GoHorseShow writer and AQHA amateur competitor, Morgan McCarthy-Warda gives tips on how to prepare for the 2019 show season. Photo © Morgan McCarthy-Warda

Tips and Tricks for Planning Ahead for Show Season

Editor’s Note: GoHorseShow writer and Amateur exhibitor, Morgan McCarthy-Warda of Lapeer, Michigan gives advice and tips on how to prepare for the 2019 show season.

The 2019 horse show season is almost here. I remember writing nearly those exact words last December – it’s crazy to think that we are here again. The equine industry continues to be one of the unique ventures in the world.

Before thinking about the upcoming season, we invite you to take a deep breath and feel a sense of gratitude when thinking about your equine partners. They have carried you, supported you, tried for you.

Whether you are just jumping into this world of horse showing or many year veterans, these pre-season tips will help you take a step in the right direction as January approaches.

Schedule of Events

The truth is, before I was an amateur, I never really planned for a show season. I was lucky enough to have a parent in the industry and going to horse shows was the norm. Admittedly, I just expected to be at a show weekend-after-weekend. Now, as a DIY (checkbook speaking) amateur, I realize just how much I took those days for granted. I wish I would have included myself in the planning process.

Before the start of a new show season, my first suggestion is to gather showbills from your favorite associations and locations. Lay them out on your calendar and see what interests you. If you are new to showing a circuit, put some feelers out on social media. People love to talk about great horse shows. They also like to talk about bad ones. If a show or fairgrounds has some great reviews, highlight them. If numerous people have complaints about another, scratch it off. I would always suggest doing extra research to verify information before making a final decision.

I encourage youth to engage in this process as well. Understand when things like your world show qualifying period begins and ends. You, your parents and your trainers will often make show plans according to this timeframe.
People often choose horse shows based on the class sizes from years prior. This is very common when it comes to qualifying and point rankings. Depending on the association, you can often find this information online. The bigger the show, the more points up for grabs.

Having a tentative travel plan for the entire season will take some weight off of your shoulders. It is also important to note that not all associations will have their complete show schedule up before January. Most will have at least January through April available early, though.

Take Inventory

This part is simple. Tear that trailer apart and make a list of things that need to be purchased. This includes grooming supplies, equipment and show outfits. Starting a year fresh and organized can set a tone for what’s to come and give you that extra boost of confidence because you are ready to take on a horse show.


Most people would probably tell you to set a budget and then pick your horse shows. I’m going to ask you to make your list of horse shows and then set your budget. I always highlight shows that I don’t want to miss. It doesn’t still work out that way, but it helps to prioritize. When you decide on your primary and secondary shows, you can start looking at which ones align with your budget for that time of the year. Maybe that means two expensive shows in one month doesn’t work. If it’s two of your favorite shows in one month, you might have to decide to only do one, cheaper show next month. Responsible decisions aren’t any fun but knowing ahead of time softens the blow.

There is a lot to consider when setting a yearly horse show budget including the shows, outfits, equipment and travel. Some budget years may vary depending on what is on your ‘must-do’ list.

Do Your Homework

Equestrians that want to get better pay attention to successful people around them. Watch videos of who is winning at the highest level of competition. Compare that to yourself.

This doesn’t always mean that these people are 100% correct. Maybe some things aren’t even your style. That’s okay, the difference is that people who educate themselves on an event can pick out what a rider is doing to be in the top spot.

Every class for every discipline or breed has a rulebook that defines everything from correct body position to correct horse movement. These are the guidelines judges should be scoring you and your horse on. How will you correctly interpret a judge’s card without knowing what they are judging you on? A judge’s perspective often becomes much more clear when you look at a class as an equation.

Say Goodbye to 2018

…but keep it in your back pocket as a reference. In other words, remember where you have been and what you learned from the previous year. We are competitors that want to see and feel improvement. There are times when we want to forget a season completely. It’s happened to everyone. Without revisiting our past, we cannot entirely be aware of our present.

It’s up to us as riders to hold ourselves accountable for our progress and reward ourselves. That is how you recognize and celebrate small victories. Those small victories add up to what becomes large personal gain. We don’t see it, however, without taking a step back and remembering where we came from, even when it was just a year ago.

I hope you all have taken time to reflect on 2018. I hope it leaves you well and that you reach all of your goals in the upcoming season. Enjoy the ride.

About the Author: GoHorseShow Contributing Writer, Morgan McCarthy Warda grew up actively competing on the AQHA circuit from leadline to her now amateur years and is a past Michigan Quarter Horse Association Queen. She balances her time between showing her all-around gelding Finely Asleep, writing, running Revitalized Saddles with her fiance, serving on her local Quality Deer Management Association Board of Directors and representing the state of Michigan as their Wildlife Cooperatives Coordinator for Michigan United Conservation Clubs. In the future, Morgan plans to obtain a Masters degree in Wildlife Management and continue to be an active member of AQHA.