Make the Next Show Better

These tips from AQHA Professional Horsewoman April Devitt will help you improve your next horse show.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Lauren Campbell of Henrico, Virginia, and Im On One

At the 2017 Nutrena East AQHA Level 1 Championships, Lauren Campbell of Henrico, Virginia, worked together with her horse, Im On One. Making friends with your horse is a good way to improve your next show, AQHA Professional Horsewoman April Devitt says. (Larri Jo Starkey photo)

Since AQHA Professional Horsewoman April Devitt became a trainer and then a judge, she has seen exhibitors do well and she has seen exhibitors do poorly.

How well amateurs and youth do has little to do with their arena placings, she says, and everything to do with their desire to improve themselves as horsemen.

In the May issue of the American Quarter Horse Journal, April offers 11 pieces of advice on how to make the next horse show better than the one before it. Here are a few of those tips.

1.Believe that the judge is rooting for you.

I judge each class on a class per class basis. Every discipline is different. Somebody might stub their toe or make a mistake in one class. As a judge, I want to see them do well in the next class. I want to see them do better.

I really encourage riders to not think about what happened but to work hard to improve going forward. You can’t ever change what happened but you can improve on it.

Some people have bad days. Horses have bad days. Don’t let something that has happened influence what you’re going to do in the next class. As judges, we’re here to encourage and make it the most enjoyable day you can have. We want to encourage you.

2. Prepare at home.

Practice at home is the single most important way to prepare for a horse show.

Make sure you and your horse can work together as a team. Be prepared.

Clean your tack. Make sure your show clothes are clean and that everything fits. Children grow between shows. Your hat might be dirty. Polish your boots.

Hats and clothes don’t need to be fancy, just clean and fitted. The worst mistake we’ll see is the hat that has lost its shape.

Read your AQHA rulebook. Go over the discipline you’re going to show in. Know the maneuvers and make sure you know how you’re being scored and what mistakes get penalized and what those penalties are.

Do your homework. It makes the show go smoother.

3. Make a plan.

Have your trainer or parents or a trusted friend help you examine the show schedule and make sure you’ve planned to be there in plenty of time to get the entries in. Make sure you have your exhibitor number and pins so you can fasten the exhibitor number to your saddle pad.

Know your horse. You know whether the horse needs to be longed for a certain amount of time or whether you need to get into the arena to get comfortable. Know whether you need to do a trail warm-up. If you’re doing a pattern class, know your pattern.

If you don’t have a plan, you’re not prepared.

4. Rely on a good attitude.

As you are practicing and preparing in the warm-up pen, have a good attitude.

Before you go in and go out of the show pen, the judges can see what you’re doing. Don’t over-school. If you go in an individual class and make a mistake in your pattern, keep showing because the mistake you think you made will not be nearly as bad as what you think it is.

Don’t give your ride away. It’s an overall score. Keep your confidence, and show that you have practiced and prepared. If the horse makes a bobble, keep working harder. If you make a mistake, make the next part better.

When a mistake happens, you aren’t alone. Everyone has made mistakes. If you’re a newer rider, ask questions. Ask for some help as you’re preparing for a show.

If you’re not quite sure of your patterns, tell the gate person that person you need to ask the judges a question. The steward and the judge will be happy to go over the pattern and directions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. But if you do need to ask a question, don’t wait until the last minute. Get up there before the whole discipline starts.

Say, “I have a question about the pattern. Is there a way we can get it clarified?”

The gate person calls the steward and the steward asks the judge.

5. Make your horse your best friend.

Attitude is everything. It comes through with your horse.

Sometimes I see young people showing and they act like they don’t want to be at the show.

Your horse should be your best friend. I don’t want the fake smile and all that. Be natural. Show your bond with your horse.

Exhibitors should be doing this for fun. Your horse needs to be your partner and your teammate. You can’t show without him. Make sure your partner is as prepared as you are. Pay attention to what he tells you, and care for him as the valued teammate he is.

When you ride, tell yourself, “I’m not out to beat everybody. I just want to beat the rider I was yesterday.”

If you’ve had a bad day, be better than the day before.

For the rest of April's tips, see the May issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal, online at