Horse Show Etiquette for Riders and Everyone Else
On paper, going to a horse show seems like fun, sunshine, and unicorns. However, it can be stressful, and there are plenty of things you can do to minimize stress for yourself and others. Horse show etiquette is more than polite manners; it’s a way to boost the fun for everyone.
Horse show etiquette for riders before show day
There’s a lot you can get ready before show day – and a lot to go over so nobody is surprised.
Know the rules before you go.
- Your show’s local, regional, or national organization, will have rules and guidelines. Have a great understanding of what is expected, and you will reduce show-day nerves and be able to help your fellow competitors.
Thinks to learn about the rules:
- Guidelines for your outfit
- Your horse’s turnout, especially bits and accessory tack like martingales and breastplates
- Braiding requirements (if any)
- What to expect in each class you want to enter
- Warm-up ring rules
- Prohibited substances – most show organizations have clear guidelines about prohibited substances and testing
- What documentation you need to provide – registration numbers, passports, etc.
Learn about the facility
Some horse show grounds have their own regulations, hopefully easily found on their website. Learn the following for a streamlined day:
- Where to load/unload and park your rig
- Location of show office, restrooms, manure pits, warm-up rings, farrier service, lungeing areas
- Gather phone numbers for show day if possible
- The vet and farrier on call
- Show office
- Know the show’s biosecurity guidelines
Horse show etiquette at the show
Mind your mouth
- Avoid gossip and being a judgemental rail bird.
- If you don’t have something nice to say, then be quiet.
- Spread “thank you’s” around like you are sowing wildflowers, especially to the volunteers.
Check your surroundings
- Leave common areas cleaner than you found them – washracks, picnic tables, barn aisles, etc.
- Act like you are at a pool – no running, no glass containers, look before you leap.
- If you love to play music out loud at the barn, skip it at horse shows. There’s already so much noise and distractions, and your neighbors may not appreciate your tastes in tunes. Use earbuds if music is part of your barn routine. Better yet, use one earbud for music and keep the other ear out.
Mind your horse
- Keep your horse safe around other horses. Don’t walk the barn aisles and allow horses to touch noses. Take any horses shaped, and acting like, kites to an appropriate area, like the lunge ring.
- Use tail ribbons to tell others if your horse kicks or is a stallion. Typically, a red ribbon in a horse’s tail means they kick. Denote stallions with blue or white ribbons; it varies. A good rule of thumb is to use ribbons if needed and give any ribboned-up horse lots of room.
- Do not think, for one hot second, that every horse that stands quietly at home will do so at a horse show. Don’t forget to keep a hand on the reins as you mount, and don’t trust your horse to ground tie. You will forever be the fool whose bombproof, ground-tying horse did 84 happy laps around the showgrounds.
- One more thought about horse handling at horse shows – no one has ever perished from scratching a class or retiring during a round. However, many horses and riders have physical and mental damage from not doing so.
- There are some big emotions at horse shows, sometimes not always happy ones. Do your best to respect others, cheer them on, and maintain a safe place for emotions to live.
- You are allowed to have big feels and express them safely and with cognition of your surroundings and fellow horse lovers.
- Everyone can have a bad day in the ring, even the Olympians. There are no guarantees with horses (or riders), and keeping rash comments, judgments, and disparaging videos off the internet benefits everyone.
**There is a difference between someone having a bad day riding and horse abuse. Either way, it’s not always best to post about your fellow equestrians in tough situations. Post about yourself instead. More on horse abuse later.**
The warm-up ring
Warm-up rings are often overflowing with chaos. Here are some general guidelines for safe navigation.
- Pass other horses from left shoulder to left shoulder, as you would when driving.
- Leave plenty of space between yourself and other horses.
- Don’t ride double-wide if you are chilling with friends in the warm-up. In fact, chill with friends outside of the warm-up.
- Yield to others going at a faster gait than you.
- Let the person in front of you know you will pass. You might say “on your left” or “passing on the inside.”
- Avoid blocking gates to the warm-up.
- Don’t lunge in warm-up areas, even if allowed. It’s just not safe.
- If there are jumps in the warm-up area, call the jumps before you approach.
- Sometimes, jumps are flagged. Jump in the direction where the red flag is on the right.
- Don’t cross a jump line in the ring with others popping fences.
- Leave the warm-up area to touch-up hoof polish and grab a sip of water.
Horse show etiquette for spectators
- And by spectators, this also means equestrians who might not be on a horse at the moment.
- Don’t hang over the rails around an arena. And more importantly, don’t let your child/bestie/trainer/imaginary friend sit on the railing.
- Don’t touch someone’s horse. Humans are wonderfully effective vectors for transmitting viruses between horses.
- And definitely don’t feed anyone else’s horse. It’s not your business, it’s rude, and many horses have allergies to food.
- Do your part to make a horse show welcoming to newbies. If you’re an expert, answer questions from strangers. Or, ask questions to experts without taking up too much of a volunteer or delegate’s time.
- Support small businesses by shopping their vendor booths if you like. Horse shows are expensive to attend for vendors, and it’s a hustle for them to be there.
Dogs at horse shows
- Yeah! We love doggos. We also love not being jumped on, barked at, tangled in leashes, and having horses spooked by your furry friend. And horse show etiquette extends to dogs, too.
- If the show rules forbid dogs, make arrangements for your pooch. If dogs are forbidden in certain parts of the showgrounds, respect those boundaries.
- Please don’t use the showgrounds as a place for your dog to be trained or burn off energy. It’s not the time or location for that to happen.
Reporting abuse at horse shows
- If you see a rider, handler, trainer, or anyone else violating the welfare of a horse, it’s your job on the showground to report it.
- Technical delegates, show managers, on-site vets, and other horse show employees have protocols to address such issues.
- If the overwhelming urge to video a violation grabs you, go ahead. The choice remains about what to do with it. Take it to the appropriate people for documentable action to be taken.
- Safe Sport is another resource for you, albeit a resource that often stirs controversy.
And then go forth and SHOW!
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