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Welcome to Showing

Welcome to Showing

Katie Leszman |

7 Minute Read

I know with everything that has happened this year horse shows/competitions took a big hit. I love going out and competing as I know many other people do but there isn't much help out there for all the newbies who want to give it a go and are not sure about what to do and how to do it. So, here are a few little tips which will help you out in the show ring.


Something you will want to work on leading up to a show is your horse's energy and stamina. The best thing for muscles is hill work, I don't have a luxury of a school so I'm giving everyone like me a few tips to do when hacking throughout summer or winter.

"On the bit" is a term we all use but what does it mean and why do we do it? Being on the bit makes the horse engage the hips and raise the back, this creates more impulsion from the aids of the rider and is great for building up muscles. Imagine your horse being a car. The power starts at your leg squeezing them on, which transfers to the muscles in the side and back telling their legs to move, the energy travels up their neck and down the head. If you don't have contact from your reins to the horse all the energy created will fall out the front end of the horse rather than traveling back up the reins and back into you to start creating a loop. Obviously, this is not how the inside of the horse works but you get the point I'm trying to make. 

To get them "on the bit" or "in an outline" make sure you have contact with the horse's mouth to start with and then you squeeze your hand alternatively almost like squeezing out a sponge, eventually, you will see your horse starting to bring their head down. When they do, stop squeezing and give them a pat on the shoulder as a well done. Keep practicing it! Don't get disheartened if they don't do it instantly some horses take longer than others. 

Leg yielding is another good one to do. It gets the horse listening to your leg more which is great and not just in the show ring! On a straight road where it is not busy, you move your lower leg back (eg going to the left you push you left leg on) and squeeze without using your reins to turn them, you can only slow them up! They should do a slight cross over with their legs to move over. As soon as they move over give them praise. They've done a good thing let them know it! You may only get a couple of steps to start with but a few is better than none.

The day before

This is one of the worst days for me, loading the lorry/trailer, making sure nothing is forgotten, cleaning the tack, prepping trying to keep the mud hippo clean and away from the dreaded poo pillow overnight. The list goes on and on. Some people get incredibly nervous and some aren't phased at all. My very first show I was a ball of nerves, now I go out as calm as a cucumber ;) The best thing to do in the upcoming days is make a list of everything that you need. 

Tack is the most important thing. Bridle, girth, saddle, saddle pad, stirrups and leathers. Next is your show gear. You'll need a hat, show jacket, gloves, shirt, tie, jodhpurs, boots and if your horse needs it you can take a crop in but make sure it is black or brown depending on your colour of tack. If you have access to one I would recommend a show cane. If you have these items with you it can't really go wrong.

Prepping the horse the night before

Plaiting 101

If you're lucky enough to have a native or a breed that doesn't need plaiting then you don't really need to worry about this bit.

Each horse is slightly different with the thick/thinness of their neck and topline. Now I know the best thing for topline is working on the bit doing lots of practice and lots of hill work but if you know your horse is lacking in his muscle you can arrange your plaits to make it look slightly bigger from a distance. With my horse (ISHxCOB) he doesn’t tend to lack any apart from the first show of the season.  Only having a hilly field to practice in it doesn't give you much to work with in the winter as it's slippy so it's training out on hack for him. If your horse is lacking then you want to create a slightly tighter gap between the plaits in the center of the neck to make it look slightly bigger. You should normally have the same amount spacing and the same amount of hair throughout but just a few cm closer in the center will make it look bigger than what it is.

My godsend in plaiting is NAF Plait it up, I will not plait without it. It is the only thing that keeps his mane inline and holds overnight and the next day competing. I like to use the shires bands to tie at the bottom as I find they don't snap as much as other brands and thread to hold the plaits in place. I always recommend threading as it looks neater and you haven't got to worry about the band snapping which is holding them in place!

NAF Plait It Up


Making sure your horse is clean is key, no judge wants to see a grass-stained pony. I always use a whitening shampoo as I own coloureds and it is a pain to get and keep them clean. For my feathered horses, I start bathing their feathers 3 days before to try and get all stains out. I recommend when washing them to leave any whitening products (unless the product says different) on for a few minutes before washing it off. Once you have finished bathing put powdered chalk on them whilst they're still damp, it will go clay-like wrap in bandages, let it dry and give a gentle brush through in the morning and they will be a lovely white.

I actually used this one a few weekends ago and it worked lovely, but we do sell lots of different brands that you can have a look at.

HySHINE Magic Illuminate Leg & Body Whitener - 1kg

Keeping clean overnight

The only way I have ever been able to keep any of mine clean is Hoods, coolers/fleeces, and bandages. It's difficult in the summer because you don't want them to get too hot. My favourite styles are the all in one suit.

Weatherbeeta Stretch Rug With Belly Closure

You don't have to worry about them getting too hot as it’s made of lycra so it has some breathability. On ponies that don't tend to lay down, I just put a regular hood on them, make sure it has the attachments under the belly so it doesn't slip in the night, and then I put a net cooler on them. I like the Amigo style ones because they provide enough coverage, they're light and breezy and they have some lush colours! For my horses that like the dreaded poo pillow, I use a fleece/cooler as it provides a little more protection.

Horseware Ireland Amigo Net Cooler

Show day!

Keeping nice and calm is the key, I know being stressed out is so much easier than trying to keep calm but try and plan ahead. Give yourself an extra 30 minutes to get there, tack up and put all your shiny products on them to make them stand out from everyone else (again all my go-to products for these are all NAF). Oil it well is really great, just put a bit on a sponge/cloth and away you go! It's quick and simple and I've had mine 2 years now and only used 1/4 a bottle and I use it A LOT.

NAF Oil It Well

Try not to pick classes that might clash with each other. There is nothing worse than trying to rush in between classes.

Don't be afraid to ask questions! You'll find that people aren't as scary as you think and they might be in the same situation as you

When you are doing a ridden show, you might be asked to do an individual show. I was never told about this when I went into my first and had no clue what to do. You'll go around as a group, depending on the class you are in depends on whether you do a group canter or not, If you are in a first ridden style, novelty or a lead rein class then don't expect you to canter don't worry. Next, you will be lined up, they will bring you out one by one and ask you to do an individual show, do not panic, all they want to see is you do a little bit of walk, trot, and canter on both reins, again if you are a lead rein or in novice classes, they don't expect you to canter! You can simply say that you are not wanting to canter or you are not confident it in and they will understand. Judges aren't that scary. 

With inhand it is just doing as the judge says. You go around as a group, a little bit of a trot, a line-up, and a trot up the centerline. Again, don't panic. Always stand on the outside away from the judge so that the horse can be fully seen by the judge. You've got a pretty pony show her off! :)

Make sure to smile and have fun, there's nothing worse than seeing someone in the show ring with a terrified look on their face, if it goes wrong so what, you've learned to try it differently next time. Don't get upset about it you both tried your hardest and that's all you could ever ask for!

If you ever need any support or advice, there is always someone out there who will be happy to assist. Or even give me a message I'm always happy to help!