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We Ask the Industry New Year Edition: Reminders from Judges, Trainers, Competitors Before Entering the Pen in 2024

Professionals and competitors provide some quick reminders before entering the pen in 2024. Giving your horse a hug after every great performance is a must!

With the new year at our doorstep – are there things you learned in 2023 that you’d like to share with our readers? Any quick reminders or tips you’d like to tell exhibitors before they enter the pen in 2024?

We asked top trainers, judges, and competitors to share their thoughts going into the new show season. Is there something you learned in 2023 that would be helpful for others in the new year? We’d love to know!

Kyra Ley – Always remember that your attitude about a situation can change the outcome. Whether it is at home or the show, if you get on your horse with a negative mindset, that is almost guaranteed to carry over into your ride. Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a deep breath and try again later. Don’t put too much pressure on the situation. In the grand scheme of things, that little thing you have been struggling with really isn’t that big of a deal. Approach things from a grateful mindset and you will stay much happier in the long run.


Laurel Walker Denton – I always try to recap the good things and rides that took place the previous year with my clients. Then, we are off to a new year, new goals, and new horses. All of which can be intimidating. I believe in the “new broom sweeps clean” saying. We leave behind the mistakes, and the memories of bad rides, and start new with more tools to be better riders. Be specific with your 2024 goals: qualify for a World Show, win a year-end award, and have a penalty-free run. No matter where you are on the equestrian scale of knowledge, there is always a place for goals and improvement. Happy New Year! Enjoy the Ride.

Beth Clemons – One of the biggest things I learned in 2023 is rest. You, your horses, and your amateur mentally benefit from rest. There is always another horse show you can go to and having your broke horses tuned up 12 months out of the year is more likely to make them stop trying. If you allow yourself to rest, whether you’re a trainer or an amateur, you can come back at it with new perspectives that are far more productive than constant practice. This December, I have my amateurs trail riding. The horses that have gone down the road the past 11 months will stay fit, but not have to be fine-tuned. Everything doesn’t have to be intense all the time. What other athlete is in prime season ALL year? Time to let your hair down a bit.

Jodi Finkenbinder – I think they need to realize how much we appreciate their promptness in entering the arena and being ready at the cone. I’m not sure they realize with the number of classes we have now, how much time it burns in a day when they are not prepared. Be prepared and have a plan!



Katy Jo Zuidema – The people behind you are more important than you ever thought. I wouldn’t trade my girls for an entire box of shiny rocks (laughs). They’re great-minded and talented, we roll with the punches and hold each other accountable for the good and bad. My gratitude for them, our man Adelso at home, Tim, and JR knows no bounds. They keep the ship rolling. As far as advice before entering the pen, I’ll just say what I always say. There is no perfect ride, something is going to go wrong. Don’t panic, handle it, shake it off, and go back to show mode.

Kelly McDowall
– My advice is to work hard and have fun! That’s not new, but that’s all I have (laughs).





Daren Wright – I think we all need to remember that horse showing still needs to be fun, and let’s do all we can to encourage and make new exhibitors feel welcome.




Megan Vanderslice
– Two of the biggest things I’ve learned in 2023 that I’m taking to 2024 are to ride in the moment and just be kind. I think we all get so caught up in what’s next, that we forget about what’s going on. I’ve been working hard to just be present on the horse that I’m riding and in the moment. It’s made such a difference in my riding and my horses. Being kind is the most important. You never know what someone is going through. We are all tired and oftentimes burned out. It’s easy and free to just smile. I’ve had a rough couple of years and I’ll never forget my peers and exhibitors who have been supportive and kind to me.


Lori Gordon – Here are a few things that come to my mind for exhibitors to sharpen for 2024. Never make the judge wait. Always be prompt for all of your classes, whether it be a rail class, a pattern class, halter or trail, etc. Everyone has a long day inclusive of exhibitors, trainers, show staff, and judges. The courtesy of being up and ready and on time helps shave some time off of what could be a very long day and helps everyone finish promptly.

Be sure your number is always visible. Again, if the judge has to search for your number, it takes away from the time that they are judging your horse and possibly the entire class. It also makes their day run more smoothly and efficiently, since searching for an exhibitor number time and again also adds to their long day of scoring, focusing, and evaluating and may lengthen the day.

Ride every step and never stop showing. One or two small mistakes may still put you at the top of the class, depending upon the run of the other exhibitors. Continue to show until your class or go is over or completed. Your error may not be as major as you thought.

We all want to win and get a flawless finished result, but try to enjoy the process along the way. Each step is a milestone and should make you feel accomplished and closer to your end goal. Enjoy your stepping stones and achievements during the process of finishing a green horse or mastering a new event. And always have fun and enjoy the ride!

Stephanie McAlexander – 2023 reminded me that horse showing should be fun. Support your local organization, get to know the people you are showing with, and enjoy your horse. This is the backbone of a successful show season. We are fortunate to have a great barn team who cheer each other on; and a great state affiliate in MQHA who goes above and beyond to make our shows fun. We also enjoy trying to add new places to show to our schedule. I think it keeps you fresh and motivated to show in different places. You can learn something from every show, every person, every situation. Go out and get showing!

Jimmy Daurio – Something 2023 taught me – we haul these magnificent 1,200 pound animals all over the country. They are strong, relentless, and keep on doing their jobs. They are, for the most part, not fazed by much when at home or on the road…until they are. We lost a great horse of a select client at the NSBA World Show. He showed that day and was always reliable and did his job taking care of her. Until late that night, it was our turn to take care of him. He was in horrible pain, and we did all that we could and he went to surgery. He fought hard, but unfortunately, we had to decide to put him down. This happening made me realize how much these magnificent animals need us and to never take them for granted.


Jamie Dowdy – As a judge, I want to see correct first, then quality in which you perform the correct. Sometimes we need to help our horses and that’s okay. You don’t always know what the judge sees. Putting together the team takes time, so enjoy the process. Getting to know what makes you and your horse the best you can be. Being courteous and kind to others in and out of the ring is an easy ask too. Sometimes, we have issues and mess somebody else up. I think we can all understand that we don’t have robots and things happen. Forgive and forget. Have fun and enjoy the amazing horses and people we get to surround ourselves with.

Chelsea Carlson – My biggest take away from 2023 is to insure your horses. I know this seems common sense, we spend enough money purchasing and investing our time and funds into these beloved animals and this hobby, but you would be surprised how many people forget to do that step when they buy a horse. We’ve heard, and seen, and experienced some crazy stories this year about horses passing or getting in accidents. Things happen. That’s life. And 2023 reminded me more of that than many years in the past.

On a lighter note, entering 2024, really enjoy your experiences in that pen. Life is short, remind others how much you enjoy being around them and thank your team for all they do for you. We do it because we love this sport and want to see others succeed.

Morgan Jennings – I dedicated a lot of my time at horse shows and online this year watching who was winning, comparing styles, and focusing on horse skill sets in different disciplines, while comparing them to my own. It’s important to self-evaluate. I felt like I was doing research for an entire season but it has helped me refocus my own goals and set attainable ones for my horse and what he excels at. I would encourage everyone to take the time to be an outside observer. Set aside time, maybe even pick one class to focus on. I feel a sense of direction when I do this, and it helps me focus on what I can control and work on – me and my horse. I’m looking forward to 2024 with all my fellow exhibitors!

What did you learn in 2023 that would be helpful for others in the new year? Let us know in our social media comments and here’s to a happy and healthy 2024!

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