You Can Do It! (Help & Motivation to Go Show)

Want to go show with your horse? Here’s the motivation and road map you need to get yourself and your equine partner into that show pen.

What develops your skills as a rider, boosts your personal growth, strengthens the bond between you and your horse…and is just a huge rush into the bargain?

Competing in horse shows offers a world of benefits, and getting ready to go show isn’t daunting if you take it step by step. Photo courtesy of the Paint Horse Journal/APHA

If you said showing your horse, a blue ribbon to you. And with all those benefits, what’s holding you back from competition? Hesitation? Procrastination? Feeling overwhelmed?

We won’t have it.

Here, to jump start you in the direction of the competitive arena, is a quick-list of tasks. Begin some of them now, continue others over the winter, pick up the pace in the spring. By the time show season rolls around, you’ll be rarin’ to go.

Your assignments:

• Find help. The right coach or trainer can guide you in all matters, including evaluating the suitability of your horse. If you can’t manage full-time training or regular coaching, take lessons as you can afford them. (And perhaps you can trade out services—such as sewing? bookkeeping? stall mucking?—for lessons.)

To find a good coach, ask around—among your horsey friends, at the feed store or saddle shop, at a local show. Get references and talk to a potential trainer’s current clients.

• Buddy up. Find a pal—perhaps another client in your trainer’s barn, a member of your local riding club, or someone you meet while lingering at the saddle shop (or searching online). If you find someone more experienced than yourself, great–that person can help show you the ropes. But someone new or returning to showing after a break can make a great buddy, too. The two (or more) of you can learn together.

• Join up. If you haven’t already done so, join your local sport or breed affiliate (if your horse is registered) and/or sign on with any relevant local horseman’s organizations that offer showing opportunities. There are more of these latter groups all the time, often with the focus of keeping show participation fun and affordable. You’ll meet new friends and get access to resources such as clinics and playdays.

Perhaps the best result when you show your horse is the bond that develops between the two of you. H&R photo by Alana Harrison

• Watch & learn. Go to the event you plan to enter or a similar venue–sans your horse–to see what it’s all about without the worry of actual competition. Go with your trainer or your learning buddy, or find someone else to tag along with.

Even if you go alone, you’ll pick up a wealth of information that’ll be invaluable when your time to show comes: popular attire, trends in judging, how classes are run, what the stabling situation is like, where the warm-up areas are, good/bad places to park, how the schedule plays out and–not least–where to find food.

• Lend a hand. Volunteering at an event is a superb way to learn what competing is all about. Working as a ring steward, for example (the person who assists the judge in the arena), can be like having a personal clinic.

You’ll observe how the judge responds to various entries and, if you’re prudent about it, you can even ask the judge questions when he or she isn’t actively judging. Many judges enjoy explaining their perspectives, and it’s a terrific way to gain real-world insights.

• Start small, work up. Set modest goals (your trainer can help here), so you don’t overwhelm yourself. If reining is your ultimate goal, don’t jump right into reining events; start instead with simple rail classes at a local schooling show to get your feet wet in the least intimidating atmosphere.

Or, depending on your confidence level, you may want something at an even lower entry point to start. Here’s where walk-trot classes–especially common at schooling shows but becoming more so in other venues–are helpful. Or plan to start with unmounted events, such as halter, showmanship, longe line, or in-hand trail classes.

It doesn’t really matter how you get into the show ring–the point is just to get started. Once you’re off and rolling, you can periodically reset your sights on higher goals.

So, now you have a road map…time to just do it!


Three how-I-did-it stories to inspire you.

Showing on a shoestring budget.

Your most-complete-ever show-prep binder.

Bob Avila’s smartest show-prep advice.

Keeping your horse calm on show day.

Tips for show-ring shine.

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