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Insider’s Guide to Proper Horse Show Etiquette

All aspects of life uphold certain customs, regulations, principles, and expectations…also known as etiquette. Even the horse show world has some basic, unspoken rules.

Although some seem pretty obvious, unfortunately, not all people realize the importance of these rules. There are many reasons why horse show etiquette is essential, but number one is ensuring the safety and efficiency of the show. Without a basic guideline of rules, horse shows would be utter chaos.

Here are seven principles you should always follow at horse shows.

Pick up after yourself

This rule applies all over the show. In the stands, in the stall rows, in the arena…anywhere you are, keep a clean environment. If you see a piece of trash laying around, please throw it away. Yes, a horse will spook at that potato chip bag or that empty water bottle being kicked around.

If you see something like a safety pin or a sharp object on the ground, put it in something that cannot be penetrated, such as a water bottle, and throw it away. A safety pin laying on the ground could end a horse’s career.

Keep dogs on a leash

Loose dogs running around the horse show will never be acceptable. No matter the size or circumstance, all loose dogs are a hazard and an accident waiting to happen. If your dog is misbehaving, keep it in your tack stall, so it is not a disturbance to other exhibitors. Horses have a fight or flight instinct when faced with threatening situations. Because of this instinct, the horses, dogs, and people around you are at risk of being injured.

Don’t block entryways

There are always certain areas for trailer parking and trailer parking only. Do not be one of those people who park their trailer right in front of the main gate. There are also areas to let your horse rest in between classes; it’s called your stall. Don’t stand in the middle of the warm-up pen or right in front of the entry gate while you wait.

When you block doorways and gates, you’re making things difficult for the people around you, and you’re putting yourself at risk. Do yourself a favor and be considerate. Terry Cross of Dry River Ranch says to always “See the perspective of others because one day you might be in their shoes.”

Be courteous in the warm-up pen

Warm up pens are pretty chaotic no matter where you are. Horses are running around in all directions, occasionally someone longing…it’s basically like rush hour traffic. Michelle Tidwell of Cahill Quarter Horses says one of her horse show pet peeves is people who text and longe or text and ride, “It’s impolite and can be dangerous for the people around you.”

If you have to longe your horse, try to take it to an arena dedicated to longing, or an arena with very few people in it. Even though warm up pens are stressful, you still need to be respectful of others and their needs.

AQHA Professional Horsewoman, Nancy Cahill says, “Horse shows are exhausting. Everyone is tired, sore and hungry, but we’re all in the same boat. Be polite to everyone because they’re just as exhausted as you.”

Shows usually dedicate warm-up times for each event.  If the announcer calls for a warm-up for all hunt seat exhibitors, if you’re a ranch rider, do not go in the arena. If you are not showing, do not warm up in the already crowded arena for people who are showing. AQHA amateur exhibitor, D’Lynn Jones says she always reminds herself of this one rule, “It’s their pen, too.”

Ask then touch

This rule might be the most important rule. Always ask the owner before touching a horse that’s not your own. Horse shows can be a very bio-hazardous place to bring a horse because of the potential disease the surrounding horses may carry. You want to create a bio-secure environment for your horse, so it can’t contract any illness. If one horse at a show is sick and you pet that horse, that sickness will spread to your horse and any other horse you’re around. It could even affect horses not at the show. As a safety precaution, keep your hands to yourself.

In the show pen

There are three principles you should always follow in the show pen. First, be a good sport. Don’t be a sore loser and throw a fit about something that went wrong. Trainer, Nancy Cahill says, “You have three minutes at the stall to kick the wall and be mad, and then that’s it. Once your three minutes are up, pull yourself together and don’t whine anymore. You’re at a horse show; there are worse things that can happen.”

Second, don’t crowd other horses. AQHA Amateur exhibitor, Andrea James says, “For the love of all that is Holy, look behind you before you stop your horse, and if you have a fast horse, do not park it behind a slow horse on the rail.”

Lastly, listen to the ring steward or gate person. Be ready for your class and don’t make the judges wait. Everyone has had a long day so please just be prepared for your class.

Thank your trainer

Trainers do a ridiculous amount of work for us. They help with feeding, getting your horse ready, getting you prepared, and dealing with everyone’s problems and concerns. Rain or shine, trainers are willing to show up and help. Don’t be so pretentious and prideful that you can’t thank your teacher and mentor. The truth is, we couldn’t do any of this without them, so thank them…and pay them, of course.


Proper horse show etiquette is a group of principles based on common courtesy and politeness. Although there are many more than just seven things you should be sure to do at every show, these are some of the most important.

Use these rules for your next show to help benefit the people and horses around you. Help the horse show world be more efficient and safe. AQHA Amateur exhibitor, Candice White says to always “Be nice and smile.”

Lauren Pursley is a devoted equestrian, showing in the all-around events with her horse Lovin Some Lazy Lola and the current Texas Quarter Horse Youth Association Reporter. In addition to competing in AQHA shows, Lauren competes in Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) horse shows, 4H Horse Judging and is a member of the 4H Veterinary Science Club. Lauren enjoys working with horses, writing about horses, and equine photography.