Selecting Your Horse Shows: Questions to Consider

Photo by Lauren Mauldin


A lot goes in to deciding whether or not to horse show. However, once you’ve decided to take the plunge, there are other decisions to ponder.

I think there are three basic questions we need to ask when we are thinking about horse showing:
• How much do I have to spend/want to spend on showing?
• What do I want to accomplish through showing?
• What kind of show experience do I want?

Let’s go through these, one-by-one.

1. How much do I have to spend/want to spend on showing?

Notice that the words “have” and “want” are both included in this question? Sometimes you only HAVE a certain amount to spend on extra-curricular horse activities, like showing. Sometimes, you only WANT to spend a certain portion of your discretionary funds on showing. The key here is to make that decision ahead of time, and not in the heat of the moment when you are being begged to go to a show! It is absolutely true that the amount you have to spend, or want to spend, on showing will impact what you can accomplish, and the kind of show experience you will have. But, get a budget in mind first…then we can answer the next questions.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

2. What do I want to accomplish through showing?

The answers can range from “fun and recreation”, through “setting a goal and getting a year-end award” to “becoming a national-caliber horse/rider combination.”

If your budget is small, then you will need to realistically stick to the fun and recreational show schedule – that is, an occasional local, inexpensive show for fun without caring much about what kind of prizes you win. You can expect to spend around $250 for a one-day show, on shipping/stall/entries/trainer, and you will only go as often as that is comfortable in your budget.

If you want to set a goal for your show year, and attempt to win a year-end award, then you will still attend the “B” rated, or local, less expensive shows – but you will try to stick within one or two circuits and attend as many of their shows as you can. It will still cost around $250 per show day, but you will probably average one show per month and may attend two per month during the summer months. Showing more will allow you to become more comfortable with the process and increase your chances of doing well throughout the year.

If you hope to rise to the top of the national show-heap, then you will need to have a budget that can support your goal. Attending a USEF show can cost between $2,000 and $4,000 per show (in shipping/entries/trainer/stabling/braiding/lodging), and you will average one show a month – unless you are hoping to finish at or near the top of your division. Horses who accomplish that usually attend 20-30 shows per year. The USEF standings (available on their website) list the number of shows each horse attended. As an example, the top older Large Junior hunter in 2014 attended 31 horse shows that year.
If you are showing for fun, or you are hoping to reach a goal and earn a year-end award, I don’t encourage you to attend very many USEF shows unless you just want to go to gain that type of experience. Going to one or two a year is costly and there is no benefit to the rider in terms of earning an award – only in gaining experience at showing under pressure and on a bigger stage. While there is no doubt that it will be valuable experience, it will also certainly be an expensive experience.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

3. What kind of show experience do I want?

I think this is a really tough question. If you want to have fun, then you need to set realistic goals and stick to them. Don’t let a chase for points distract you from your goal of just enjoying the process at an occasional show.

If you like a bit more pressure, then set a goal and really work towards accomplishing it. Be realistic about your horse or pony (show in the right divisions for your level of expertise and your horse’s level of “fancy”) but don’t be afraid to go for it. Do an extra show or two if you are in a close points race. Take an extra lesson before the show, or come early to ride your horse in the ring before the show. Dress appropriately and have your horse REALLY well turned out. Spend a little more on clothes and tack and look the part of a winner.

If you like plenty of pressure, then start the climb up the national ladder. It’s a tough, grueling experience – but there are some pretty cool rewards for getting up there. Just make sure you can handle all the drama and the huge commitment of time and money it will take.

A final word…

Spend your horse show dollars wisely…with some kind of goal in mind and very reasonable expectations. If you hardly ever show, don’t expect to be the big winner. Going to three or four shows in a circuit will not put you at the top of the standings, but you might get a year-end ribbon for your efforts. If you can go to eight local shows a year, try to make all eight from ONE circuit. You might then get a good year-end prize. If you can only attend EITHER one or two USEF shows a year OR 10 or 12 local shows a year, you would probably get more out of using those dollars to attend 10 or 12 local shows a year. Your placings will be better and there will almost certainly be a good year-end award as a result. If you have the time and the means to pursue showing at the upper levels, it can be a wonderful experience. You will meet plenty of new friends, see some fabulous show venues, and make memories to last a lifetime.

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