Competing in a horse show is more involved than just hoping in your car with horse in tow and mounting the horse in the ring. If showing a horse were easy there would be no competition, no strategy for success or metals to be won. This type of competition is extremely rigorous and with the stress of preparing for the show we sometimes forget the basic elements, the little things that give your performance the competitive edge.

Competition is the most common motive for showing horses. People enjoy the challenge of a close call, the excitement of standing out in a crowd, and of course, seeing how they compare to other riders. With so many elements involved in horse care, shows, rules and guidelines, there are many different factors that go into gaining the competitive edge.

The first thing to consider when preparing for a show is knowing for what class your horse is best suited. Research what is expected and determine which class is most appropriate for your horse. Some of the basic elements that so many excited riders forget are maintaining good health, projecting a positive image for horse and rider, understanding the rules of the competition, practice, and probably most important, avoiding show jitters and having fun. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the show itself and to neglect these basic elements.


A competitive rider will make sure their horse is healthy. Horses need constant daily care, a balanced diet, nutrients, attention, and a lot of exercise. These animals require this amount of attention to stay mentally and physically alert. For this reason it is important to maintain the horse’s health every day and not just prior to the show.

Not only is the horse’s health important, but the health of the rider is essential as well. If the rider is ill, stressed or exhausted they will lack consistency when riding. The last thing you want is for the rider to be inconsistent the day of the show and throw the horse off balance. This is why it is important for both rider and horse to be in top health prior to competition.

Projecting a Positive Image

Image is very important when showing a horse. Keeping the rider’s uniform neatly pressed and consistent with the horse’s dress is important to the judges. It is also important for the horse to be groomed according to the class in which they are riding. Some classes require the mane cut short, or braided, while others allow the horse’s mane to flow long. Understanding the requirements will help prevent the horse from being disqualified from the show.

Understanding the Rules

It is important for the rider to not only read the rules of the competition carefully, but to follow the rules without exception. It would be irresponsible and disappointing to place effort into a competition only to realize that they are missing vaccination records or other required paperwork. Understanding the rules and staying organized is essential when preparing for a show.


Any serious rider is going to make sure that they spend a lot of time working with their horse prior to the show. One thing that should never be taken for granted is that the horse will understand the rider’s request. Working with the horse, practicing difficult maneuvers and becoming familiar with the necessary commands are important. While at the show the horse will be in unfamiliar surroundings, so the more practice the rider can provide the better off they will be.

Avoiding the Jitters

It is easy to “know your stuff” when you are in the comfort of your own barn, but riding in front of an audience and judges is a completely different experience. Those things we call nerves always seem to creep up on us while we are performing. There are a few techniques for avoiding jitters, such as spending some quiet time by yourself to clear your mind, keeping a journal of your thoughts, or even hosting a pre-show performance for friends can be a tremendous help in overcoming show jitters.

One more thing that is extremely important and often neglected is remembering to have fun. It is important to take the competition seriously if you are going to put the effort into competing, but having fun and enjoying the competition and the experience is equally important. Prior to the competition examine your motive, what you want to accomplish and then remind yourself that showing your horse should be a positive experience. Going into the show with a positive attitude could make the difference between failure and success.

So many factors are involved in showing a horse that it is sometimes easy to forget the basics. Having the competitive edge means keeping yourself together under stress, it means maintaining good health for yourself and your horse, and taking pride in your effort. If you provide yourself with plenty of time to organize, stay healthy and calm, then you are on your way to gaining the competitive edge.