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.  


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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. 



dark horse being lunged at a horse show



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.  

groom with horse and yoga mat


Good sportsmanship


  • 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. 


groom walking rider and horse into the arena from above


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.


groom and horse waiting in the holding area of a horse show


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! 


Here’s a great link to the ultimate horse show packing checklist


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As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which are not a penny more for you. I couldn’t be more grateful for your support! You can also visit my Amazon storefront here:  PEG storefront.


HandsOn Gloves on horse_.jpg

HandsOn Grooming Gloves – also, use code PEG for some free shipping!


double sided finishing gloves for horse groominggroomin

HandsOn Finishing Gloves – code PEG will get you some free shipping


Genuine Cactus Cloth – Natural – 18 X 16-1/2 Standard This is much better for stain removal and spreading natural oils around.

I love Easy Out for touch-up stain removal!


You can also snap up a bottle of the grooming oil I love 


Tiger’s Tongue


The Strip Hair groomer

Hoof picks with brushes are double-duty


A small brush for faces.


A dandy brush

A dandy brush


A finishing brush

Horse hair finishing brush


A hard brush with shorter bristles.

One style of hard brush.


The Wet brush – great for damp or wet hair

I love the WET brand for manes and tails.


JT Tough-1 Fold Up Thinning Knife – my favorite mane blade for making a mane even!

Solocomb By Dh Animal Products – for thinning the mane without pulling.

This is a rake that works similarly.




Handy cloths for all things horse grooming

Larger sponge for bathing and grooming


Tack cleaning sponges


Fiebing’s Liquid Glycerine Saddle Soap for Horse 16 fl oz


Effax Leather Balsam 500 ml

A handy tote for grooming supplies on the go!

The classic wood grooming box.


Tote with stepstool combo!

Magic Sheen, works wonders without all of the added alcohol.


This shampoo, MediCare, has soothing ingredients for sensitive skin.


Everyone’s favorite MTG for all sorts of skin issues.


EquiTone in Black is great for bays and darker horses.


Whitening EquiTone is good for all colors for shine, and whitening for grays. 


Red EquiTone in brightens chestnuts and blood bays.


EquiTone in GOLD works with palomino coloring. 





No. 2 Heavy Oil, just a bit of deeper conditioning for dry winter coats.


ADC Veterinary Thermometer, Dual Scale, Adtemp 422 – For easy temperature taking

3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope, Black Edition Chestpiece, Black Tube, 27 inch, 5803 – For finding heart rate and gut sounds


Wahl Professional Animal Bravura Lithium Clipper – this includes the 5 in 1 blade that goes from a #9 to a #40. Perfect for designs!

Wahl Professional Animal ARCO with 5 in 1 blade


The Chromado, also available in black.


Wahl’s Creativa horse trimmer is also availabe in pink.



The KM10’s are the gold standard for horse body clippers.


The Pro Ion, this is a body clipper that uses 30-15-10 blade system.

The Lister Stars – the best shear-style clippers for horses!


Blades for body clippers, the detachable style.


The 10 Wide blade for body clippers, the detachable style.

A 5 in 1 replacement blade.

Lister Star blades, fine cut.

Uptite Poultice


Sore No More Liniment Bottle – pick your size

Back on Track Limber Up LiniMint Leg and Body Brace



Vetrolin Liniment

Ice Horse Pair of Tendon Leg Wraps for Equine Therapy – Comes with 4 Ice Packs


These ice packs make for easy cooling of your horse’s legs and hooves. They last for hours.

This tall boot can be filled with ice or ice packs to help the horse with laminitis.


These affordable boots can be filled with ice to help your horse.


Fancy quilts


Perri’s Standing Bandages, Pack of 4 – so many colors to choose from


Easy to use Back On Track boots


One style of leg quilts, from Intrepid International


Yet another style of quilt

Back on Track no-bows

Sheepskin fuzzies can help with rubs.

Fleece halter covers

Magic Cushion takes the sting out of hooves


The BEST for winter grooming – a hot water kettle!



This saddle pad has memory foam panels and a contoured topline

A lovely western saddle pad with a contoured topline.

This western saddle pad has a cutout for the withers.

Numnahs also come in contoured shapes.

A basic and affordable contoured saddle pad.

A quilted saddle pad with a contoured topline

Fleece girth cover


This is an evaporative cooling blanket for horses

Another cooling blanket option for horses

Back On Track mesh sheets acts like a warming treatment


Fun colors and fringe for tail bags.


Tail protectors for trailering. 

Scrim sheet


This is a lighter scrim style of cooler


This slow feeder for pellets and grains helps your horse take his time eating. 

Heated bucket


Bucket warmer

Muck tubs can make great waterers

The gold standard in muck tubs, this one.

Small opening hay net

Traditional slow feeder with smaller openings

Vittles Vault 80 lb – many sizes to choose from!


Mattes Liquid MELP – 500ML – for sheepskin goods

Leather Therapy Leather Laundry Solution – for sheepskin, leathers, suede goods


Free laundry detergents may be better for your horse’s stuff



This saddle oil contains fungicides for your horse’s tack.


This fly bonnet is sound dampening.

Turn your horse into a mermaid with this fun fly bonnet.

Ear puffs don’t have to be fuzzy.

Fuzzy ear puffs for horses