How To Survive Your First Horse Show And What To Expect!

Feeling a bit nervous or anxious about your very first horse show? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Even riders who have competed in lots of horse shows still get butterflies! Excitement and nerves are normal and they simply mean you care and want to do well! Here’s a guide to getting started on the right foot and tips to help you feel as prepared as possible before the big day!

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Prepare For Your First Horse Show In Advance


Complete all paperwork ahead of time. Remember to organize, complete and pack all of the paperwork you will need to enter in the show.

Make sure all required local and national memberships are up to date in advance of the show.

Most horse shows require proof of current Rabies vaccine and negative Coggins test. Some shows may require additional forms such as a health certificate from your veterinarian within 30 days.

Its a good idea to make sure you are familiar with the show’s requirements at least a week or two in advance. This way in the event you need your veterinarian to come out, you will have enough time.

Additionally, many shows allow pre-entries and will charge a post entry fee for entering the show after the deadline. Doing your entries in advance is a great way to save a little money on show expenses.

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Packing For A Horse Show

Make sure you have a complete packing list, pack for the show in advance. Use your checklist to pack your horse trailer at least a couple of days in advance! Plan on leaving out only the items you will need to use up until departing for the show.

You may have to wait to put your saddle or clippers in the trailer until the night before the show. But, things like extra leg wraps, show clothes, show saddle pad etc. should be packed in advance.

And, of course, be sure to pack enough hay and water for your horse. Even if the show is only for 1 day you should travel with water and hay. You never know if your horse will drink water from a different source, so bringing some water from home is essential.

Arrive Early To The Horse Show

This advice applies whether it is your first time at a horseshow or you’re a seasoned competitor. Leave yourself plenty of time to prepare before you show in your first class and some time to breathe.

If there is one thing that adds to the stress and pressure of horse showing, its rushing! Rushing will cause you anxiety and the ability to think clearly. In your haste, you will likely forget something whether its an item you need for your class (ie; gloves, spurs, crop, etc.) or you may forget your course, equitation pattern or how to ride all together!

We’ve all been there, the best way to stay calm under pressure is to be prepared and be on time.

In the horse show world, on time is early!

Check-In & Register

Once you arrive to the show and get your horse settled. Next, head to the horse show office!

At the show office, you will check in and provide membership information, entries, health paperwork and receive your back number.

Make sure to check if the show requires you to use the same back number all season. If so, make sure to store it in a safe place before you head home from the show.

Often times, shows that require exhibitors to use the same number for the season will charge a fee to replace the numbers at future shows if one is lost.

Some shows will provide a new number to competitors at each show.

Lunge Before Riding At Shows

Lunge your horse or at least walk around the grounds and give your horse some time to take in all the sights and sounds before you mount.

Some horses require very little prep at horse shows, especially if they are seasoned vets, others require quite a bit of lunging.

All horses are different so work with your trainer to determine how much lunging or settling in time your horse will need.

Just remember, most horses do not act the same at shows as they do at home. Even the most well behaved and calm horses may be more sensitive in a new environment.

Warming-Up For Your First Horse Show

Warming up before your class may be the most difficult part of the horse show. You may be feeling very nervous at your first horse show and your horse may be on high alert in a new environment.

This combination can make it difficult to ride well. Try to focus on breathing, relaxing and riding well so that you do not transmit nervous energy to your horse.

Take your time warming up, feeling more prepared will likely help calm your nerves. So, the more time you have available the better.

Focus on an exercise that you and your horse are both comfortable with and have schooled at home to help you both feel more confident.

Some horses do best with plenty of time to walk and relax before they are required to focus. Other horses need to channel their energy by moving forward and focusing in order to relax.

Have a plan before you leave the show based on your horse’s personality and be sure to consult your trainer. What you feel your horse needs may be different from your trainer’s point of view. Stay open minded and listen to what they have to say even if you don’t agree.

Your trainer has many miles under their belt and thus has the ability to be objective and understand your horse’s behavior and your riding style. Don’t let your nerves get in the way of listening and following instructions.

Polish Up Your Pony

Make sure to give your horse a bath and get them nice and shiny before the show. If your horse needs their mane pulled, trimmed, banded or braided leave yourself enough time to do this in advance.

If you plan to clip your horse’s legs or face, make sure to do it ahead of time.

Grooming on the day or your class(es) should be to add shine and polish. For example, polishing your horse’s hooves, hanging their fake tail, polishing their coat and wiping up any slobber.

Bathing and clipping your horse ahead of time and then keeping them clean with a hood, sheet and wraps will save you a lot of time and stress at the show.

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Not only do you want your horse to be immaculately groomed for competition, you will also need to make sure you are neat and presentable as well.

This includes tidy, well fitted show clothing, appropriate jewelry and makeup (depending on your discipline) and the appropriate attire based on your discipline and association rules.

Whether or not you can afford fancy and expensive show clothing and tack is not important. What is most important, is being clean and tidy. This includes cleaning your tack, polish silver, hairspray down fly-aways, make sure your helmet or hat is on straight, shirt is tucked in etc.

Don’t feel intimidated when one of your competitors has fancy equipment, they may not ride as well or have a horse that behaves as well as yours. And, chances are, they are just as nervous as you!


As you gain experience, you may find that your nerves fade slightly. However, they’ll always be there! Work with your trainer before the show and have a plan for handling your nerves. Practice doing things that get you out of your comfort zone in the safety of your own arena and see how you feel.

Even simple things like going for a trail ride will let you see how your horse reacts in a new environment without the pressure of competing.

Try riding without your stirrups at any gate or fence height etc. that you plan to do at the show. Make sure that if something goes wrong, you’ll know how to handle it.

Watching your barn mates at shows is another great way to get some exposure. If you attend as a spectator, groom for your friends and help out you’ll learn what the environment is like.

The best way to calm your nerves is to prepare and practice. The more shows you go to, the easier it will be to manage your emotions.

You’ll never completely avoid the nerves at a show, but learning how to function and stay focused regardless of your nerves is key.

Timing – Faster or Slower than expected

Ever heard the expression, “hurry up and wait?” That’s basically horse shows in a nutshell. Except for when you realize the show is suddenly moving along faster than you thought and you have to hurry up and hurry!

Horse shows never run at the speed you expect them to.

There are always delays due to weather, arena issues, tack changes and a variety of other reasons. And, there will always be classes that get cancelled due to a lack of entries which will ultimately move the day along faster.

Pay attention to the announcements as they are made throughout the day!

Have a plan for when you need to be at the arena in advance of your ride in order to help eliminate stress.

Arriving at the arena too early may make your horse tired and sour, while rushing to get there could cause you to miss your class.

Your trainer will look at the class program with you and help you determine when to get ready and be at the arena. As changes to the day are announced, pay attention to how this impacts your ride times.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful! If you did, please share it!

And, if you’re preparing for your first show, I wish you the best of luck!

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