Horse Showing

…without a sense of humour you will not survive in the showing game.Nigel Hollings (Practical Showing, NY, Howell Bookhouse, 1990)

Of all equestrian events, showing a fine horse is among the most rewarding and universal. English ridinghorseback riding that emerged in the UKincludes a number of showing classes, as does Western riding, the set of equestrian sports popularized in the American west.

In both types of riding, the focus is on the horse, demonstrating the horse”s fine appearance and grooming, its obedience, its manners, and its conformationthat is, how the horse is “put together.” The quality of a horse”s conformation is a determinant of its grace of movement, symmetry, and ease of riding. Showing is open to all breeds of horses, and to the range of riders from novice to expert.

At the horse show, the rider puts the horse through its paces in one of two ways: by leading a horse (known as “in-hand” showing in English riding, and “at halter” in Western riding), or by riding the horse. The judges look for straightness and suppleness in several gaits: the walk, the trot, and the canter for English riding and the walk, the jog, and the lope for Western riding. The movement of the horse differs in the two areas, though: the English horse exhibits a spring to his step, with an elevation of the hooves, while the Western horse glides along in a smooth, flat pace.

When showing a horse, you”re demonstrating the rapport between horse and rider. With seemingly invisible cues, the horse is able to follow the rider”s commands to move, turn, back up, or perform any of the required maneuvers. The English rider does this with a combination of leg pressure, seating, and rein control. The Western rider typically carries both reins in one hand; the weight of the reins is more relevant than tugs to the horse”s mouth.

Tack and Turnout for Showing Horses

Rider: Your appearance is important in showing. Make sure you purchase or borrow an official set of rules. Local and regional shows have their own rules. The Federation Equestrian Western International (FEWI) publishes international rules for Western showing.

In all cases, you”re expected to appear neat and tidy. English riding wear is conservative, focusing the viewer”s attention on the horse, not the rider. You must have a hat, a dark-colored jacket that fits well, breeches in a pale color and boots. If you”re showing in-hand, a good pair of boots is necessary for running by your horse”s side; the hat is optional. Many rules are written to cover required and forbidden accessories. Check them carefully; you can lose points for improper or forbidden items.

Horse: Horses shown without riders should be shown without a saddle, nor boots or bandages of any kind. A halter or bridle may be used to lead the horse.

When showing a horse, most riders know that leather and metal should be clean and polished. Another standard to consider is whether halters and bridles actually fit well.

Grooming Horses for Showing

Except for native pony classes, most riders prefer to braid manes for showing. A braided tail is also very attractive, although many riders prefer just a good trim. Other finishing touches include quarter marks that can be drawn in with a comb or brush simply by brushing the hair in different directions. Grooming tricks that enhance a horse”s appearance include simple preparations that add gloss (i.e., petroleum jelly or baby oil) or those that whiten the white markings (chalk, for example).

Western horses are also expected to appear trimmed and neat, with no tangles in the mane or tail. Braiding and banding is allowed. Some riders paint the hooves black to make them appear shiny.

Horse Show Classes

English Classes: Most English showing classes focus on the horse itself, except for Equitation Classes that focus on the skill and position of the rider. A class is simply a category into which your horse is identified or registered with a professional organization.

Breed Classes categorize horses according to breed. Examples are the Tennessee Walking Horse (evaluated mainly on his “walk”), the Arabian or the Welsh Mountain Pony breed.

Type Classes include pleasure horses, hunters, working hunter ponies, show hunter ponies, hack, cobs and show hacks. Some types have specific requirements. The working hunter, for example, might be expected to perform “work” tasks such as jumping fences or going through gates. Other breeds work specifically “on the flat.”

Western Classes: Western classes have some breed-specific shows. American Quarter Horses and Morgans are two examples of popular breeds for showing.

Western Pleasure classes showcase the ease in which a horse is ridden for pleasure, demonstrating an easy gait and loose reins.

Trail classes, on the other hand, show the horse”s ability to maneuver through hazards, take jumps over obstacles and handle unforeseen situations.

Western Riding events expect riders to show off the horse”s ability for ranch work. This is why holding the reins in one hand is expected, so that the rider can rope, shoot and pick up or drop objects with a free hand.

Reining is a type of showing that includes turns, circles, spirals, rollbacks and other maneuvers.

Despite the existence of breed categories, you can show ponies and horses of almost any breed, size, sex or experience level. Training should begin when the horse is young to prevent the formation of bad habits. A horse is generally ready to begin in novice classes after a few years.

Connoisseurs of the sport like to point out that part of the attraction of showing is that a novice rider can win on an exceptional horse, while an inexperienced horse may not win, even with an experienced rider. In 1972, the Pony of the Year award went to a rider who was only 12 years old (Nigel Hollings)!

Showing Competitions

Riders with experience in showing can readily identify the major competitions of interest. Novices should make a point of attending major shows to understand the subtle communication between rider and horse, and how it all looks to the observers and judges.

Shows to look for in English riding:

  • the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS)
  • the Horse of the Year Show
  • the British Show Pony Society events (BSPS)
  • the British Show Hack, Cob, & Riding Horse Association events (BSHC & RH Association)
  • Hunter Improvement Society shows (HIS)
  • the Hampton Classic Horse Show (in the U.S.)
  • the National Horse Show (New York”s Madison Square Garden).

Western showing has an international organization that publishes extensive rules for the western riding classes. This organization is called the Federation Equestrian Western International (FEWI), established in Belgium in 1995. Shows to watch include:

  • the Continental Team Cup
  • the All American Quarter Horse Congress
  • the Morgan Grand National & World Championship Morgan Horse Show.

Showing is not an Olympic sport and it does not have a World Championship event. Riders should begin competing in their community shows, as competition in more advanced events requires registration and qualificationwinning in lower classes to advance to expert classes.