Friday, October 2, 2009

The Show Must Go On

When are you ready to show vs. when you are ready to show

Here is a snippet from an email I recently recieved....
 I love the idea of your blog on judging. ......I felt early on that my instructor pushed me into showing..........I now realize I should have said no because I was inexperienced, nervous and the whole thing sent me backwards and not forward......there is a difference between a challenge and getting frustrated. So, I just said no to showing. .....

.....when are you ready to show and what someone should expect from their instructor. PS I have been volunteering .....and have learned a great deal from listening to the judges. It is a tough job.....

Well, this is better answered by instructors who coach at the shows so I hope I get some comments from them here also. I have coached students at many horse shows. Probably through a couple dozen different disciplines, styles and governing organizations, including IHSA (collegiate), USEF, AQHA, VHSA, 4-H and some really odd local show clubs as well. So I'll tell you my opinion on this and those instructors out there, please feel free to chime in. Your ideas may very well outweigh mine by a mile!

When are you ready to show? Well, it should be when YOU are ready to show. Okay, confusing a little but there are some things you can do to help you decide IF you want to show and IF you are ready to show. Your instructor can point you in certain directions but doing some prep work on your own will help you acclimate to the show enviroment. 
  • Find a local show: ask your trainer, visit your local feed or tack shops for flyers, ask a friend who rides
  • Go to the show just to watch. Take note on what the attire and tack in use are and make sure to pick up local rules, entry forms and any other information they're offerring. Ask any questions that day so when you come back you are more prepared.
  • Take your horse to the show facility on a day they do not have a show. If this option is available, it is invaluable to being able to assess your horse' concerns about the facility and get knowledge of the layout on horseback.
  • If possible take your horse to the show on show day with no intentions of showing. It gets you both in the enviroment and you can address any issues your horse may have that day. It's fun to be there and there's no pressure.
So you've found the venue, local horse show series, visited on foot during the show, returned with your horse on off days (if that option is available).... you're next step is to talk to your instructor and make sure she coaches at that facility. Find out if anyone else from your barn shows at your chosen series. Even if you're in the same division competing against one another, you'll most likely find that they are happy to befriend you and even help you at the show.

If you get to the show, on show day, with your horse and for some reason, don't find it fun albeit a bit jittery....... scratch. If it makes you sick to your stomache, gives you a headache, raises your blood pressure or you feel any symptoms of anxiety, just scratch. You don't have to show to ride a horse. It's just an outlet for some on many different levels. Don't look at showing as though you have to move up through the levels and get better and better. I've seen some adults show in 2' divisions or walk/jog on the same horse for years and they are quite content to stay at that level. Don't look at showing like you have to not only climb the levels of the local circuit but go on to rated USEF or breed shows (i.e. AQHA, APHA, etc). You may very well be inspired to climb through the levels and find you love the comraderie of the competition. Or you may show for a series or even one show and be content having done it at least once.

What to expect from your trainer? Well, make sure you observe their style of coaching in the show enviroment.  If you have a jeckle n hyde type instructor (they teach lessons like a lamb and go out to shows like a lion), find a friend at your barn or elsewhere,  with show experience and ask them to take you. I don't advocate going around or over your trainer's advice but quite frankly I've witnessed some real nasty 'coaching' at shows even from some very big name trainers. If 'get your head out of your butt' is part of their coaching advice at a show, don't show with them. Trainers, instructors and even parents who tend to get mouthy at the shows, in my opinion, are a direct safety hazard. They rattle their students and invoke emotions that keep the riders' focus completely off the task at hand. 

I would love to hear from some other instructors or students experiences to help this reader out! I love showing and as a judge I am keenly aware of what I say to any exhibitors at a show. I'm not going to insult little Suzie Q's equitation when she bounds over to me on a break to ask 'what did i do wrong?' I'm going to tell her what she did right and maybe add some subtle hints on improving her worst fault....instead of your hands were all over the place, say work on keeping your hands from posting with you when you trot. I want to see little Suzie Q continue showing. For me and many others, the show enviroment is like going home to a warm bed with your grandmothers' afghan every so often. But then again, you may have had a hateful old bat for a grandmother and your old home is now a freeway! LOL!


  1. I was really lucky to have started with my first trainer. After my first year with her, she said that if I wanted to go, I could, but she wasn't going to force me. I waited another year, and ended up getting first my first time out - so the extra year certainly paid off in my mind.

    The nerves was something that I had to work through because if I know that I'm about to do something potential scary, I freak myself out through worrying. Again, it was nice starting out riding Saddleseat because (I certainly don't condone this in a trainer now, but I do think it was good for me then, and for younger kids or people new to showing - just in a much milder form) they literally did everything for you and all you had to do was ride. That takes a lot of pressure off when you don't have to get your horse ready while worrying about a ton of other things.

    Both of my trainers have been completly calm while at horse shows. The first one never screamed, offered some coaching from the rail when it was needed (For example, I did not know how to tell diagnols going into my first show, so she'd tell me to switch as I passed by if I was wrong, but that was it). My current trainer realizes that screw ups are not the end of the world, and you take them, learn from them, and move on. It's great because she's like a best friend and we always joke around and stuff while we're at shows.

  2. Nice post! I think you either like showing or you don't. I like the point you made about not feeling like you have to climb the ranks of divisions or caliber of shows. Not every one who likes to show has a horse that can climb the ranks and it's okay to stay in an open division forever if that's all you want to do. I don't like seeing the same horse in greens more than 2 years but you see it sometimes.
    I'd like to invite everyone to join my free contest at

  3. I am the person who sent you the email quoted in your post above. I especially loved your comment to scratch if you feel jittery or nervous. As I think about my "bad show experiences" it all started when I was a wreck and my instructor pushed me to show anyway. It had rained, the ring was muddy, I did not school the horse, I was a mess and the horse knew it. He crow hopped around the ring. I was not hurt and many folks told me I did a good job staying on that horse. But it was the beginning of a downward spiral. I have pulled out of the slump thanks to two other instructors. Thanks for the feedback, it is great stuff. Someday I may show again...when I am ready. Great post.


I am just one judge with one judge's opinion. Almost all of the classes I judge are based on the rules of USEF & AQHA. Judging a horse show is very subjective to the interpretation of the rules. Please keep this in mind when commenting.