Horse Show Checklist: 10 Prep Tips

Horse Show Checklist: 10 Prep Tips

Cross these to-dos off your list before the next AQHA show.

showmanship exhibitor grooming horse

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By Tara Matsler, Performance Horse Journal editor

Horse-show competitors have a lot to juggle. From the grooming and prep, warm-up and time in the show pen, they’ve got a full plate. If only there was an amazing guide to help you prepare for a horse show … oh wait, there is!

For the past two decades, I’ve continuously been on the lookout for tips and tricks to make my life simpler, while at the same time enhancing my horse-show experiences. With that in mind, I gathered up some of my favorite horse-showing tips. Here I focus on the prep work you’ll want to do before the horse show; preparation takes a lot of stress out of show day.

  1. Organize your horse trailer. Make the most out of the space under the mangers, in the tack room or in a spare stall, with space-saving tricks like plastic garden hose holders, 5-gallon buckets, toolboxes and totes.
  2. Keep your brushes clean. Grooming goes a lot quicker when you aren’t battling dirt buildup on brushes. Soak your brushes for 10 minutes in two gallons of water containing a quarter cup of bleach. Rinse, then put the brushes in the sun to dry.
  3. Pack back-up necessities. Storing an extra lead rope, set of reins and halter in your trailer can save you if something breaks at the last minute. Scrambling to borrow or buy new items can leave you stressed out and distract your focus from the show ring.
  4. Dress simple and classic. For a more affordable look, try a button-down shirt and scarf. And when you add a scarf, be sure to tie it tidily for a seamless look.
  5. Shape your hat to your face. Truly, a $50 hat shaped to your face and head in the show ring will look better than a $500 hat that wasn’t shaped correctly. A hat needs to create balance for the facial shape and bone structure of the person wearing it, so take time to have a professional help you find the perfect shape for you.
  6. Bling show clothes yourself. If you want something more eye catching than a button-down shirt, trying blinging a shirt yourself. It’s surprisingly easy and fun. Just remember: Quality crystals are the key to beautiful show outfits.
  7. Get the right fit on your horse’s slinky for optimum results. If you plan to band or braid your horse’s mane for the show, using a slinky is a great horse-showing strategy to keep the braids flat, but it has to fit correctly. Wrinkles in the slinky on the horse’s neck tell you that the slinky is not going to do its job. It won’t hold your bands in place because the fabric is not snug enough.
  8. Strengthen yourself out of the saddle so you’re a powerhouse in the saddle. Many times, bad posture in the saddle starts with muscular weakness. The best way to be become a stronger rider, of course, is to ride more. But for competitors with limited access to horseback time, try exercise routines that build muscles needed for riding.
  9. Practice “away from” the pattern. Don’t practice the pattern so often that the horse anticipates what’s coming up and gets ahead of you. Get the pattern as early as you can and practice it one time. Determine where your weak spots are and practice those weak spots away from the pattern.
  10. Bring the most important thing: Your smile! Always remember that horse showing is supposed to be fun. And from fun comes success.

And here’s a great show-day checklist to round out your horse-show prep.

Happy horse showing!