Spring is here and that means the horse show season is ready to begin in earnest! Horse shows are definitely their own wonderful, odd and sometimes overwhelming worlds. This blog post is the inside scoop on some things you should know as your headed out into the glorious horse show world this year.
The first and foremost important thing to know is that when your trainer signs your entry blank at a horse show, they are now held liable by the USEF and the horse show for everything pertaining to this entry. They are financially and legally liable, they are liable for your horse’s behavior and they are liable for your behavior. When you break rules, not only do you have to suffer the consequences, so does your trainer. Not only can we be fined by the USEF for breaking rules, we can also be sanctioned as well, meaning that we can be kicked out of horse shows for any length of time. That’s not so good for business.
Horseshows do not work on a credit system. Please be prepared to pay your braider, entries fees, vet bills and farrier bills by the end of each horse show. It is a small community, these people WILL remember you if you don’t pay them. Most horse shows still only take check or cash, some will take plastic. Braiders ONLY TAKE CHECKS. Most vets and farriers will only take check or cash.
Please be aware of horse show closing dates and get your checks and deposits in early to secure your spot. We ask for deposits at the beginning of the horse show because we need money for operating expenses for hotels, transportation, supplies, feed, etc. If you don’t pay your deposit, we cannot put your horse on the trailer to go to the shows because we cannot afford to pay for these things out of our own pockets. For this reason, we also require two checks made to the horse show, one that is blank for entries and one for the stall fee which will be cashed as soon as the horse show receives it. Horse Shows will not accept your entry or release your number without that open check and stall payment. Most horse show stabling is in tents which the horse show has to pre-order, therefore, stall fees are non-refundable after the closing date of the entries, no exceptions.
Grooms are really, really important. They work very hard to keep your horse safe, healthy and happy. They are at the horse show long before you arrive in the morning and stay well after you leave and are on call 24 hours per day. During that time they may have little time to stop for food, or even a bathroom break. Please treat them kindly and with respect. They make very little pay, so if they do a good job, please tip them. The industry standard is $10-$20 per day. Grooms also always appreciate coffee, bottled water, lunch… well actually pretty much any food and maybe a cold beer at the end of the day.
It is your responsibility to get to the horse show on time in the morning and to the show ring in time for your classes. We will do the best we can to keep track of the rings and remind you where to be when, but in the end, you need to keep track of your show ring. Most of the horse shows have websites with time estimates and ‘how many lists’, make yourself familiar with these websites. You can usually check these websites around 7 PM and there will at least be a count of how many people in each class, and if you’re really lucky, estimated start times for each class. To gauge the timing of a ring, you can plan that Jumping rounds take about 2 minutes per trip and flat classes take about 10 minutes per class. A solid plan to make sure you make it to the ring on time is to start by arriving at the show at least one hour before your class starts. When you arrive, locate your ring and check on its status with the gate-keeper/starter (more on these guys and gals to come), some rings run early, but most run a little late. Check to see when your trainer has checked you into the order as well, so you can gauge when you should show up at the ring. While you’re at the ring, check out your courses and learn at least your first one. After your trip to the ring, head back to barn and check to be sure that you equipment is all laid out for you horse with the right bit, martengale, etc. The grooms normally do this in morning, but as a good horseman, you should always check to make sure it’s what you and your trainer want your horse to wear to the ring. After this it’s a waiting game, and you may need to keep checking in at your ring several times. Plan to be at the ring for your course walk if you have one, and are at the ring with your horse about 10 trips out from your spot in the order. It is important to note that trips or rounds are not the same thing as horses. With some divisions they have multiple classes showing at once, so 10 horses could mean 20 or 30 trips. Finally, stay in touch with your coach and/or the head groom about all things related to timing. A quick text message about your status can go a long way to a smooth day.
Get to know your gate keepers and be nice to them, they can help your day out, or they can make your life a living hell. Sometimes they may be a little curmudgeonly when you first meet them because they have pretty high stress jobs and they get bitched at on the regular. 95% of them are actually pretty nice once they realize you’re not going to be an ass-hole to them. As with grooms, tip the good ones if they really help you out of a jam. It’s the thought that counts, a DD’s card for $5 works.
The story is pretty much the same for Horse Show Secretaries regarding their stress-level and crusty exteriors. Your best bet is to leave interactions with them to your trainer. We have relationships with these ladies and gentlemen and can get much more from them than you can. Normally your trainer or road manager with check you into the horse show, pick up your number, make sure you’re in the right classes every day and pay your bill at the end of the week. If you do feel the need to do business with the secretaries, be polite and patient.
Your trainer really will make it to the ring, you don’t have to go it alone. Most of the horse shows we attend have multiple show rings running at one time which means that there will inevitably be some conflicts at some point. Unfortunately there is a horse show expression, “hurry up and wait,” and at some point you will fall victim to this phenomenon. When you are ten out, text your trainer, if they are running late, let your gate-keeper know. If there are 10 or less left in the class, same deal. If you are starting to panic because you’ve lost your trainer, talk your gate keeper, they can almost always track your trainer down and it is their job to help coordinate everyone at the horse show. If you’ve done your due diligence learning their name, bribing them with diet cokes, and being nice to them, they will always help you out. Conversely, if you walk out of the ring and your trainer says, “Good job! I gotta fly, we will talk later,” it’s because they are late for another ring and they will find time to talk to you later in the day, maybe over that cold beer you’ve brought for the grooms.
Watch and learn. If you are unhappy with your performance at the shows, it means you have more work to do. Spend more time at the show watching people who ride better than you do. Watch the other people in your division so you know what the winning combinations look like. Spend more time in the tack.
Dress appropriately. You are in extremely mixed company at a public event. This is not a bar, a dance, the disco, a date and this is certainly not the beach. If you need further direction, ask your trainer. Along the same lines, watch your language and your tone, you can actually get in trouble with the stewards and the federation if they feel as though you are being inappropriate or abusive. Don’t make negative comments on other horses or riders, you never know who’s parent/S.O./friend/trainer is standing right next to you. Better yet, don’t even think negative comments on other horses or riders, you’re not the one on that horse at that moment, so you have no idea what’s really going on.
Eat protein, drink water, get plenty of rest, don’t be hung-over. Despite what the meat-heads at the gym say, you’re an athlete, so take care of your body. Along the same lines, horse shows are outdoor activities, think rain gear, sunglasses, sun screen, layers. Nuff said.
The most important thing to remember is to keep things in perspective and enjoy yourself. The reason why we are all in this sport is because we love horses. Horse shows are an opportunity to show off your amazing equine partner, gauge your progress, further your education, watch amazing horses and riders, visit new places and spend time with horse friends both old and new. Enjoy the ride!