Endless Tips for a Successful First Horse Show 


The key to a successful horse show is to organize! Careful planning and getting ready in stages keep your first horse show day running smoothly. And to help, there’s a handy (free) packing list to download. You can change the list to suit your horse show needs.   

Here are some more tips for planning your first horse show.


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Prepare in advance


  • And this means practicing everything at home – not just the riding skills.  Practice grooming for a show – including bathing, braiding, chrome boosting, trimming and clipping, and stain removal on show day. 


  • Don’t forget to ride in your ENTIRE show outfit before you are at the show. Many things can change between “add to cart” and “you’re in the show ring.”


  • Prepare your horse at home – ride your horse at different times during the day, in different locations, with varying noises of background, with and without other horses, and in different weather. Also, practice riding in a ring with many other horses doing many different things to mimic a warm-up area. 


  • Organize your support team – trainer, S.O., friends, and cheerleaders. Gather anyone who can help you succeed and not cause added stress while at a show. If a huge team seems overwhelming, stick to your trainer and maybe another person. Having someone ringside to wipe boots, hand you water, and keep tabs on show time is helpful. 


  • Get your trailer ready ahead of time. Has your rig been inspected with safe tires, clean, added shavings, and ready to roll? Pack your trailer ahead of time. You can pack just about anything a week or more before the show if you have duplicates. On show day, load your horse and essentials. Use that list to double-check! 


  • Pack sustenance for you. Horse show food may not be available or suit your preferences. Bring more water than you think is necessary, and pack snacks and lunches that won’t melt.  


  • Have a plan for any show nerves. Even if you are cool as a cucumber 99.9% of the time, have some breathing techniques and relaxation methods ready. Yes, you have to try them at home. You don’t want to rely on untested approaches that may stress you out more. 


  • Know what documentation your horse needs and gather vaccine records, paperwork, entries, etc. before show day. 


washing a gray horse's legs

Bathe in advance, and curry the snot outta your horse to bring back shine. 


Help your horse stay clean


  • You may want to bathe your horse more than a day before the show. This lets your horse’s bloom return. Avoid harsh detergents and shampoos to minimize the natural oil stripped away during a bath. 


  • Horses stay clean when their skin and coat are naturally oily with sebum. After a bath, boost this with an oil buffing session to help repel stains. Sheen products are helpful, too, but some horses get dry coats with excessive use. 


  • Ramp up your curry game between bathing and show time. That is all. That’s the tip. 


  • Use wildly clean bedding and pick your horse’s stall, shed, and outdoor areas more frequently. Nothing creates “horse show panic” like poop being used as a pillow the night before. 


  • Cover your horse in fly sheets and fly boots for stain protection, even if the bugs are not out. Every little bit helps. 


coggins test sign at a horse show

Know what paperwork is required before you show up!


At the showgrounds


  • Pick the most appropriate classes.  If it’s overwhelming when you arrive, you can scratch or add classes as needed. This seems logical but can go sideways in a hurry. One particularly helpful trainer suggested picking classes one notch down from where you are comfortable riding for the first show. You can always move up later. 


  • Choose classes that won’t overwhelm you or your horse. Consider the time of day, ring locations, and number of entries if crowds create stress. 


  • Find these places on the showgrounds:


      • Show office
      • Warm up rings
      • Lungeing area
      • Restrooms
      • Wash rack
      • Farrier
      • On-call vet


GG equine horizontal coupon ad greenguard muzzle



Choose all of your clothes carefully and stay clean


  • It is darn near impossible to stay spotless at a horse show. A change of clothes is helpful, especially if you have a tack stall or space in your trailer to change. Show clothes can be uncomfortable and hot if worn all day. Pack loose-fitting, light clothes to wear around. Don’t forget comfortable and horse-safe shoes.  


  • You can also cover your show clothes with oversized pajama bottoms and a top to collect dirt. Easy on, easy off, and keeps all the dirt away. 


  • Pack some wet wipes, hand sanitizer, and a shatterproof mirror for make-up and hair. The judge may not be able to see melted mascara and dirty hands, but it will boost your confidence to powder your nose before you ride. 

Warm-up ring etiquette 


  • The warm-up ring is often the most chaotic place in the showgrounds. Here are some basic rules of warm-up etiquette to remember for your first horse show and every show after:


      • Pass other horses from left shoulder to left shoulder.   
      • Pay attention to the crowd – if almost everyone goes clockwise, you should, too. 
      • If you must pass a rider in the same direction, pass on the inside.  
      • Look up and ahead. If you are looking down, you will end up there.  
      • Use your voice. Call jumps loudly and indicate “outside” or “inside” if necessary.  
      • Cantering and trotting have the right of way over walking. Sometimes the best place to walk your horse is around the showgrounds if permitted. If you must walk in the warm-up ring, do not find another horse to walk next to. Go single file. 
      • Jumping has the right of way over everything. Do not cross the path before or after a jump. Riders may need to break the “left to left” rule.  
      • If flags are on the jump standards, you may only jump in the direction when the red flag is on the right.  
      • Some show organizations prohibit the use of earbuds while warming up. 
      • Use and look for red ribbons. A red ribbon in the tail indicates a horse that kicks, and a red ribbon in the browband signals a horse that doesn’t do well with other horses approaching head-on.  
      • Leave the warm-up ring to sip water, clean your boots, and touch up your horse.  


horse show tents and vendors in a row

Know where important services are – office, vet, farrier, and lungeing area.


Practice good sportsmanship at your first horse show


  • Keep questionable comments and critiques to yourself. EVERYONE at a horse show is “going through it,” even the Olympians. There is not a single person at a horse show that is not learning something; give yourself and them a break. 


  • Report horse abuse to the technical delegate and/or show office if you see it.  


  • An oft-overlooked aspect of good sportsmanship is to follow your gut. You can opt-out if you don’t think you want to continue with a class, or even when you are in a class. Better to scratch and try again.  


Happy showing and have fun! Please download a copy (show_packing_checklist) and print it to help keep your sanity.  


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