If you’ve decided your horse or pony is destined for a career under the bright lights of the show ring but you’re completely new to the discipline — or competitions in general — you’ve got an exciting yet challenging road ahead.
Here are 12 things you should do before you head to your first show this season:
1. Invest in a statement tweed
Of course, the judge will (or should) be looking at your horse when you’re performing in the ring, but ensuring the rider looks the part can make a huge difference to the overall picture. Make sure you stand out for the crowd by picking a unique yet traditional tweed you maybe haven’t seen before. Also, make sure you’ve got the correct jodhpurs and boots.
2. Service your lorry
You’ll be clocking up some serious miles on your trips to shows, especially if you live in the north.
3. Find a groom
Or several. Bribe friends to come and help you on show day with the promise of a free picnic and maybe some bubbles.
4. Decide what class you’re going in
Not sure what weight your hunter is? Not sure if you’re horse is a novice or an open? Tackle this by studying rule books, reading society descriptions, getting out to shows on foot and speaking to professionals, who are usually more than happy to share their tips.
5. Get your horse show fit
He’s not meant to look like he’s running in the Grand National but he’s also not meant to look like he’s spent a bit too long enjoying that lush summer grass. Fit not fat is the key. Overly porky horses are usually penalised.
6. Get your horse some decent pre-show gear
Even if you’re lucky enough to own a bay or black horse with minimal mane and feather, you’re wise to invest in some clothing that your horse only wears the night before an outing. A lyrca bodysuit can turn a clean coat into a gleaming coat and some leg wraps can help stop hay and shavings sticking to wet legs. And if your horse is grey, good luck to you…
7. Join up to a society
There are several showing societies on offer. Ensure you pick the right one here.
8. Keep an eye on closing dates
It’s all well and good starting out the new year with a diary packed with summer show dates, but if you miss the sometimes very early entry closing dates, you won’t be attending any of them. Most county shows have serious amounts of admin to get through so expect entries to shut about three or four months prior to the actual day of the show. Make planning a prerogative!
9. Attend some showing clinics
The show scene usually has loads of clinics held by well-respected riders and trainers up and down the country throughout winter and spring. Heading out to a clinic held specifically by a showing expert can give you some extra insight into the performance requirements you will need on show day. It pays to get ahead.
10. Know your judges
If you’re a complete newbie, it can be difficult to know who likes and dislikes your horse. Speak to others who have shown under a certain judge to see if you can gauge what they like to see and what pet hates they might have. Remember that even if a judge might not like a certain ‘type’ of animal, nailing your performance on the day could really boost your placing.
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11. Practice a go-round
Cantering around with 30 other horses in a grass arena with potentially hundreds of spectators is a scary prospect for any novice rider, let alone a novice horse. If your horse is completely new to the ring, recruit some buddies to help you out at home. Practice riding past each other in all paces. If you’re required to gallop on the go-round, make sure your horse knows when to give it his all (and when to stop)!
12. Don’t get discouraged
It can take a while to learn the ropes and get with the show ring programme. But stay positive — everyone has to start somewhere.
For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday