Horse Show (& Life) Etiquette & Tips

I’ve been lucky enough to attend some big shows since I started riding again, which is coming up on about a year ago this Fall. Maybe it’s being a ‘grown-up’, now re-entering a world I used to frequent quite regularly, that has made some things stick out to me that I’d like to voice. In no way am I trying to come off as ‘holier than thou’ but I think a friendly reminder to be aware of your surroundings no matter where you are is never a bad thing.

1. Eat Breakfast

Your parents don’t say this to you everyday growing up just to annoy you. I didn’t give myself enough time to eat on my first day of showing in Vermont (and this will lead into #2), but even if your nerves make you feel like you can’t keep anything down, EAT. Your brain needs it, your body needs it. I was so shaky and anxious before my first trip because I hadn’t eaten anything or hydrated. Day two I had two scrambled eggs and some rye toast along with a lot of water and it changed my game. (If you don’t have time for a real breakfast, at least throw a couple protein bars into your ring bag.)

2. Time Management

Give yourself enough time. There’s nothing worse than being rushed. Especially if you’re being asked to perform. Get there early, learn your course, love on your horse. It’s an easy way to eliminate unnecessary stress.

3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Do I need to say more? Keep a water bottle in your ring bag at all times and don’t be afraid to ask someone by the in-gate to grab you a small cup of water from the cooler. When you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. So stay on top of it and just go to the bathroom before you get on your horse because (trust me) holding it for two trips which ultimately turns into ten is NOT fun.

4. Mind Your Manners.

Remember to say please and thank you. The in-gate stewards, vendors and other personnel are there to make things run as smoothly as possible, not make your life more difficult. So when you’re having a conflict between two rings, politely explain your situation instead of barking “I need to move up in the order.” Your problems are not their problems, so treat others the way you’d like to be treated and your kindness will most likely be reciprocated.

5. Pay Attention.

The amount of times I was cut off by a golf cart or dirt bike still makes me cringe when I think about it. I was even cut off in the schooling ring a few times because of people texting on their cell phones while riding! Listen people, just because you’re at a horse show doesn’t mean you’re no longer on planet earth. Pass left shoulder to left shoulder regardless of if you’re on a horse, golf cart or bike, don’t text and drive/ride, and say excuse me if you’re in a hurry and need to get around someone moving at a slower pace.

6. Pay it Forward.

Lend a helping hand. So many people struggle to be able to show. Not everyone has the same manpower or numbers as the barn in the tent across the way. If you see someone struggling to carry a million things and lead a horse, offer to help. If someone needs a leg up and you see them looking around for someone or something to help them, offer them one. In Vermont the stall setup left a large iron rod sticking into Donny’s stall. There was only one horse behind him, and all of the other stalls were empty. When we asked the owner if we could please move her horse to another stall so we could replace the panel that had the bent rod that was protruding into D’s stall, or even remove the panel so her horse could have a double stall, she refused. She told us to wrap a towel around it and secure it with duct tape. When asked what she would do if it was her horse, she replied “not my problem!” It was such an easy fix yet she refused to help and claimed, “I’m not a groom, you fix it, but I’m not moving my horse.” Ultimately we got the show manager involved and they fixed it so quickly. I am still appalled at that woman’s behavior and it makes me so sad that there are people in this world that have no regard for anyone or anything (even another horse’s welfare!) than their own. So please, if you have the time and see someone who could use a helping hand, offer one. What goes around comes around.

7. Be Gracious.

Thank your team. Your trainer, groom, show friends, family members… they do all of this for YOU. Don’t ever take them for granted. Make sure they know how much you appreciate them. I like to follow up a show week or weekend with a nice card to my trainer or I’ll bring cookies in as a thank you for everyone. It’s not the size or price tag of the thank you, it’s the gesture. Nothing is too small.

8. Be Smart.

Lock up your trunk. Never leave your tack or valuables in an unlocked trunk. You wouldn’t leave your car or front door unlocked overnight would you? Same goes for your trunk.

9. Bring a Backup.

Spills and falls happen. Bring an extra pair of breeches and a shirt in case it does. Better to have a plan B instead of scrubbing yourself down with club soda before your flat class.

10. Watch Your Horse.

Showing and traveling is stressful for our friends. Make sure they’re staying hydrated and be extra tuned in to their behavior. If he/she seems off, say something. Better safe than sorry, and it’s not solely your trainers responsibility to catch every little thing – you are accountable as well. 

11. Smile!

Last but not least… HAVE FUN!!! We do this because we love it, not to torture ourselves! Remind yourself of that constantly. If you don’t have a great trip, try to find the good in it and don’t get yourself all worked up over the chip or refusal that you’ll forget about in a few weeks.

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