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Horse Show Prep: Tips for Success

hore show prep

Horse riders of all disciplines understand the pressures, and fun, of horse shows and how much work goes into preparing for one. Success in the horse show ring starts at home, with a practical plan to ride and look your best. Start by creating a warm-up and riding plan weeks or months before a show. Make your goofs with privacy and not in front of the judge!

Create a logical warm-up 

You won’t be second-guessing yourself on show day when you give yourself and your horse a set warm-up routine. Tailor your horse’s warm-up to the classes you will be competing in.

Give your horse time at a loose rein walk to look around and get comfortable in their own body. A casual walk also gives you time to chill in the saddle before work begins. Then move on to trot and canter work, focusing on responsiveness to your aids and your horse’s suppleness. Then you can start to add in smaller elements of your test or course during the warm-up.  

For best horse-show results, time your warm-up at home and add a 10-minute buffer at the show. You may need to wait for warm-up traffic to die down, the tractors to drag, or a long walk from the stables. There’s also the chance you will need to shake the hands of your fans!

As you develop and practice your warm-up routine at home, take a video for review later. Careful analysis of a warm-up video gives you tips and ideas for enhancing performance early and more effectively. For example, you may slump in the saddle during walk breaks. Now you can use that time on a relaxed rein to focus on your equitation and improve your overall riding. 

Practice your test or course at home

You know what to expect on horse show day for some disciplines, like dressage and Western. You know what elements to expect for other disciplines, like jump combinations and work on the rail — so practice them! The trickiest classes are the ones you don’t prepare for, or in some cases, accidentally enter!

Use a camera to collect valuable video as you practice these elements or full test. Review with your trainer, focusing on your equitation and your horse’s style and responsiveness. Convince your barn friends to move the camera to different locations around the ring to access movement from all directions. A particular pattern may appear straight from the side, but you can notice unevenness that will cost you points from other angles.  

It’s always a good idea to have a horse show practice day, where your horse is braided and groomed to perfection. Wear your show clothes as you practice; this may change how you move and feel in the saddle. This may also be an excuse to shop for some new show clothes!

Other things to notice when you review your video

While reviewing video footage of your warm-ups and practice rides, grab the popcorn and take a moment to watch it again. This time, look at the overall presentation of your horse and your riding.  

Is your horse full of bloom? Does he feel comfortable in his braids? Also, notice if your hoof polish does the job or collects clumps of footing. As a side note, purple sparkly hoof polish can stay home. Does your horse’s tail need a trim? And most importantly, how shiny is your horse’s coat?

Look at your horse’s tack. Does the leather look good with this haircoat? What about the saddle pad – is it bright white or dingy? How does the color of your tack, saddle pads, and polo wraps look on your horse? If you shop for new show clothes, your horse needs a new something, too!

And lastly, how do you feel about your show gear? Both in terms of comfort and style? A quick video review of the big picture lets you know how the judges see your turnout. Then you can tweak your riding and presentation. 


Don’t forget that you won’t be training any new skills at a show, only demonstrating talents you and your horse already have. Successful horse riders know that working diligently at home and using video as training feedback makes for a successful horse show. Show day nerves will be a thing of the past, and you can enter the ring with a huge grin. 

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