Do your homework and be prepared so that your first steps into the pen will let the judge know that you are a serious competitor who is at the top of their game. Photo © Cody Parmenter

Four Tips for Making a Great First Impression in the Show Arena

Presenting a horse to the best of their ability comes with a significant amount of practice and finessing. A great first impression can set the tone for the rest of your show.

While it is evident that overall presentation is an important deciding factor, listed below are some important factors to keep in mind when you are planning on setting the bar high with a great first impression.

1. Clean, Well-Fitting Clothes

Most judges or professional horsemen would agree, the shape and style of an exhibitor’s hat can often be a telltale sign of preparedness. A nicely shaped hat will help to frame the rider’s face and give off a well-put together look. On the other hand, a hat that has lost form will give a sloppy and unmanicured appearance.

Much like the hat, having clothes that fit the rider well will also paint a prettier picture. Making sure that your clothes are pressed and dry cleaned before you step foot in the show pen is also a necessity. For showmanship and English riders, it is of particular importance to have your boots polished to ensure that you are giving off the most professional and serious vibe possible.

Lastly, cleanliness is everything. Some people dwell on having the newest style of show clothes, whether it be a bolero vest or a rhinestone-lined hat. However, nothing will look better than the clean, traditional look of tailored items. Also, when you are choosing your next outfit, try to pick a color scheme that will compliment your horse.

2. A Healthy, Happy Looking Horse

There is no denying that a well put together horse will draw more positive attention than one that is not. Having a shiny and short coat will tell the judge that your horse is healthy. Body condition is also an important thing to keep in mind as long shows and time spent hauling on the road can be stressful for horses and cause them to lose weight.

Horses that have a relaxed appearance are also credit-worthy. Having a horse that is standing at the first cone with its ears pinned and tail swishing will tell the judge that it does not want to be shown. A happy expression is more pleasing for the judges to see, and it also conveys the message that the rider has done the necessary homework to prep the horse and instilled confidence in their show partner.

3. Confidence

Speaking of confidence, riders who have this trait will always stand out to the judge. When it comes to first impressions, judges like to see a rider with good body position. Sitting up square in the saddle or standing up straight beside your horse are both showing that you are ready for the next maneuver.

When the exhibitor steps up to the cone, being ready also tells the judge that you are a serious competitor. Some people choose to wait at the gate to hear any last minute tips from their trainer. While some think that this is helpful, it can lead to rushing up to the cone at the last minute and not having time to mentally prepare for your ride. Taking too long to walk to the starting cone and making the judge wait is a huge no-no with regard to making a great first impression.

Another great tip is, “don’t look down.” Confidence can be conveyed in a multitude of ways. A rider that is constantly looking down shows that they do not trust their mount. A showmanship exhibitor that is always looking down indicates that they have not practiced enough to find and visualize where they are headed. Though it may be a difficult habit to break, practice looking up when you are riding at home just as you would in the show pen.

4. The Fine Details

Above all else, when showing to the judge for the first time, the fine details cannot be overlooked. Number one tip: clean your tack. We spend a small fortune on the best tack for the show pen, so don’t neglect to take care of your equipment.

Another huge pet peeve of many judges has to do with back numbers. At many shows, you are given a specific number, but at smaller shows, exhibitors may choose their back number. Whatever the case may be, having numbers that are trimmed down with no extreme edges showing can make the back of a jacket or the side of the saddle pad look much neater. Have your trainer or a fellow exhibitor ensure that your numbers are straight before entering the pen. Often, we get our horses “show-ready,” meaning cleaned and tacked up, and, then, we put them back in their stalls to relax before show time. Leaving them unattended can lead to rubbing, shifting or even tearing up the numbers.

More fine details that help make a good first impression are all up to the rider. For girls, having neat hair is incredibly important. Though they can hurt, having bobby pins and a good amount of hairspray to secure the flyaways will make any rider much more presentable, no matter which discipline they compete in. While bold lipstick colors help you stand out, riders must choose tasteful makeup that is complimentary to the horse and rider.


From a freshly creased hat to an ultra shiny hair coat, these tips will help any exhibitor give off a winning first impression. Do your homework and be prepared so that your first steps into the pen will let the judge know that you are a serious competitor who is at the top of their game.

Do you think we missed some tips that can leave a lasting first impression on show day? Leave your comments below and let us know.


Photos © Cody Parmenter, Impulse Photography, Mindi Maus, Tami Dobbs, Carey Nowacek

About the Author- Samantha Armbruster is a 22-year-old student from Sunbury, Ohio who is currently pursuing a degree in Public Relations from Franklin University. She currently shows her Quarter Horse gelding, Oops I Am Good, also known as “Hudson”, on the Quarter Horse circuit. Samantha loves being involved in the industry from lending a hand to the younger kids to learning from the top professionals. In 2016, Sam and her horse Hudson won an NSBA World Championship in Trail as well as a Quarter Horse Congress Championship in Showmanship.


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