An Adult Amateur’s Guide to Horse Show Prep

Hi, my name is Olivia, and I’m addicted to lists.

For real though, lists 5ever for EVERYTHING. Grocery lists, chore lists, to-do lists, wishlists, packing lists, I will make a list for everything ever. When I’m overwhelmed at work? I stop and make a list of what needs to get done. Lists are soothing.

But one of my favorite lists that has evolved over the years has been my horse show prep checklist. This has gone through many iterations as I’ve grown and learned- it had its beginnings back in middle school when I was doing the Short Stirrup division.

Back in those days, my trainer would swing by my house to pick me up in the wee hours of the morning. Having inherited the punctuality gene from my non-Greek parent, I was very determined to be ready for him. So ready, in fact, that my morning checklist had times associated with every item. Including putting on socks. That sucker was detailed. 5am: wake up. 5:02am: go to the bathroom. 5:03am: wash face. All the way up to 5:45am: get in the car. Just ask my parents, they saw it all in action.

But I don’t think you’re all interested in how long it took middle-school-me to put on each article of clothing. Instead, here’s how I prep for shows as an adult!

The day before:

  1. Do a nice relaxing ride on the beast. Keep it simple and fairly short and let her stretch around. Some people like to give their ponies the day off before a show, but Beastly and I definitely need that time to have fun together.
  2. Give the Beast a bath. She’s going to roll in mud and poop overnight anyways, but this just feels like something I should do. If nothing else, I try to get her mane and tail a little whiter. Proceed to cry intermittently about how unfair it is that your friend gets to ride a dark bay with ZERO chrome.
  3. Clean tack. I usually keep my tack wiped down and in good condition, so this isn’t too onerous. I’ll be extra careful to condition well so we get a nice gleam on the leather, and I’ll pay attention to any grime built up around buckles and keepers. Then the saddle goes in the cover and the bridle gets put in the bridle bag. (Side note: for me, this process also includes changing bits to the Pelham)
  4. Pack my grooming tote. My trainer has lots of grooming stuff available in the trailer anyways so I don’t get too fussed about this, but I do throw a few things together:
  • Hoofpick
  • Soft brush
  • Curry comb
  • Small towel
  • Treats
  • Vetwrap
  1. Load the trailer. I’m lucky enough that my trainer has a 4 horse trailer that we almost always use, and it has a nice big dressing room. I always make sure to have all these things in there
  • Saddle
  • Bridle
  • Girth (and maybe a spare if I’m feeling SUPER prepared)
  • Grooming tote
  • Fleece pad if it’s a hunter show, half-pad if it’s a jumper show (if we’re doing the jumpers, we use AP pads that have our barn logo on it under the half-pad so I don’t worry about packing those)
  1. Confirm that Trainer’s collection of 239487 show coats are still there just in case this list doesn’t work and I forget to bring my show coat. Which actually happened one time.
  2. Clean Beastly’s boots. I like to trailer her in her boots, so I’ll brush those down to get rid of any sweat or mud that’s accumulated. Then I hang them on her stall door so I don’t forget them in the morning.
  3. Get out her nice halter and leadline. These are relics from my past show days when my parents funded things, so we have a very fancy leather lead with my name on a brass plate, and a fancy halter that says Starlight Express. Totally not her name. Turns out my studly Holsteiner and my albino elephant have a very similar head size.
  4. Bribe pony with treats and kisses to not kill me the next day.

Then I go home and prep my own gear!

  1. Lay out exactly what clothing I’ll be leaving the house in. That usually means my show pants, boot socks, hiking boots, an undershirt, maybe my show shirt/polo, fleece sweatshirt (depending on weather), and my beloved Pony Farm hat. This way I don’t have to rummage through drawers in the wee hours of the morning.
  2. Lay out other show clothing to bring. For hunter shows this is probably my show shirt and jacket, but for jumper shows I generally just wear my polo all day. I always mean to bring a raincoat. I never remember to bring a raincoat.
  3. Polish my tall boots. Sometimes I’ll do this while I’m cleaning tack since the soap is out anyways, and sometimes I do this at home. Once they’re nice and shiny I put them in their boot bag to protect them.
  4. Pack my show backpack. I’ve heard some polarizing things about show backpacks, but mine has been absolutely invaluable. I’ll put my wallet, checkbook, sunglasses, glasses, and Coggins, along with any other necessary paperwork in one pocket. A change of clothes/jacket goes in the big pouch. My crop, gloves, spurs, and helmet all have their place along with a pocket for my water bottle. No need for a purse!
  5. Knock back some ZZQuil and go to sleep! Judge me if you must, but I like to get more than 6 hours of sleep. If I’m going to be up at 4a-5a, this means I want to be drooling on my pillow by 10p. That’s not that much earlier than I usually go to bed, but early enough that I like to get a little chemical help to zonk out.

Now on to the day of the show!

  1. Don’t bother with makeup, just get dressed, grab all my gear that’s waiting by the front door, and hit the road.
  2. Once at the barn, make sure Beastly and any other horses heading to the show get their breakfast.
  3. While she’s eating, identify the poop/mud spots and attempt to curry them out. Mentally talk yourself into believing that the judge won’t care if your gray looks like a paint.
  4. Braid and wrap Beastly’s tail. I don’t mean fancy shmancy braiding, I mean a basic braid down to the very end. This makes it much easier to wrap up with an Ace bandage. I do this because her butt is up against the wall in the trailer and if I don’t, her tail will be entirely crusted over with manure by the time we arrive at the show. It’s super cute. As is, I have to deal with poopy fetlocks.
  5. Triple check the trailer and my car to make sure I have everything while Unicorn finishes her breakfast.
  6. Get her boots on, her fancy lead rope and halter, and take her to the indoor. Turn her loose for 10 minutes to get the silly beans out of her system.
  7. Load her on the trailer (always on the driver’s side because she’s always the biggest pony on the trailer) and hit the road!

So there you have it! So far this routine has served me well to arrive on time, in style, and feeling prepared. Whether or not I feel prepared as a rider is a whole different ball game and requires prep much sooner than the day before.


15 thoughts on “An Adult Amateur’s Guide to Horse Show Prep

  1. the clueless but curious rider 10/04/2015 / 2:22 pm

    Hahaha so true. My list is more like: horse? Check. Helmet? Check. I’ll make the rest work somehow lol thank God I have you around to keep me together!! 😉


  2. Allison Stitzinger 10/05/2015 / 7:22 am

    We are kindred spirits! I have my show prep/packing routine down to a science at this point, so I rarely need to write out the list anymore as it’s all in my head, but if I’m not pretty much totally packed and ready to go the night before, I feel SO STRESSED. I don’t know how people show by the seat of their pants without detailed lists and prep routines!


    • hellomylivia 10/05/2015 / 7:38 am

      Yes yes yes!! I figure shows are stressful enough and things always end up changing, so it’s best to be as prepared as possible. That way it’s not quite as overwhelming when everything goes sideways 🙂


  3. Jenn 10/05/2015 / 9:10 am

    #twinning 😉

    Also, show backpacks FTW. Mine was life-changing at the last show!


    • hellomylivia 10/05/2015 / 9:44 am

      Forever twinning obviously. Funny how some people don’t need the packs and others find them so crazy useful (for real, life changing.)


  4. emma 10/05/2015 / 9:36 am

    lists are good. i like lists lol. the first time i hauled out to a show alone (last summer) i pretty much went nuts packing ALL THE THINGS. these days tho we have a very well-established routine that doesn’t change significantly for going out for schooling or lessons or shows or whatever.


    • hellomylivia 10/05/2015 / 9:47 am

      Amen to the routine- it makes everything so much easier when you can go through the motions and focus on how your pony is feeling that day!


  5. Stacie Seidman 10/05/2015 / 3:48 pm

    Sometimes I need a list to keep track of my lists. They are so soothing when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
    As for packing, now that my horses live at home and I have my own trailer, all I really need to pack is my saddle, bridle, and pads. Though normally the pads are in the trailer already too. Just depends on when the laundry got done. This should be easy and reduce stress. But instead I just ponder what I’m forgetting because it was too easy…


    • hellomylivia 10/12/2015 / 3:29 pm

      I’ve been having that problem lately too! Somehow it seems too easy…


  6. Abby 10/05/2015 / 5:16 pm

    This post is rather timely as I’m in the process of packing for 2 weeks in Tryon with two horses….. Luckily, since we are on the road quite a bit, I have trailer packing to a science. Although, 2 weeks at a show means a ton of hay, feed, etc…. The part of packing that I hate doing the most is my own stuff. Packinf clothes is especially hard this time of year when the weather is changing like crazy. Basically, I just pack a ton of clothes and hope for the best. I’m also taking classes, so my computer and other supplies must go as well. It’s a good thing I have the truck all to myself, because it is FULL.


    • hellomylivia 10/12/2015 / 3:30 pm

      Oh my gosh I am so jealous- Tryon looks absolutely gorgeous, I’ll bet it’s even better this time of year! Sounds like you’ll definitely need the whole trailer for all that gear!


  7. Courtney 10/06/2015 / 8:18 am

    Starlight Express sounds like a perfect name for your beastly unicorn. I can imagine people would see the plate and be like “Yup, she looks like a Starlight Express.”
    I need to make an attempt to be as organized… your routine is like an art!


    • hellomylivia 10/12/2015 / 3:30 pm

      Haha Starlight Express was the super manly name for my super studly gelding. It totally works for the beast too though 😉


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