Understanding horse shows
By Marlin Eisenach
CSU Extension Livestock Agent
Horse shows can be great fun even for the first-time spectators if they take the time to learn a little bit about the classes and show ring etiquette.
Every horse show is made up of a series of classes. Each class is evaluated according to a prescribed set of rules and regulations mandated by a governing horse breed or show association.
In an "open" show (one in which all horse breeds compete against one another), the show management decides which standards or rules to use to judge the day's classes.
A horse show spectator should find out the basic rules and regulations governing the class in the ring.
Every class requires some degree of technical ability on the part of the horse and rider. However, showmanship and equitation classes focus on the handler or rider. The horses are props that assist the exhibitors to display their show-ring and riding ability.
Equitation classes require a smooth performance. A rough performance in which the rider jerks at the horse's mouth, has nervous or jumpy hands and overuses spurs, is discounted. Slouching in the saddle also is discounted.
The rider's hands should be kept low and slightly in front of the pommel (front of the saddle). The rider's legs should be in close contact with the horse, but the rider should not hold on with a death grip. Leg and hand cues should be subtle and unobserved.
Performance classes, including Western Pleasure, Western Riding, English Riding, Pleasure, Reining and Trail, display the ability of the horse and the rider to work as a team. The judge looks for a smooth, harmonious performance that is free of mistakes. Performance classes are judged on the way the horse moves. Riders are often ignored if they do not distract from their horse's performance.
Most classes require riders to exhibit their mounts at a walk, trot and canter in clockwise and counterclockwise directions.
The judge looks at the animal's ability to move smartly and correctly at any gait and its ability to smoothly change from one gait to another.
As the class canters around the ring the judge assesses the horse way-of-going and whether it is on the correct lead. The correct lead is assumed on the first stride of the canter when the inside front leg reaches out farther that the outside front leg. A wrong lead will result in a big penalty for horse and rider.
The horse and rider's tack and attire also are judged. Neatness is a requisite for all competitors.
English classes require the English saddle and bridle. The rider must wear a dark colored riding jacket, a shirt with a rat catcher (turtle neck style) or Oxford collar, breeches, riding boots and a hard hat.
Western pleasure requires a Western saddle and bridle. Riders must wear a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, belt, Western boots and a Western hat.
Saddles should fit the size of the rider. All tack must be clean and in good repair. A judge will deduct points from a rider's performance for poorly maintained equipment.
Judges also look for a courteous performance by the exhibitors. A judge will deduct points from a rider who cuts people off, crowds other riders or whose horse exhibits a bad disposition.
Watching a horse show can be a rewarding experience once a person understands the basics of the show ring. Horse shows are contagious, after watching the preparation, last-minute training and tense competition; the unwary may get the urge to become involved as more than a spectator.