40 Horse-Showing Tips

Put these useful tips from AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm to work at your next show.

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm

Remember to make horse-showing an enjoyable learning experience for both you and your horse. Journal photo

Show Smart

1. It is your responsibility as a horse owner and competitor to bring out the best in your horse.

2. Always show in disciplines in which you and your horse are prepared to perform required maneuvers confidently.

3. Familiarize yourself with the show grounds when you get there. Know where the office, vet, farrier, warm-up areas and show rings are located.

4. To get your horse to accept the new show grounds and environment, work in hand with longeing for exercise and leading to acclimate him to the show surroundings.

5. Know the show schedule and listen to the intercom for any changes. You do not want to miss your class or be too early and have to wait!

6. Always know where your trainer/coach is in case you need him or her to assist you.

7. Tests, patterns and courses should be memorized before the warm up so the rider feels confident and prepared.

8. Walk the course for a hunter/jumper class, trail courses or pattern classes to build your show-ring strategy.

9. Make showing a fun and learning experience. Identify what was desirable in a class and what could have been better. The things that you and your horse can improve upon are your homework for the next show.

When it comes to riding and showing horses, it’s easy to become set in your ways, even if those ways aren’t correct. Luckily, AQHA offers a variety of resources to help you fix common mistakes before they become long-standing problems. Check out the FREE Saddling a Horse ebook, where tack expert Dennis Moreland explains correct saddling in 10 easy steps.

10. If showing isn't as successful as you would like, don't forget to ask yourself: Is your horse suited for you? Does your horse enjoy his "job" and the discipline in which he is competing? These are tough questions to ask yourself, but if you and your horse aren't a good match, you won't perform well together in the show ring.

Show Apparel, Tack and Grooming

11. Look professional! Always wear attire that is appropriate for your discipline and know what is acceptable according to your show rulebook.

12. Always wear a certified helmet when riding and competing.

13. Ladies, wear a hair net to keep your hair neat and contained throughout the whole day.

14. Have a packing list for show attire, hair, makeup, etc.

15. A judge will always appreciate proper tack fit. To “Ride Well,” your saddle needs to fit you, too.

16. Be sure that all tack is oiled and cleaned and all keepers are used on English bridles.

17. Always use clean and properly fitted saddle pads so they fit the perimeter of the saddle. Be sure they are not too small or too big, giving a sloppy appearance.

18. Make sure the accessories, tack and bits are correct for all show rules.

19. Turn your horse out with your best grooming for every class, as any judge will be impressed by this.

20. Use safe show products that make your horse shine and stand out.

In the Warm-Up Ring

21. Practice your warm-up at home and time it, which will give you a strategy to prepare for your show-ring class.

22. Make sure your warm-up area has good footing. If it is crowded, go outside the rings and find a safe place to warm up.

23. Be sure your warm-up includes lots of change in directions. The more you change directions, the more you encourage lateral suppleness.

24. The more you do transitions, the more you stretch and strengthen the longitudinal muscles in the hind limbs.

25. Incorporating dressage figures into your routine can improve your performance in any discipline.

26. If your horse is distracted, he is telling you that he needs to spend more time doing slow maneuvers in a worrisome area.

27. Be sure you practice arena etiquette: a minimum of one horse length’s distance head to tail and side by side and when approaching another rider head on, pass left arm to left arm.

28. Learn by watching others ride but don't try to make your horse perform like others.

No matter your discipline, it’s always good to have a routine. Download AQHA’s FREE Saddling a Horse ebook and get ahead of the game by establishing a correct saddling routine. Saddling the same way each time will reduce the chance of you forgetting a step and helps ensure safety and comfort.

29. There should be no training at a show, you should compete in what your horse already knows and does well.

30. Always try to school in the ring you will show in before the show starts.

In the Show Ring

31. Always begin showing when you enter the ring and never stop until you leave the ring.

32. Leave your stress and nerves at the barn. Compete with optimism! If you give off any negative energy, your horse will know and tense up during the class. Turn phrases like "I'll try" or "What if" into "I will" or "My horse will do well."

33. Remember to breathe during your class! A relaxed and loose rider will promote relaxation and confidence within their horse.

34. A correct rider will always have invisible aids - no one should see the communication with your horse.

35. Always looking in front of your horse will show confidence to a judge. Practice a pleasant expression in the mirror. A good competitor always has a pleasant, relaxed expression.

36. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

37. After warming up, keep your horse moving to keep his concentration on you and so that he doesn’t get cold.

38. Watch other classes and how the judge judges.

39. At the end of your class, always reward your horse with a pat, soft voice or treat when he does well and/or willingly tries to do what you ask of him.

40. Always show good sportsmanship and be respectful to other riders and their horses, no matter who is the winner that day.

More Tips From Team Wrangler

Hungry for more horse-showing tips? AQHA Video features a variety of videos with insight from AQHA Professional Horsemen and -women.

In this video, Team Wrangler member Rob Meneely explains how to set a horse up for showmanship classes.