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Starting Young: The Dos and Don’ts of Leadline

It is heartwarming to see young riders in the show ring representing the future generation of competitors. This class gives youth a chance to see what the show world is all about and prepares them for the more advanced classes to come, once they are ready. Plus, who doesn’t want to watch all of the cute riders in the ring with their stylish outfits and big smiles? Leadline is such a fun event for not only the children, but the spectators as well.

GoHorseShow spoke to Ashton Sullivan, Keith Miller, and Ali Hubbell about the dos and don’ts of showing lead line. They each have children who show lead line, so they have experienced equestrians and parents who have their children following in their footsteps.  

DO Have Fun

That is what this class is designed to do. If you are not having a good time, then what is the point of being there? This was a top point for Sullivan, Miller, and Hubbell. “If it is not going to be a good day, don’t even try to do it,” says Hubbell.

With children ranging from about three to eight years old, you need to keep it lighthearted for them. This will paint a picture in their mind of what showing is; if it is not a good time, they will not want to continue.

“The number one thing is that the kids have to enjoy it. So, they practice when they want to practice, they don’t when they don’t. That’s how we do it,” states Miller. 

DO Learn the Basics

It is good for them to know the basic principles of showing. “Getting ready, getting dressed, going in and practicing in the arena, and backing up. Also, being able to have the social aspect of it as well. They will be talking one-on-one with a judge. I think it’s a fun way for camaraderie and a fun way for them to do something different, but still be together and learn from each other,” says Miller. 

Teaching your young competitors basic skills from the get-go will build their character and give them a head start when they progress in their show career.

DO Make Sure Tack and Attire Fit

It is not always easy for things to go exactly right with little ones if you do not plan. Sullivan advises that you make sure their clothes fit properly and that they are comfortable in them. You do not want to get into a class and not have them on their A-game because of their clothes.

Let it be something that they will like and have fun with; make sure to go with their favorite color. Making sure their tack is well adjusted is just as important. Sullivan says, “Take the fenders off and use English stirrups instead if you have a child that is too small for the regular ones.” 

DON’T Wing It

Going into a class without any preparation can lead to some trouble. “They will ask them to back up, and they usually have the judges ask questions too. When Finely showed, we told her to make sure that she knew her name and her horse’s name, Spider-Man. The judge asked her name, and she said her name was Spider-Man,” says Sullivan.

Make sure to practice; every class takes a lot of time and practice, even the lead line. Miller’s daughter, Charlotte, and her horse showed in English and practiced using English reins. “And I’ll never forget when she took the reins, gathered them up in the traditional English way. I was kind of like, oh my goodness. She did it. The judges were assuming that she was going to pull back. A proud dad moment,” said Miller. Because of her hard work with practicing how to back with English reins, she was able to wow the judges.

DON’T Skip A Nap

One of the top tips to success in leadline is the nap. Children are on the go most of the time and need some time to sleep, especially before their show time.

Hubbell always looks after her daughter, Della, to ensure that she is rested and prepared to show her horse JD. “Make sure they’ve rested and eaten before,” says Hubbell.

Making sure that the little ones are fueled up with food and rest will make their class much smoother. In addition, it will help them have a fresh mind and a fresh start to their leadline class.


About the Author – Georgia Smith has been riding/showing horses for 14 years with her trainer, Charlene Carter, who has led her to jump at Harmony Hill Farms. As a journalist major, Georgia is adamant about continuing her passion for horses through her writings.