Competing in your first horse show

Competing in your first horse show

Events & Shows

If you're new to the joys of horse ownership, it probably hasn't escaped your notice that the summer showing season is now upon us. You may have already visited some local horse shows as a spectator or to help out friends with their horses, and are now considering taking the next step of showing your own horse or pony.

You will need to be a relatively competent rider and also have a reasonably fit and well schooled horse in order to consider showing. Talk to your riding instructor to help establish if you and your mount are ready to try out novice showing classes, and see about gearing your lessons towards competing in some local events.

Different showing classes

There are many different types of horse shows and often, many different types of classes available in each individual show.Establish your area of interest, and the types of classes that would be relevant for you and your horse or pony. Leaving aside specialist showing categories such as breed and confirmation classes, the wide variety of ridden show categories includes show jumping events and working hunter classes of many types and levels of experience. While some horse shows are dedicated to jumping events, many more will offer a wider variety of classes including general horsemanship groupings generally simply referred to as 'showing.' Showing classes are generally on the flat without fences and can include classes such as tack and turnout, veteran horse, handy pony, gymkhana games and riding horse and pony classes which judge the schooling, appeal and suitability of your mount. Once you have decided which area of showing you would like to try out, check the schedules of upcoming local shows to identify one which will offer the kind of experience you are looking for. Riding clubs and pony clubs run shows during the summer season (while the British Pony Club organisation is in the main part aimed at riders under 21, British Pony Club shows generally include a range of classes for senior riders too) and you may find that local county and country shows will have classes for riders as well.

Preparing for your first show

It is a good idea to go to at least one local show as a spectator before you plan to compete, to get a feel for the atmosphere, how it runs, and the standard of competition. Novice competitions are intended to be fun and enjoyable, and the experience of competing is worth much more than being well placed in your class- however you will need to ensure that you and your horse or pony are competent enough to keep up with the other riders and that the standard of competition is one that you are comfortable with.If your horse or pony has never been to a show before either with you or a previous owner or rider, it is also a good idea to take him to a local show as a dry run without intending to compete, in order to get him used to the atmosphere and assess how he deals with it.When you get to the stage where you are ready to attend your first show as a competitor, make sure that you get a schedule of the show in advance and decide on the classes you wish to enter, in order to fully prepare. Also as some shows will require you to submit your entries in advance, and may require you to be a member of their organisation.

On the day

For your first show, be careful not to take on more than you can comfortably manage. Do not enter more than two classes on your first outing, and make sure that they are spaced well enough apart that you will not have to worry about being rushed in between classes if one of the events is running late. If you are entering a jumping class, bear in mind that they can run for a couple of hours or more, and that there will generally be two rounds to the classes- the initial circuit over the fences that all entrants will compete in, and the second round or 'jump off' for riders that qualify, which is a timed event over the course in order to place the winners.Most shows that offer jumping classes also have a 'clear round' ring, which is a non competitive event that riders can enter with the intention of completing the course with no faults or poles knocked down. A 'clear round' rosette is usually awarded upon successful completion. For general riding classes, the usual format followed is that the competitors will be called into the ring and complete a couple of circuits around the judges, before being called into a line up placed in order of the judge's preference at that time. Then each rider is asked to complete a circuit individually with the judge's attention on them, and the line up will be adjusted accordingly, before the decision is made and the final placing is announced. Rosettes are then awarded, and the class in placement order will complete a 'lap of honour' around the ring before filing out.Other classes such as 'handy pony' and gymkhana games will be set up rather differently, as equipment is required and the negotiation of the obstacles is usually timed. This works slightly differently at each show, so be sure that you speak to an organiser or ring steward before the class begins to find out what format it will take and what is required of you.

Correct presentation

Correct turn out for both horse and rider is required for most shows, even small local events. You may need to invest in the appropriate clothing for yourself such as a showing jacket, shirt and tie or stock, and make sure that you are of a generally neat appearance.It goes without saying that your tack should be clean and well presented, and your horse well groomed. Nobody will expect you to have brand new or very expensive equipment at novice level, and of course your horse is not going to remain pristine for the entire duration of the day!


Horse shows originally came into being in order to raise the standard of riding and stable management at a local level, and the show should be an enjoyable and positive experience for both you and your horse. Don't be disappointed if you do not place well in your first few shows- not everyone can win, and you will find that your level of horsemanship increases with experience. The whole point of riding shows is to have fun and enjoy your horse. Remember to stay safe, don't overstretch yourself or your mount, and take care of your horse both at the show and afterwards.

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