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Horse Shows

by Bonnie Marlewski-Probert

Show season is once again upon us! Below are three secrets to help increase your show ring success while you also have more fun!

Tip # 1 – Ask yourself; are going to the show to COMPETE or to COMPLETE? – If your horse is barely picking up the left lead and you have never managed to load him into your trailer in less than two hours, you aren’t ready to Compete; however, as a part of Completing your training process, you might be ready to go to several horse shows to school both you and your horse. When you go with the intention of schooling and familiarizing your horse with all the elements involved in showing, you won’t be signing up for any classes. This will allow you to focus instead on the dozens of often-overlooked pieces of the puzzle when it comes to winning in the show ring, without the added stress of competing. The goal is to identify and master all of these pieces and then work on them at home.

It is all-but-impossible to focus on winning when you are constantly distracted by the next Godzilla that is sure to surprise you and your horse if you haven’t schooled on the show grounds before.

    Among the list of most popular Godzillas found at any show grounds are:
  1. The dreaded P.A. System speakers. These are often located near the arena and nothing is more fun than to be riding your nervous horse along when someone shouts into the microphone, “Canter your horses,” which is immediately followed by everyone in the arena suddenly erupting into a canter. If you and your horse have not schooled at home with a boom box or something similar, this Godzilla could easily turn your show ring newbie inside out.
  2. The beautiful, colorful plastic flags or balloons that often adorn the rail and can be found strewn around the show grounds. These are especially fun on a windy day. Not only do they make plenty of noise in the wind, but they also flap and move, making them a great Godzilla for any newbie show horse.
  3. Let’s not overlook the all-too-often loose horse galloping across the show grounds looking for other newbie show horses to join them in their fun escapades.

Horse Shows

Of course, any seasoned show ring rider has their own list of favorite Godzillas they have encountered over the years and I’ve listed only a few. The trick to success is to school at home for each of these Godzillas and more, which brings us to the second tip.

Tip # 2 - Be Over Prepared – When you decide you are going to your next show with the intention of Competing, being “prepared” is not nearly good enough. I want you to be sure you are “over prepared.” That means:

  • Write up packing lists for your tack, show clothing, grooming supplies, feed, buckets, etc., to avoid forgetting something at home on show day.
  • Practice packing and unpacking your trailer.
  • Make sure your horse is completely comfortable loading and unloading from the trailer.
  • When riding at home, if you think your pleasure class will run for 20 minutes, school regularly at home for 35.
  • If you think you will be asked to canter on the each lead for two minutes in the class, school at home for five or more minutes on each lead. The last thing you want is to be red-faced, sweating heavily and looking like you are about to pass out because you only cantered for 30 seconds at home and figured that was good enough.
  • If you expect there will be five competitors in the class with you, school at home with 10. Learning to ride ahead and navigate effectively in traffic without breaking gait is a valuable show ring skill.
  • Practice strategically entering the line-up so you learn how to avoid getting squeezed in the show ring.
  • If you expect you will be asked to back three steps in the line-up, be prepared to back nine in a straight line.
  • Have dress rehearsals at home in which you and your horse are completely outfitted for a horse show. Nothing like getting to show day, only to find out your show boots are too tight or your show girth no longer fits your horse or your show pad was home to a family of mice over the winter. If you can invite some friends over or rally other boarders to ride together with your own pretend judge, this is a great way to gain confidence-building mileage in the show ring, practice navigating traffic, increase your show ring savvy in full dress before show day and have a great time in the process.
  • If you are planning on jumping 2” 6’ in competition, practice at home over 2” 9’ fences. Add a few extra inches to the spread on your practice fences at home so you are jumping wider at home than you will be expected to jump in competition.
  • If you are showing in trail classes, make your home-based obstacles longer and harder than anything you could expect to find in the show ring.
  • Take practice trips to other horse shows just to get used to the sounds, sights and excitement that are found at most show grounds. Go first with friends and then plan an outing with your horse. Take along a seasoned horse with you to help build your horse’s confidence.
  • When you visit the shows with your horse for schooling purposes, tack up on the grounds and hack around so your horse becomes accustomed to the P.A. system, the other horses and the crowds of people they will encounter on any show grounds.
  • If you are able to enter the warm-up arena, do so but make sure you stay out of the way of the competitors who are there to win. If the warm-up arena is busy, riding outside the warm-up arena but nearby so your horse is close to the traffic within will work.
  • Tip # 3 - Be so over prepared, that show day is a vacation! – The goal of these three tips is to make showing the most enjoyable part of your training program for you and for your horse. When you know you are over prepared and both you and your horse are eager to compete, showing is great fun, and, by the way, when you are this well-schooled and prepared, you are most likely to be going home with plenty of blue ribbons too!

    About the author: Bonnie Marlewski-Probert has worked in the horse industry for more than 20 years as a riding instructor, trainer, speaker and author. Her personally autographed books are available at

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