Your horse’s presence is a gift and any time with them should be appreciated. Photo © Kirstie Marie Photography

Ten Things Often Taken for Granted when Showing Horses

Showing horses is a privilege. Often, exhibitors forget how lucky they are to be able to show horses. We have a career as an equestrian because of our love for horses and competition. If we didn’t love it, we probably wouldn’t do it. It’s too expensive and too much work to treat it as a casual hobby. If you’re in, you’re all the way in, no matter what level you show. I consider this to be a testament to the commitment exhibitors have to the sport.

However, even with this passion, it’s easy to get caught in the rush of a horse show weekend. Among the early morning, long days, and late nights, there are things we take for granted. Next time you’re at a show, try to slow down and remember the people that help you, help the horse show, and your special equine partner. It might just help you make the most of your journey.

1. Show Management

The people that make it happen. A positive group of people behind the scenes at a horse show can make all the difference in your show experience. They handle more than most of us would ever want to attempt. Stalls, billing, shavings, announcing, and entering are on the list for most horse staff…and that’s really only the beginning. Their organization and time management makes the show tick. Next time you’re at a show, take a second to give an office member a heartfelt thank you for their time and effort. Sometimes this is a group of people from the association, and sometimes it is a hired management team. Either way, their work should not go unrecognized.

2. State Association’s Board of Directors

Behind every association is a group of members who volunteer their time. Planning events and shows are usually number one on the list of to-do’s, but refining rules and making decisions are also key factors in the success of an association. These individuals sacrifice hours of their time to ensure that the association is functioning to the best of its ability.

3. The Aisle-way Helpers

We have all been in a situation where we needed ‘the whole village’ to get into the show pen. While there are many DIY-ers, a helping hand is always appreciated. From last minute boot-wipes to a tail brush, it’s the people that follow you out of the aisle to make sure you have everything you need. Don’t miss an opportunity to say thank you. The best way is to make yourself available to lend a hand when you are not busy, even if all someone needs is a few words of encouragement.

4. Family

It’s hard to show horses without a support system. For some, this comes from a barn family, others have parents and siblings, etc. If you have both, consider yourself blessed. Whatever your definition of family is, the role they play in your success is the same. Picking you up when you’re down and being your loudest cheerleader when you come out on top make up just a few of the moments when we need our family. The journey in between these two extremes is how I define my horse show family. Everyone finds themselves in a position where they need motivation, words of encouragement, and laughter.

Financial support is also something that cannot be taken for granted. This sport costs money and a lot of it. We are all crazy enough to think it’s worth every dime, but I would not have been given a single one of the opportunities I had without my parents paying the way – outfits, horse shows, trailering, equipment, and time. My family gave up most of their life to make sure I was able to do something I loved. I was lucky enough to have my mom as my trainer. For most, add in training and coaching fees. Our family works so that we can chase dreams. Be grateful for what they have given you.

5. Your Horse

Without our partner, we couldn’t be in this sport. Even though we work them often and spend all of our time at shows with them, we forget that they are an animal. We expect and demand much of their time and energy because we want something. I believe that we can do these things with horses because they are a creature that wants to please us and, most of the time, is willing to work with us. Try not to take any opportunity your horse gives you for granted. A partnership with an animal such as a horse is something many admire, but few get to experience. Your horse’s presence is a gift and any time with them should be appreciated.

6. Combining Passion with Opportunity

All sports provide excellent opportunity to grow and excel. However, many people have to quit after high school if they aren’t capable of playing in college. While horses have become a part of college athletics, the people who do not go on to ride during their collegiate years don’t have to call it quits. Equestrian allows people to continue showing at a variety of different levels for the remainder of their life. It doesn’t come to a standstill and there are no limits. Showing horses requires a true passion and the opportunities for youth and adults alike are immeasurable. Setting goals such as working your way up through the different leveling/age groups, attending the largest and most competitive shows, qualifying for world championships, or simply starting on new horses are all great ways to keep the horse show experience fresh.

7. The Judges

Judging is a paid position, but they are there with no shortage of work and expertise behind them. Exhibitors pay to be judged at every horse show. We use it as a way to gauge our improvement, qualify for certain events, and participate in a show setting. Not every judge is going to agree with placings or style, but part of an exhibitor’s job is to learn from what is around them based on who is doing well consistently. Paying attention to how judges place a class is a good habit to get into, even when you are not in the class. Ultimately, our fate is in the hands of judges. Appreciate their remarks, use their judge’s cards to better yourself as a rider and showman, and be grateful when a judge appreciates your skill and places you well. Judges force us to take responsibility for what we are doing in the show pen. Acknowledge this and take initiative.

8. Your Competitors

Coming in second (or whatever placing besides first), is a great place to start taking notes about what you might not be doing correctly in the show pen. Yes, there are situations when the placings could go any way because everyone had equally clean rides, but if you are consistently coming in behind the leaders, don’t dislike them for it. Make it your goal to reach that level. Take mental notes and utilize them in your training. Your competitors should motivate you to become a better horseman. We all have room to improve and sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference. Your awareness of such things is a great place to start. Appreciate the people that push you to exceed what you thought your limits were. They might just be the reason you start winning.

9. The Art

Showing horses is an art form. Not just the act of competing alone, but everything that we put into and use while showing. When we get into the show grind mode, it’s easy to overlook the beauty of what’s around you.

The craftsmanship of the equipment we use on a daily basis.

The show clothes designers that we trust to make us shine in the arena.

The graphic designers that bring us energy and recognition through advertising.

The photographers that give life to our vision.

All of these things are important in our horse show world and can be quickly forgotten. There are many layers in this sport. These people are all a part of the village that helps us make our way successfully to the show pen.

10. Life Lessons

We have all rushed to a show and been so focused on the task at hand that we forget to enjoy ourselves. Every time we train, compete, and care for our horse, we are learning valuable life lessons. They come out sometimes when we least expect it. Most times, when I am forced into self-reflection, I realize much of what I know and live by as a person is because of horses.

There is confidence, compassion, work ethic, willingness to step outside your comfort zone, goal oriented, mental and physical preparation, time management, and dreams (and probably a lot more) all wrapped up into horsemen and horsewomen. If you’re trying to decide if this sport is worth it for yourself or a child, I hope you find the answer is yes.

For those of you already so involved, I encourage you to find one thing at the end of every horse experience that you learned, overcame, or accomplished that could serve as a lesson. There are more of these moments than we recognize on a daily basis. Take a minute to savor them.


About the Author: GoHorseShow intern, Morgan McCarthy Warda, is a Wildlife Biology major and Writing minor at the University of Michigan-Flint. Morgan grew up actively competing on the AQHA circuit. She balances her time between school, showing, writing, being an MQHA board member, and working as a student research assistant at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. In the future, Morgan plans to obtain a Master’s degree in Wildlife Management and continue to be an active member of AQHA.
Photos courtesy of Kirstie Marie Photography, Silver Lining, GoHorseShow