Horse show season is in full swing! Maybe you’re new to the show circuit this year, or you’ve been at it for years. Either way, this is the perfect time to brush up on proper horse show etiquette. Sure, you’ve spent hours practicing and learning the rules of your sport inside and out. But how well-versed are you in the unwritten rules of horse showing? Whether you’re a seasoned rider or a new spectator, read on for some tips to be prepared for the next show.

As a Competitor

Proper Attire

Dress for success. It’s an old saying, but it’s true. As with any career or sport, proper attire as an equestrian is essential. This is both for safety and appearance reasons. Boots keep your toes from being stepped on and allow your foot to rest properly in the stirrup for security while in the saddle. Proper shirt and pants give you both the comfort and mobility necessary for riding and the professional appearance you want in the show ring. When competing, your outfit affects your impression on both the judges and spectators around you. Be sure to brush up on acceptable attire for the discipline you are competing in to present yourself best.

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Lunge in Designated Areas

Lunging pens can get quite busy at the shows, especially early in the week when our horses are eager to show excitement at a new location. But no matter how long the line is (or even if there isn’t a line), be sure to only lunge in the designated areas. Lunging in a riding arena can create safety issues for other riders and yourself and, simply put, is inconsiderate to those using the arena for its intended purposes. Utilizing spaces properly will allow for a better and safer experience for those on horseback or on the ground and help things run smoothly.

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Know (and Follow) Warm-Up Arena Guidelines

Along with using arenas for their intended purposes, follow each arena’s guidelines. Some shows will post arena guidelines or warm-up rules at the in-gate. This is to ensure order is maintained in a crowded arena. If you don’t see any arena guidelines, a good rule of thumb is to always pass left: when passing a horse straight on, pass left shoulder to left shoulder, or when passing alongside another horse, pass on their left. This will help avoid any confusion that could put you, your horse, or other riders in a sticky situation. Always look up and be aware of your surroundings and where other riders are to avoid getting in each other’s way.

Be a Good Barn Mate 

At the end of the day, we’re all in this together as fellow competitors. Helping out with the little things can help ensure a better experience for you and your fellow barn mates. This includes cleaning up behind yourself (and your horse) in the aisleway or wash rack. Put away your tack or tools properly, especially when it comes to shared items so that others can find things when needed.

Another step to being a good barn mate is to help out when possible and when you have time. This could mean helping someone get tacked up when they’re in a hurry or helping them get ready ringside so they can stay focused, or even jumping in to help clean up around the stalls. Above all, being courteous and respectful to those you are stalled with will help ensure an enjoyable show for everyone.

As a Spectator

No Spooky Behavior

If you’re new to the horse show world, you may not know that horses can be easily spooked, even by the most unexpected situations. There’s nothing worse than a disruption to your show performance due to sudden movements ringside or loud noises in the bleachers. So, as a spectator, you will want to avoid sudden or fast movements that could distract the horse or rider. While enthusiasm is welcome, keep loud noises (such as banging the bleachers) to a minimum as much as possible. Of course, some of these uncontrollable variables are just a part of horse showing; we can do our best as spectators not to create more distractions than are already present.

Keep Pets On a Leash

Keeping your pets leashed is a good rule to follow in any public setting, and a horse show is no different. Dogs are very common at horse shows, so keeping yours leashed can help avoid unwanted interactions with others. The horse show grounds are also busy with people coming and going, so this will be the best way to ensure your pet’s safety and keep them from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Furthermore, it will help keep your pet safe around the horses and out of the competitors’ way.

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Practice Good Sportsmanship

This is a goal for everyone at the horse show – whether a competitor or a spectator. As a spectator, it can be easy to voice our opinions about what we’re watching. But it is important to remember you never know who might be sitting within hearing distance. Therefore, we want to choose our words wisely. Avoid openly criticizing competitors or judges from the stands, but rather show support for the riders, their horses, and the judges.

Learn More

A newer rule of USEF horse shows is to always have your competition number on display while exercising your horse. Learn more about it and how to navigate this new rule here.

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