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We Ask Trainers & Judges: What Are Things Non-Pros Should Never Do in the Show Pen?

Often, the journey, not the destination, provides the most memorable experiences in life. That is certainly true when it comes to showing horses. It is often a roller coaster ride with many highs and lows mixed in with success and failures. Making mistakes comes with the territory, and a rider’s attitude and actions are often crucial to accomplishing future goals.

Ribbons, trophies, and titles do not only define success. Essential elements of being a true horseman include having a good attitude, an impressive work ethic, setting goals, and striving to learn something new every day. These traits are essential to becoming an elite rider.

GoHorseShow talked with top trainers and judges about what non-pros should never do in the show pen. Amateurs, youth, and novices should take note of these insightful answers and keep them in mind the next time they enter the show arena. 

Alyse Roberts – We have all been mad about placings, but acting mad about the placings in the lineup/as you exit isn’t okay. Remember, you’re paying for someone’s opinion, and sometimes the placings may not go your way. It’s always best to smile on your way out and be gracious, no matter your placing.

In the hunt seat pen, you want to pay attention to your traffic and try to place yourself in the best possible spots to show your horse and not get into a wreck. That could be going deep into your corners then fading in a little or maybe cutting a corner off then fading out to keep a spot. You do not want to circle the judges thinking this is the “only way you’ll get seen.”

I prefer my non-pros not to break down immediately when the gait is called for. Ideally, I like to continue to trot or lope three to four strides after the gait is called for so that I know the horse is listening to them, not just the announcer.

Jody Finkenbinder – I probably have some pet peeves in different areas. I would love to see more connection between the rider and the horse in the pattern classes. Trending is a lot of pretty riders that are just perched, but they have no connection with their horse and are strictly a passenger that looks pretty. I see a lack of education and teaching students to ride and have hands and legs that function in the maneuvers and participate in every stride. 

In the showmanship, I notice a lot of dirty show halters that do not fit properly. Of course, as a halter person, I notice the halters hang down too low on their faces. They’re not adjusted properly to fit their job, and I am appalled at how many I see that are dirty and unpolished. The same goes for boots. Highwater pants that don’t fit and dirty boots stand out like a sore thumb. It’s a complete picture; you don’t have to have an expensive outfit; make sure it fits appropriately and is clean and neat. I prefer efficiency over scampering around your horse, just like running from your hips over running like a turkey.

I’ve always wanted to give a small demonstration on the correct way to mouth a horse in the halter. As a professional horseman, I feel we are responsible for educating those interested in the industry that are not as far along. I see a lack of that many weekends. The correct way to mouth the horse is not to go at them with your hand like you’re going to put a twitch on them. You start from the bottom, using your left hand while you hold the side of the halter and the chain with your right, and you separate the lips with your thumb and your forefinger, exposing the top and bottom teeth.

Jennifer Welhouse – When placings are being announced, they should never show disapproval on their faces. Furthermore, tantrums are unacceptable when outside in the warm-up area. Those discussions are private by the stalls. They should not make a fellow barn mate feel bad about their placings. No one should act superior or better than anyone else. You could be at the bottom as fast as you become the top. Practice grace and humility. Be bitter or be better. That’s my motto.

Margaux Tucker – Never quit being a horseman. Whether the winner, loser, or in a tricky situation. A horseman shows compassion to their horse and fellow exhibitors. They read their horse and their situation to help find the best possible outcomes.






Jerry Erickson – Something that does get annoying is when the non-pro starts schooling in the show ring. Most times, it looks like frustration jerking rather than constructive training.




Kerri McKay – A non-pro should always be humble, never brag, and never wear a bad hat.




Jenn Wheeler
– I never want to see my non-pros have a bad attitude or poor body language, especially after a mistake that was obviously due to their ineffectiveness as a rider. This includes taking it out on the horse too. Non-pros should remember to be professional, especially in the “ship” classes. Schooling is fine with me if it’s the horse, but when I see a rider cause a problem and then throw a fit, nothing makes me cringe more.

Ceralena Gray
– When lined up for placings, leaving before overall placings if you’re not called. I feel it’s disrespectful. I’d want everyone to stay if I was called up, and I think they deserve the same respect and appreciation.



Leonard Berryhill
– Never stare at the judge! Schooling should be left to professionals.




Carolyn LaRose
– Cutting off other exhibitors. Be aware of your surroundings and other exhibitors in the ring, don’t just stare at your horse’s head and get lost in your world. Never be late to enter the pen, cone, or in transitions. Don’t make the judges wait. Never let the status or pressure of other exhibitors discourage you or keep you from showing. Show what you have that day. Don’t hold a grudge against your horse if your last ride or show wasn’t great.


Ashley Dunbar-Clock – The biggest thing for me is when you’re walking into the show and leaving; you should always be on your best behavior. Even if your ride/horse is terrible, you should never make a scene as judges and spectators are watching. There’s a time and place to fix or work on things, and that moment is not the time. I think of it as looking professional, especially in the public eye.


Chelsea Carlson – There’s a time and place for everything. I have no issue with schooling properly through a problem in the pen if it comes up. I have an issue with excessive schooling to the point it is holding up the next horse in the pen, getting in another’s way, or drawing undue attention to oneself. The judges don’t want to see it, the crowd doesn’t want to see it, and it doesn’t look good in our industry. We’ve all been there sometimes, but I’ve learned that more homework is usually needed and helps with most of those problems.

Kellie Hinely – I have two things…1. Never quit riding. Let it go and continue with your pattern if something goes wrong. You’d be surprised at how something you think is a deal-breaker, isn’t. Always keep showing. 2. Be a good sport. You’re dealing with a living animal that isn’t always on board with your shenanigans. I don’t like to see someone “pout” out of the arena or take a bad ride out on their horse.

Jamie Dowdy
– Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. I would say being present to the task at hand. Inevitably, what we will, will be. Being prepared for a happening comes with experience. The confidence that needs to be instilled by the rider for each horse, especially young horses, is paramount.





Are there things you never want to see in the show arena? Let us know in the comments.