First-Show Success

Will and Elizabeth Knabenshue offer advice that will help set you up for success at your first horse show.

Competing at a horse show can be a daunting thought, especially if you’ve never attended one before. But the whole point of showing is to do something fun with your horse surrounded by people who are just as passionate about horses as you are. We’re going to talk about a few things to keep in mind before you attend your first competition so you can make it a positive experience for both you and your horse.

The best way to prepare for a show is by working with a professional who has show experience. There are several programs available that help non-pros connect with trainers in their area. Photo by Nichole Chirico

Read Your Rulebook

I know it might sound like common sense, but as a judge, I’ve seen riders come into the arena and unknowingly disqualify themselves because they didn’t thoroughly read their rulebook beforehand. If you’re planning on attending a horse show, make sure you’re familiar with that association’s rulebook, because it’s going to be the most important piece of equipment you have. And at shows, always make sure you have a copy of it on hand. Most associations will send you a yearly physical copy, but you can also find digital copies online, or download an app on your smartphone. 

[More from Will and Elizabeth: Rider’s Position and Style for Horsemanship]

Get Help from Professionals 

The best way to prepare for a show is by working with someone who has experience competing and can offer you advice on what to expect. If you don’t personally know any trainers in your area, there are certain programs you can use as resources to help connect you with professionals. In the American Quarter Horse Association, there’s a Professional Horseman program, which is composed of an elite group of trustworthy horse experts who offer expertise in horsemanship and provide services to improve equine performance and the partnership between horse and rider. By going to AQHA’s website, you can search for professionals who are nearby. 

Some of the professionals who are part of these programs will also participate in Ride the Pattern clinics that are offered at certain shows. In these clinics, the professional horsemen demonstrate the patterns that will be used at those shows and then answer any questions attendees have.

Show the Horse You Have

One of the biggest mistakes I see new riders make in the show pen is when they try to push their horse past what they’re capable of doing. When you’re in the show pen, you want to showcase the maneuvers your horse excels at while hiding his weaknesses as much as you can. If your horse doesn’t have a great fast-to-slow lope transition, don’t force him to slow down in one stride. Stay safe on that maneuver and then showcase what your horse is good at. While it’s important to focus on strengthening your horse’s weaknesses outside of the show pen, you want to make sure you’re not drawing any more attention to them when you’re showing.

The same goes for you. If you’re in a horsemanship class, you might not be able to put your heels down as well as someone else, but you might have softer hands. Instead of dwelling on the fact that your heels don’t go as low as your competitor’s, make sure you’re emphasizing how quiet your hands are.

[Read More: A Succesful First Show]