Your Best Show

Use these six insights to ensure that you and your horse have the best show experience possible.

You put a lot of time, effort, and money into competing with your horse, so it’s imperative that you get the most out of every performance. But I’m not talking about bringing home the most points or ribbons for your work; rather I mean achieving the best experience you and your horse can have, including fun, learning more about your equine partner, and advancement toward your goals. These kinds of achievements make hearing your name called in the judge’s placings icing on the cake.

Credit: Photo by Leslie Weibel Rather than living for the ribbon count, make your show experience about achieving your own personal goals, furthering your relationship with your horse, and having fun.

Here I’ll offer you six enlightening insights and their benefits to help you be sure you put forth your best effort. You’ll be able to enjoy the time with your horse, and have fun during the competition itself.

Best Show Tip #1: Do the Dirty Work at Home

Enlightening insight: Lessen your show-day workload—and allow yourself to set a later wake-up alarm—by doing every bit of grooming and cleaning that you can in the days before the show. Give your horse a deep shampoo, wash and condition his mane and tail, do all of your major clipping, and band his mane during one big beauty-parlor session 24 hours in advance of the show. And don’t forget to clean your show tack and attire.

Benefits: First of all, pre-show primping gets annoying. An annoyed horse gets fussy, impatient, and anxious. By completing the bulk of these chores pre-show, you lessen your horse’s opportunities to get upset before you compete. This is especially true for horses that are super-sensitive to clipping and require a couple of clipping sessions to get to the desired smoothness.

Second, on show day, you’re not likely to be as meticulous about cleaning your horse. Your brain is focused on upcoming classes and where you can best show off your horse’s strengths, rather than on a thorough bathing session.

Third, remember that later alarm clock that I mentioned? With the major cleaning and banding session checked off your to-do list, you’ll rest easier knowing that the bulk of the prep work is complete. And a good night of sleep puts you on a path to a good day.

Finally, by removing the anxieties of bathing, clipping, and banding, you make the entire preparation experience less of a chore and more of a chance to bond with your partner, making it a pleasant experience for you both.

Words of wisdom: If you know your horse is a pig in his stall (or doesn’t have a stall to spend the night in) and usually requires extra primping, even with proper pre-show garments in place to keep him clean, plan extra time into your show-day morning routine.

Best Show Tip #2: Be Meticulously Organized

Credit: Photo by Jennifer Paulson By preparing before the show, you’re free to let your mind of anxieties, which allows you to focus on your goals. You also won’t be rushed in the warm-up pen before you compete.

Enlightening insight: During the days leading up to your competition, become a checklist fiend. Make one for yourself, one for your horse, one for your trailer, and one for paperwork. Don’t leave home without checking off (and double-checking) everything on each list.

Benefits: Your checklists will eventually become so engrained in your routine that they’ll become habits. You’ll find even better ways of organizing your materials (and your lists) as you go along.

A notebook holding copies of all of your membership cards, your horse’s registration papers and health credentials, and any receipts (sorted by show) gives you a one-stop data center for everything you could need if you get stopped while traveling or need documentation at the show office.

Words of wisdom: Try to keep everything—from your show attire and accessories to your traveling feed scoop—in the same place at all times. That way you won’t waste time searching for roaming items.

Best Show Tip #3: Travel Safely

Enlightening insight: It’s pretty obvious that you can’t compete if your rig can’t get you to the show. Keep your tow vehicle and trailer in good repair, and familiarize yourself with your route before you hit the road.

Additionally, prepare for possible situations at home. Spend an afternoon practicing changing a tire on both your truck and trailer. Look up alternate routes of travel online, in case you encounter traffic or construction on your route. If you’re unfamiliar with the area where the show’s being held, ask friends for advice about navigating the surrounding area. Large fairgrounds often lie in high-traffic zones that aren’t always trailer-friendly; a little foresight can go a long way to avoiding problems.

Also, be sure to take your smart phone’s car charger to keep it powered for maps, to call for roadside assistance, and any other needs.

Benefits: Preparation that avoids road stressors—truck breakdowns, trailer malfunctions, getting lost—lets you arrive at the show cool and calm. Even if you do run into a roadblock (real or figurative), if you know you’re well prepared for the turn of events, you won’t completely lose your mind in the heat of the situation.

Words of wisdom: For tire changes, I recommend a trailer jack you can drive up onto rather than a hand jack. It’s less work for you and allows for a quick tire change.

Best Show Tip #4: Set a Goal

Enlightening insight: Before you even get to the show, have a goal in mind that’s within your power to achieve. We all know that only one horse-and-rider pair will be called for first place. Don’t make your goal to win; that decision is squarely on the shoulders of the judge and far out of your control, given that a placing is subjective to his opinion. Instead, strive to achieve something that lies in your hands.

Your goal can be as wide or narrow as you prefer, though more specific goals are easier to measure in terms of achievement. You can aspire to have a relaxed ride or to perform in the show pen the same way you do in the warm-up arena or at home. If a more specific benchmark suits your personality, strive to nail every cone in your pattern, control a certain part of your horse’s body throughout your ride, or maintain a cadenced jog.

Benefits: Achieving a goal that’s within your control makes you a winner every time you show, no matter where the judge places you on his card. That positive feeling of achievement will keep you riding and working toward something that’s more meaningful than a ribbon.

Additionally, goals are cumulative. Once you achieve one benchmark, you’ll set another goal that’s a little more advanced. This leads to measurable, improved riding over time.

Words of wisdom: Share your goals, no matter how big or small, with your barnmates and friends. Be sure to encourage each other to work hard, and then celebrate your victories together. When you have a team of supporters and cheerleaders behind you, you’re not only encouraged to work, but you’re also held accountable for your stated goal.

Best Show Tip #5: Be a Boy Scout

Credit: Photos by Jennifer Paulson LEFT: Set a goal that’s within your control to achieve. Choose something as broad as “ride more aggressively” or as narrow as “nail every marker.” RIGHT: Do the bulk of the grooming work to get that high-impact look at home, and plan time for touch-ups the morning of the show.

Enlightening insight: Adopt the Scouts’ “Always Be Prepared” motto as your horse-show mantra. So many times, a show is a game of hurry up and wait. You can lessen your “hurry” and make your “wait” more relaxing simply by being ready.

Longe, groom, ride, put your number on your saddle pad, be as completely dressed as you can, and have your last-minute details at the ready. Furthermore, don’t sit on your horse (or relentlessly school on him) during the hurrying and waiting! Instead, let him relax in his stall.

Benefits: Being ready gives you more time to mentally prepare for your class. You can focus on your pattern, the goals you’ve set, and what you’ll do to have your best ride. You’ll also have time to watch other competitors, learning from their successes and mistakes.

By waiting in your basic clothing items, you won’t overheat in your show top and chaps, and your hat won’t give you a headache.

Finally, letting your horse relax in his stall keeps his mind calm, and he can get a drink, urinate, and munch a bite, rather than stand in the heat, with you on his back, or be picked at in the warm-up pen.

Words of wisdom: Leave enough time that you can calmly walk your horse to the warm-up pen for a brief tune-up before you show, and walk with ease to the show arena for your class. If you’re nervous and rushed, your horse will pick up on that and join your anxiety party.

Best Show Tip #6: Keep It Fun

Credit: Photo by Jennifer Paulson Put on your last attire details—show top, chaps, and hat, for example—right before you show. You’ll be more comfortable, and you won’t risk damaging your show attire. For your horse’s comfort, don’t sit on him all day or, worse, nitpick at him in the warm-up arena over and over before showing.

Enlightening insight: As I stated earlier, a horse show takes a lot of effort, and your reward should be enjoyment. Competition is fun and exciting, but don’t get so wrapped up in it that you find yourself going down a negative path.

Avoid negative talk about your competition, their horses, their trainers, and the show’s judges and management. Speaking negatively puts you, your horse, and your barn in a negative light, which isn’t beneficial for anyone involved.

Benefits: Positivity is contagious. If you radiate a sunny outlook, people will gravitate toward your attitude and join you in your mission to keep showing a fun activity.

Words of wisdom: Always find something good about your performance—even if it’s just that you didn’t fall off! When a friend asks, “How was your pattern?” don’t get bogged down in the negative. Start with a positive, and then acknowledge that riding horses is always a work in progress. In an effort to spread your positivity, offer compliments to your fellow competitors, too. Positivity is a circle, and we all play a part in making it continue! n

Cindy McCraw owns Riverside Ranch in Sultan, Washington, where stands blue roan Quarter Horse stallion My Final Notice. She also had a hand in the great success of Quarter Horses Dynamic Deluxe and Dynamic In The Dark. Learn more about Cindy and her horses at

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