"How does showing a horse work?"
"Are you riding the horse?"
"How (or what) do you win?"
"Wait....'Showmanship'? What exactly is that?"
So, I invite those interested in horses, horse competitions, fun activities for horse enthusiasts, and stuff to do outside of brushing the horse's hair, to read on!
There are many different "classes" of horse shows, which is just a fancy way of saying you can pretty much show a horse in any way you can think of, both on the ground and in the saddle.
There are English shows, in which you have to wear English riding clothes, use an English saddle and tack, and practice "English" riding styles.....kinda looks like this:
In English classes, you can specialize in pleasure riding (riding around the arena, showing how "pleasurable" it is to ride your horse), equitation (showing how excellent your control of your horse is, through very specific maneuvers), dressage (think Lippizaner riding - sort of), hunter jumper (just what it sounds like), cross country and more!
In Western riding, you wear Western attire, use a Western saddle and ride very specifically "Western" (duh, right?!). You can show, "in saddle" (which means riding the horse), in pleasure riding, equitation, reining, trail riding, Western dressage, obstacle trail, pairs, and more. Here is a picture of me and my horse, Cinder, competing in our county fair:
This year, Cinder and I competed in Western classes only. We competed both in saddle and "in halter" (which is on the ground). Our favorite class was Showmanship. Showmanship is an "in halter" class, where the focus is heavily on the handler. The horse and handler need to complete a preset course (for example - walk horse from cone A to cone B, trot horse in circle from/to cone B, stop and back up 4 steps, walk to cone C, pivot horse clockwise 90 degrees, setup horse for judge's inspection, walk off). It sounds much easier than it is!!
--THIS LINK-- is an excellent article teaching you the BASICS of Showmanship.
Here is a picture of Cinder and me competing in Showmanship (sorry, not so great a picture...but you get the idea):
You can have shows with all different kinds of competition levels.....from easy-going to cutthroat. The stakes can be quite high, especially on the regional, national, and international levels. Our circuit was fun, but definitely competitive. Everyone was very helpful to each other, trying to encourage and assist all to have a successful show. Check with your local, bigger boarding barns and/or riding clubs to find out about fun "schooling" shows in your area. You usually do not have to be a boarder at the barns to participate in their shows, but the riding clubs sometimes require you to join and pay a nominal membership fee for their shows.
There is no age limit to competing, or even to starting in competition. This was my first show circuit summer, and I am 42. My horse is 14, but you can start with a very young horse or use and older, more experienced show horse.
If you are interested in getting started in the Horse Show world, the biggest thing you should consider is COST. To enter a show, you will have to pay your entry fees which usually aren't that bad. You have to pay the general entry fee, and then an individual fee for each class you want to enter. You also will need to pay for a daily stall fee, if the show is a multi-day affair and if it is far enough away that you cannot trailer your horse back and forth each day. My show fees for a two-day show where I entered about 10 classes each day and stalled my horse for one night was around $130. For a 1 day, county fair type show, my fees would have been around $40.
But then, you need to add in training costs (for both you and the horse), show clothes (for Western, this includes shirt, pants/jeans, belt, boots, and hat), show tack (including halter, saddle and bridle, saddle blanket, etc), fuel and feed, hotel costs (if you don't just sleep in your car - like I did), and miscellaneous costs like cleaning/showing tools to make and keep your horse looking nice (including shampoos, shine sprays, combs and brushes, clippers, face masks, sleazies or blankets, spot sprays, fly sprays, hoof polish, farrier fees, etc). I cut down on some costs by borrowing a few things I didn't have yet - a show halter, clippers, a saddle blanket. Consider doing this, of course, but REMEMBER to be appreciative and considerate with these items - keep them very clean and well-maintained, and if you damage the items either fix it to the owner's satisfaction or replace it!
You can get items "economically" for many of the local, smaller shows.....or you can spend the moon on the high-glitz shows! In our little corner of Montana, we had the whole gamut - people showing who spent very little on horse grooming beyond a shampoo/brushing.....to those (like me!) who glammed their equine partner to the moon. ;-) I just figured - hey, I am a perfectionist and I won't be happy unless I strive for the BEST. LOL But then again, I had a VERY accommodating husband. Thank you, honey!
Here we are, glammed up and ready to shine:
Our "end-of-season" tally:
I hope this helps you out in your desire to find fun, challenging things to do with your equine partner. Feel free to comment here or message me on my Facebook page if you should have more questions. I am always happy to help!