We’ve come up with 10 Unwritten Rules to keep in mind the next time you pull into the show grounds. Photo © Tiffany Anne Photo

10 Unwritten Rules of Horse Showing

Almost everything in life is governed by a set of rules, even if they aren’t written in a rulebook – a general set of rules that are just implied but never documented. This applies to horse shows as well.

If you are a veteran in the show pen, you know there are some unwritten rules that should be followed. You may have even noticed some rule breakers at some of the horse shows you’ve attended.

We’ve come up with 10 Unwritten Rules to keep in mind the next time you pull into the show grounds.


1. Eyes up in the warm-up pen.
The warm-up pen can be one of the most stressful and chaotic areas at the horse show. Trainers, veterans and novice riders are all in the same arena practicing for a multitude of classes. Make your experience a good one by keeping your eyes up and avoiding any potential issues. We all make mistakes so if you bump into someone or don’t move off the rail, apologize. Everyone is trying to make the most of their practice and a simple apology will go a long way.

2. Be gracious to the office staff.
We’ve all seen (or heard) that person in the show office complaining about lost entries or show fees. Don’t be that person! Most show staff work long hours and deal with hundreds of people in a day. Make their day a little easier by being nice. After all, we are at a horse show – what could be so bad?

3. Know your draw and be ready in your work order.
Do your homework before you get to the gate. Know your draw and know where the show is in the work order. The gate staff do not want to track you down and you definitely do not want to make the judges wait for you. As a courtesy to the show and your fellow competitors, be ready when it is your turn.

4. Help someone who needs it.
Their chaps are rolled up and they don’t know it, their hair is falling down or their helmet is on the fence post and they’ve already gotten on their horse. If you notice someone needing an extra hand, give it to them. Not everyone has an entourage of people assisting at the horse show and some could use an extra hand.

5. Keep your attitude and emotions in check.
Everyone has a bad ride, a bad go or just bad luck at a horse show. Go back to your stall (never pout or throw a tantrum in public – see rule number 9) and get it together. Have a moment to yourself and then move on. Attitudes are infectious and horse shows are supposed to be fun. While it can be a frustrating sport at times, do not let your attitude ruin someone else’s experience.

6. Congratulate others.
If you watch a great run or ride, tell the person they did a great job. It is awesome to have your trainer or your cheering section let you know you did well, but when a outsider or fellow competitor tells you that, it can really brighten up a day. Showing support for another exhibitor spreads positivity and good will and someday you may see this come back your way.

7. Don’t tell your trainer you are tired.
They have not sat down all day, hardly eaten and have been up since about 4 AM feeding, grooming and riding your horse. Don’t tell them you are tired. Don’t tell them your feet hurt or you are hungry. Chances are they are all of those things and are working really hard on your behalf. Instead, ask them if there is anything they need.

8. Support show events.
Attend clinics, workshops and exhibitor parties and lunches. The show management work hard to coordinate events that will bring exhibitors together and that create a positive environment. Show support and graciousness by participating in these events.

9. Judges are always watching.
This industry is a small one and the trainer stalled next to you could be judging you at the next horse show. While judges judge their impression of you in the ring, they could notice you outside of the ring for the wrong reasons. Make a good impression in acting responsibly and putting your best “boot” forward in all situations.

10. Be welcoming to newbies.
A simple good luck to a new face at a horse show could give an exhibitor a huge boost of confidence. If someone looks confused about a pattern or maneuver, offer some assistance. We have all been a newbie at one point, so make them feel like they belong.

Photos © Hollie Byers, The American Quarter Horse Journal, Tiffany Anne Photo

About the Author: Julie Hoefling was born and raised in Akron, Michigan but now resides in Cave Creek, Arizona with her husband, Jerry. She works at Kahala Brands as a Director of Marketing. Julie shows her horse, Shady Impulse in the Novice Amateur Western All-Around events under the guidance of Ryan and Andrea Kail.
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