BY Sophie Hauptmann
I have been showing in the German show system for three years now, having previously competed at USEF shows in Hunter, Jumper and Equitation divisions. Aside from the obvious difference of not having the Hunters and Equitation, the experience of competing at German national shows is very unique, especially with cost, structure, and organization. A German National Show is the USEF equivalent of a rated show. However, instead of receiving ratings of C, B, A or AA to determine how big a show is, it is all decided on what classes are offered. For example, if a show has a lot of classes at the 1.40 m or 1.50 m height, it will attract a different caliber of riders as opposed to if most classes were 1.25 m. Like USEF shows, all German national competitions are officially recognized shows. When riders consistently place and have good results, they can qualify for regional and national championships.
With some rare exceptions, German National Shows are typically hosted on farms and not show facilities. Therefore, the showgrounds are much smaller and everything is run in one ring. They are also mostly run by equestrian clubs instead of professional horse show management organizations. Most riders, their families, and friends who board at or are associated with the host farms are members of its riding club. The person who organizes the show is the president of the riding club, and usually either owns or runs the farm. Tasks including show office paperwork (organizing entries, scheduling, prize money, results, scratches, etc.), setting courses, dragging the rings, and hospitality, which are all managed by everyone associated with the club. The exceptions are judges, stewards, and course designers who are credentialed professionals hired for the shows.
Once a show schedule is released, each class is given an approximate start time and every rider has a number in the order of go. Since everything is run in one ring, these start times are pretty accurate and are usually delayed no more than 30 minutes. That being said, it is expected that every rider shows up to the ring on time and is ready to go during their time slot. If they fail to show up or are late, riders are disqualified. Another concept that is used at every horse show to keep things moving is preloading. This means that there are two riders in the show ring at all times; the person on course and the person on deck. With this format in place, these shows are run very efficiently and are almost always on schedule.
Another interesting aspect is the discipline and heavy regulation that takes place at German shows. At my very first show in Germany, I came out of the ring after my round and a show steward stopped me to check my horse’s bit, boots, ears (ear plugs are not allowed), and martingale to ensure I was competing with compliant gear. For all of the ‘smaller’ classes (.80-1.15), strong bits are not allowed. The higher you go in height, the more options you have. During course walks, you must always walk with your show boots on, or else you’re eliminated. Victory gallops and/or ceremonies take place after every class is completed and are mandatory. If a rider does not show up to this event without any reason, they will automatically lose their placement and be disqualified. Rules are rules, and if they are not respected riders, experience the consequences.
The overall expense of horse showing is less expensive. Since everything is run at a farm and by members of the equestrian clubs, there are lower overhead costs. The two expenses that need to be covered are the entry fees, which range between 15 to 30 euros per class, and stalls which are normally around 150 euros per week. If riders don’t live too far from the show, it is more common to trailer in for the day or commute to and from the show throughout the weekend to avoid paying for a stall. Most amateur riders also avoid grooming and trainer fees by doing their own grooming and coming to shows without a trainer. All of these factors massively reduce the cost of showing, allowing riders from varying income brackets to have the opportunity to compete.
Despite being run on farms and by club members, these horse shows are extremely professional and well managed.
In 2021, I decided to move back to Germany to focus on my riding, along with completing my university studies in Europe. I am extremely fortunate to be able to continue participating in this horse show system, and I haven’t looked back since.