Dan Williams’ showing blog: we all have to start somewhere (and mine was a disaster)

I run a livery yard from my home in Hertfordshire and I’m often asked for advice from my liveries on things like how to pull tails, how to plait up, what I think the best products are for getting a grey clean and what class I think their horse should be in. This got me thinking that there must be lots of people who would love to have a go at showing but aren’t sure where to start.

I started showing seriously about five years ago and had no idea what I was doing. I had owned horses since I was a child and competed in various disciplines over the years, but when I found showing, I really caught the bug and knew that it was what I wanted to do. I was lucky to have been based on a yard run by someone was heavily into showing at the time and was able to benefit from plenty of advice. She also sold me my first show horse, a small show hunter called Otis that her family had bred.

I was desperate to get going and within a couple of weeks, I took Otis to our first show. I had no idea what I was doing and turned up incorrectly dressed and with Otis not turned out particularly well either. Otis went well but we didn’t take home that supreme champion sash that I had pictured myself parading around my house in as I went to sleep the night before.

Dan and Otis at their first show

To this day, I still can’t figure out what I was thinking but, I decided that my second show was to be the Royal Windsor Horse Show. I borrowed a friend’s show saddle and double bridle, hired a lorry and off I went to Royal Windsor. The next day was a huge learning curve and when I realised that my sewing skills needed some work, I called a friend who came to the rescue. Sam redid Otis’s plaits, his makeup, his quarter marks and then moved onto me. Thanks to Sam, we looked almost presentable.

Otis took it all in his stride and wasn’t fazed by any of it. When my partner, Dan, came into the ring to groom, he wasn’t wearing a hat. We didn’t know that grooms had to wear a hat and we didn’t have one with us. Dan was asked to leave the ring by the steward. If it had been him riding, he would have been on his own but hats off to him (yes, that was intentional), he went and asked a random lady who was in the crowd watching the class if he could borrow her hat. Dan returned to the ring sporting a beautiful straw fedora complete with ribbon, bow and giant daisy on the side of it. Even the steward had to laugh and commended him for his effort. From that day on, Dan has never forgotten his hat and there is always a rolled up flat cap in the bottom of the show basket for emergencies!

Dan’s partner Dan and Otis at their second show, Royal Windsor

After the disaster that was Royal Windsor, I decided that if I wanted to stand a chance of coming away with a rosette, I might need to do a bit more research and began my mission to learn everything I could. I studied the showing section of Horse & Hound, I searched for videos on how to plait on YouTube, I read the British Show Horse Association rule book and was delighted to find a whole section on the rider’s turnout. I attended clinics with professional showing producers, watched the pros ride in the ring and asked anyone who would listen to me for advice and tips. I was surprised and frankly very grateful that most people were more than willing to help me. Speaking to people at shows and even asking the people that worked in my local saddlery was a great way of making new friends too.

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If you want to give showing a go, I say do it. Ask your friends for help, ask people at your yard who show for help and go on YouTube. There are videos for everything on there. To this day, I can’t tie a stock without having Louise Bell’s YouTube video open. Equestrians love to share their knowledge even when you haven’t asked for it, so imagine how happy they will be when you actually ask them for help!

I used this book as part of my research

For me, the most important thing to remember is that showing should be fun. Support your fellow competitors and celebrate each other’s success. Lift each other up when things don’t go to plan and congratulate those that have done well. You can’t win them all but if you’re enjoying yourself, that’s all that matters.

Dan

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