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If you're looking for a new equine discipline to try out, horse showing may be the perfect option! This exciting competitive sport is open to all breeds of horses, and is a great way to show off your horse's conformation and athleticism. In this blog post, we'll discuss what horse showing is all about, as well as which horses are best suited to this discipline.
 

What is showing?

 
Horse showing is a competitive sport in which horses and ponies are judged on their conformation, fluidity of movement, and overall presentation. There are many different types of horse shows, from local schooling shows to major national and international competitions such as The Longines Royal International Horse Show. In most cases, riders will compete against others in their same age, experience level, and horse breed.
 
In some horse showing competitions (otherwise known as classes), you may be required to present your horse or pony in hand, or alternatively you may be asked to show on horseback.
 
The Showing Council is the official governing body for the showing discipline within the UK, and represents a collective of key showing bodies.  These include The British Show Pony Society, The British Show Horse Association, and many more.
 
 

What do I do in a showing class and how do I pick the right entry level?

 
All classes will be categorized and recorded on a show program according to the sort of horse, pony, or rider they are relevant to. 
 
In order to participate in a competition that is sponsored by a society or association, you may, in some cases, be required to join that society or association if you fulfil their criteria.
 
If you're looking to enter a showing class, the first problem is determining which class to enter, which can sometimes be tough at local events. There may be a lot of people in the same boat, which might result in a variety of types in the class.
 
 

General classification of showing classes:

 
Hunter classes: Lightweight, mediumweight, and heavyweight classes are available (although may vary when at different shows or events), and are defined by the height of your horse. The above are typically available for horses above 15.2hh (158cm), whereas smaller hunter horses (under 15.2hh) are placed within a seperate class.
 
 
Cob classes: Lightweight, heavyweight, maxi cob, and conventional Cob are defined areas of the Cob class division, although the availability of each of these classes will vary at different events. 
 
 
Horseback riding classes: Ridden Horses should be lightweight, pleasant to look at and well mannered. The majority of riding horses will be categorized into classes by height.
 
Coloured horses classes: These classes open to coloured horses (such as piebald, skewbald and white etc)
 
 
Breed classes: These can span a variety of breeds (eg. Irish Draught, Connemara, Arabian etc)
 
 
Side saddle classes: May be depicted as a general side saddle class, or a ladies hunter class. 
 
Pony classes: Irish Pony Society and Irish Pony Club classes. These classes will typically be divided by height, type (eg. hunter/show hunter) and breed.
 
 
Working hunter classes: A class for hunter horses that will jump a set of fences before being called back to the pack to ride as a group. These are often split into both novice and open classes. Horses can be any height as long as they are more than 14.56hh (148cm), and classes will be divided based upon weight carried (Lightweight and Heavyweight).
 
 
Performance hunter: Your hunter horse will be be required to be perform a small show piece within this class, followed by a round of fences with placement decided by the judges. 
 
Rider based classes: these are classed are based on skill level and rider ability. These include beginners classes (suitable as an intro or for novice equestrians) or classes that are defined by age of horse (veteran classes) . A mixture of horse breeds are typically seen with this class.
 
 
If you have any questions regarding a specific class, ensure that you check the show programme and contact the show organisers ahead of time - you won't be the only one asking questions, so don't hesitate to ask. it's always better to find out beforehand which classes you're eligible to compete in, and what information you require to prepare for the event - including whether you need certifications to enter, or if you need to be a part of a specific society or association.
 
You should also ensure that you thoroughly look at the programme rules, as it should help to outline what tack is or isn't permitted, what rules you should be aware of and more... 
 
 

What do I do with manes and tails? Should I clip my horse?

 
Any horse or pony can be clipped, but if you're showing in a class that has clear breeding and presentation standards, ensure you familiarise yourself on these desired requirements before committing to grooming in a manner that may result in your horse being marked down for presentation.
 
If you want to keep the feathers (long hair on the lower legs of some breeds of horses and ponies) or general coat untouched on your horse but still remove some of the heavy hair, consider blending the legs to give a polished look. 
 
 

 

What do I do in the class?

 
In higher level showing classes, you may sometimes be guided through a routine to learn and display on the day of the event. For local level and other shows, you can often times make up a routine yourself. You should aim to keep this short and sweet, ensuring that your horse shows a capability for certain movements and techniques. For instance, you could begin with a walk, moving to a trot, progressing to canter etc...
 
When finishing your routine, show an extended canter or gallop up the long side of the arena – presenting a controlled extension that you can easily stop when ready. Halt back in front of your judge and acknowledge them with a smile! It is worth noting that if you are showing in a Veteran class, you are typically not expected to gallop and therefore will be marked down if you show extension.
 
Higher level shows and qualifiers, will sometimes include a segment in which a judge will ride your horse to experience their way of going and manoeuvrability, so ensure that any capable rider is able to get on and work through all paces on your horse with little to no issue. 
 
 

How should I dress and what tack should I use?

 
At a local level you won't be frowned upon for not buying a whole new saddle for your pony, but Ideally you should go with a saddle that shows off your horse’s shoulder area, as this will further allow the judges to evaluate your horses conformation and the affect it has on athletic ability. If you do not have access to a straight cut saddle, any kind is fine. Working Hunter horses and ponies are permitted to wear jumping saddles, as well as a martingale to control the head carriage of your horse.
 
 
Your saddle cloth should ideally be shaped similarly to your saddle, as well as match its colour in order to remain as hidden as possible, as this hides the conformation of your horse, and will not be a reason for judges to give you extra points or attention.
 
 
You should be aware that in certain classes only snaffle bits are permitted, commonly in novice/beginner classes, but to be certain of this check the show programme in advance to ensure that you are using the correct bit. Knowing this information well in advance means that you are able to introduce the appropriate bit to your horse pre-showing to make sure that your horse is comfortable and used to the feeling of it before the event.
 
Prepare to wow the judges by viewing our latest tack and equipment ads here...
 

Ring Etiquette tips that you should know

 
  • Spatial awareness - Don't crowd other competitors, and aim to give the horse and rider in front of you plenty of space. If you feel crowded, know that you are able to turn a circle to ensure that you aren't too close to the horses in front or behind you, and that you will not be marked down for carrying out such a manoeuvre.
 
  • Good manners are a must - bad manners don't go down well with the judges (as you'd expect), so be mindful of your behaviour towards other riders, don't go charging past others or cutting competitors off. Be respectful towards the judges final decisions, even if they weren't in your favour. 

 

 
Taking part in showing classes is a great opportunity to showcase your skills, and the talents of your horse - but not only that, they're also a fantastic opportunity for you to better your techniques and gain feedback from the judges - Who are usually more than happy to have quick chat to give you some advice and tips for your next competition! 
 
We hope that this guide has given you all of the information that you need to get started in the wonderful world of horse showing! Go forth and compete with confidence - and remember to have fun along the way. Good luck!

Ready to jump into the wonderful world of showing? Take a look at our latest showing horses and ponies here.
 
Want to learn more about other disciplines before deciding which one you'd like to compete in? Why not take a look at our advice and guides section of the blog to learn more about the right discipline for you.

 

Alix Burchell - Horsemart
Horsemart Content Team
Published on 28-07-2022
Alix is the marketing manager for Horsemart. She'll keep you up to date with all the latest industry news and provide you with helpful guides and advice.