse show, and that's how it should be!
The rule of law
The bigger the horse show, the bigger the rule book. Because so many people make a living in the horse show industry, rules are important and must always be followed. Your trainer will help you navigate the specific rules that apply to you. Things that might be regulated include attire, appearance of the horse, tack and equipment, level of competition (eligibility), soundness and health of the horse, pharmaceuticals, vet records, and vaccinations.
Many books about specific riding disciplines cover some of these rules, but the only way to make sure you're complying with the most up-to-date regulations is to study a current copy of the rule book for the organization that's in charge of your show. Organizations that rate shows include:
Get the show on the road
Most horse shows involve trailering you, your horse, and all your stuff to a new location. This is a lot of work, and requires proper planning, organization, and practice. Try to make your very first horse show a small, schooling show at your own lesson barn, or one that's very close by.
Jump in, boots first
A day at a horse show can be chaotic and confusing. Many of these books have great planning and organizational advice, but here are a few of my favorite tips:
- Find the bathrooms. 'Nuff said.
- Know when and where all of your classes are being held. Don't expect your trainer to babysit you, especially if you're not the only student showing.
- Be on your horse at least a half an hour before your first class. You and your horse will both need a relaxing warm-up.
- Don't try anything in the warm-up ring or the show ring that you don't do at home (see Boring, boring, safety first above).
- Bring healthy snacks, to save money and post-fair-food heartburn.
- Bring a horsey friend who isn't showing. They can be your "groom", making sure your boots are shiny and your horse's snot is whisked away. Just be sure to return the favor!
- Ask a friend to videotape your ride. Most shows have a videographer, but that can get expensive.
- Know your expenses. Communicate clearly with your trainer when you're planning a horse show. There will always be class entry fees, and you may need to add trailering, schooling, stabling, and membership fees. Your trainer may charge for taking you to the show, may expect you to pay their hotel bill, and may charge by the hour at the show for lessons and schooling. Your trainer isn't trying to fleece you, but to simply make a living.
- Pad your budget. Horse showing is an expensive hobby, and you need to be prepared for unexpected costs like extra bedding, last-minute braiding, food or drinks, or even entering into an extra class if you're having the greatest day ever.
- Watch your competition. Don't let their mistakes be your mistakes, too.
- Thank the judge. Depending on your discipline, a nod to the judge is the right way to say "Thank you for sweating/freezing/getting wet/getting sunburned in your little box and watching me and my bouncy friends all day." Your trainer will tell you what is appropriate.
- Thank your horse. He's the one carrying you around.
- Have fun, have fun, HAVE FUN!
At the end of the day...
... you and your horse should be tired, happy, and smarter than you were in the morning. Here are some ending tips to keep your horse in top form, and to make sure you keep having great horse show experiences.
- No matter how tired you are, your horse deserves your attention! Make sure he's properly cleaned, un-braided, fed, watered, and put away for the night. And even if you didn't bring home the blue ribbon, your horse deserves an extra carrot.
- After a show, rub your horse's legs with alcohol and wrap them in standing bandages (make sure your trainer teaches you how). Take off the wraps the next morning.
- Thank the people who helped you. This includes your trainer, parents, and friends.
- Make a special place to display your ribbons. No, winning isn't everything, but ribbons are pretty and should be celebrated. Don't leave them anywhere they'll get folded, squashed, or bleached by the sun.
- Review footage or pictures of your show with your trainer, and plan how your ride can be even more fantastic at the next show!