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Horse show preparation: 12 tips for riders and horses

February 14, 2023
Aaron Vale

Aaron Vale and Cristo Beech recently won the $100,000 Alltech Grand Prix during week V of the 2023 Winter Spectacular Show Series at the World Equestrian Center. Photo courtesy of Andrew Ryback Photography.

Horse show season is right around the corner. You’ve probably been taking weekly lessons and doing some hacking about, but what do you really need to do to be ready when the horse shows start?

I show an Off-the-Track Thoroughbred (OFTT) in the show hunters division because I love the camaraderie that the breed shows and classes offer. We also foxhunt in the off season. But it doesn’t matter what breed or discipline you show; much of the preparation will be the same for both you and your horse. 

For the rider:

  1. Try on your show clothes to make sure they fit and are show-ready. They may have sustained some damage or a stain that you forgot about. After all, our shapes can change with age and varying fitness levels, and it would be no fun to wake up the morning of a show and find that you really need new breeches. If you’re not sure about what you should wear, ask your trainer. There are plenty of consignment stores, and you may be able to sell some of your clothes for store credit to buy new — or new-to-you — items.
  2. Hopefully, you have been riding all winter. If you haven’t, you may need to work on your fitness a bit! Since I hunt, I keep my stamina up pretty well, but my conditioning for riding in the ring and using my body and legs can suffer. Make sure that you get back into a regular practice for the specific discipline in which you’ll be competing.
  3. Eat right! When you maintain a good diet, you sleep better, and when you sleep better, you have more stamina to get through the day. That applies to riding as well. I know that, when I eat a bunch of junk — especially at the overnight shows — my body pays the price in the show ring.
  4. Have your rig checked out. I use mine year-round, so I do regular checks. Lots of trucks and trailers that are used for showing sit for most of the winter, so take yours to the local shop, and make sure that you’ve got a good floor on your trailer, good tires, good brakes and working electric.
  5. How old is your helmet? Helmets should be replaced every 2 to 3 years, as well as after any fall during which you hit your head. Do you need a new helmet? Check it out now!
  6. Map out your show plans. Will you go to every show that your barn attends? Are you aiming for one or two a month? Will you show locally or travel far and stay overnight? Maybe a bit of both? What are your goals?

Photo by Chandler Willet

For the horse:

  1. Check your horse’s body condition. How did they fare through the colder weather? Since I have OTTBs, I work hard to keep weight on them through the winter. There are times when we must look fancy to hunt, so maintaining turnout and keeping them in good health is important. I want to optimize their digestive environment, and if you do, too, this is something that you need to do now — not a few days before the show. To help foster a positive digestive environment, try Lifeforce Elite Performance. Its comprehensive formula, which includes chondroitin sulfate and yeast culture, supports complete wellness in performance horses. Additionally, one bag offers a 40-day supply.
  2. Have your vet examine your horse. While my horse gets regular chiropractic treatments year-round, I just had mine looked at last week. He gets tired toward the end of hunt season as we go into show season, and I want to make sure that I’m not overlooking anything that might help us to be as successful as possible in our pursuits. Lifeforce Elite Performance helps here, too. It’s made in a drug-free facility, includes 100% organic trace minerals, and helps maintain healthy cartilage and synovial fluid in horses.
  3. Give your tack a good once-over. Take it home and deep-clean and oil it. Take your bridle apart and pull the leathers off your saddle. Not only will this allow you to get to and clean the hard-to-reach spots; it will also allow you to check everything for damage and proper safety.
  4. Start schooling one level above the level that you’ll compete at, assuming that doing so is safe for you and your horse.
  5. Do you need to body-clip as part of your preparations for the equestrian season? Make sure that you do this at least 10 to 14 days before you head to the show ring. That will give the coat time to recover.
  6. Load up! Has your horse been on the trailer since the last show season? It’s the worst feeling when you go to load and leave and your horse doesn’t want to get on the trailer, creating stress for both you and your horse. Load your horse up and take him on a little ride. If you have trouble loading your horse, now is the time to remedy the problem. Call a professional for help.

That’s it. You are now ready to go. Have a great season — and GOOD LUCK!