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.

Just Roll with It

The horse show bug has bitten me, hard. So much so that when my trainer asked if I was interested in joining for a local show on Sunday, I only hesitated long enough to get the thumbs-up from Owner Lady before enthusiastically saying yes!

The plan is to do the 2’9″ Benefit Hunter division as our warmup (apparently 2’9″ is the magical “benefit” height around here), and then do the 3′ Working Hunters! Just two weeks ago, 2’9″ was the highest I’d ever jumped at a show, and now it’s going to be my warmup (internal squeal). I know that 3′ is still baby stuff for Addy, but I’m definitely nervous-excited to finally get to show at that height. It’ll be one step closer to our goals! If someone had told me in September that I’d be gearing up to show at 3′ in March, I wouldn’t have believed them. #blessed

But because of the fairly late notice (I got the text asking about the show Wednesday afternoon), it means that I have no prep time. I had already packed my show breeches and tall boots to lesson in, so I tried to keep those as clean as possible (no dice, I still have to do laundry). Owner Lady is lessoning on Saturday, so she’ll get nice and schooled then. We’re not worrying about bathtime this time- they can judge me for poop stains when they have their own gray to keep clean (insert disgruntled muttering here).

Anyways, I keep telling myself to just roll with it, and not to get all crazy about getting ready for such a small local show (EVEN THOUGH IT’S OUTSIDE AND ADDY HASN’T DONE AN OUTSIDE SHOW AND OH GOD WE’RE GOING TO DIE AND MY TACK IS SO DIRTY). It’s a work in progress.

On to my lesson. You may remember that last week Addy was a little off behind, so she’s been in very light work this week- she’s still a little stocked up but it doesn’t seem to be tender. I had Trainer watch us move for a while and Pretty Girl seemed to be 100% sound, so we decided to keep an eye on it throughout the lesson and pay attention to what she was telling us.

We were worried for nothing, Miss Priss was absolutely fine. My prancing pony was very happy to have serious work to do. Our flatwork focused on getting the horses nice and stretchy with big circles, lots of changes in direction, no-stirrup work, and canter-trot transitions. I’m learning that I absolutely can not be gentle with those transitions, because she will blow right through them back up to canter. This is not a balance or pain issue, this is her wanting to run around and be freeeeee. So those half-halts getting her to slow down are much more assertive than in the past, and we’re slowly transforming from a giraffe back into a horse.

Then our favorite part: jumping! I’ve labelled with letters instead of numbers because we switched the course up a couple times and I’d like to share the good ones with you.

“Home” is right. “Away” is left.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Olivia, that looks like a simple hunter course. That’s not the usual for you guys.” And you’d be absolutely right! Compared to twisty turny courses of lessons past, this was very straightforward (my lesson buddy and I joked that for once we weren’t scared of flying off the side around turns!). This was a chance to practice going as a hunter.

We warmed up over A as a small trot jump going both away and home, and once we had done that a couple times, we added the diagonal line (B-C). Nothing to report here except that our trot jumps are getting much straighter and more civilized- even though we had a long way to the end of the ring after A, we managed to stay nice and straight before bending through the turn.

Our next exercise was quite interesting: H-F. We trotted over H, bent left around G to jump the stone wall towards home. I had to remember to hold my outside leg hard so she didn’t bulge out here.

Then for our first hunter trip at 2’6″ish: A-B-C-F-E-D. So that’s away on the red outside, down the diagonal line in three, up the stone wall, then down the outside line in three. This was the course that really drove it home to me: I need to keep my leg on. When I forgot to keep my leg on, we missed our distances. When I remembered to keep a strong supportive leg, we got them. There was a 100% correlation here! If Addy feels that strong support, she’s very willing to sit back and let me find the distance for her, but if I don’t then she doesn’t have any confidence in me. No confidence in me = pony taking a flier or chipping in. Both of the lines were three strides, but the outside was just a hair tighter and we didn’t box up enough for it- because I didn’t hold enough leg.

Then we put the jumps up! Our next trip was a very similar hunter course: A-B-C-D-E-F. Away on the red, down the diagonal in three, up the outside line in three, then home over the stone wall.

Oh. Em. Gee. That course felt like butter. I focused hard on (a) keeping my leg ON and (b) releasing generously over the fences. We nailed our spot to A and flowed over, then legged up out of the corner to get a good spot heading into the diagonal line. We sat back a little to fit the three in nicely, and she literally hit herself in the jaw jumping over the pink oxer out. No joke. She jumped that so hard she smacked herself (all the horses jumped that oxer super huge, it was adorable). Coming around the turn to the outside line, you can bet I giddy-upped to that. This was the short approach out of the corner that gave us such headaches last time we tried it- she ducked out a bunch until I could finally get her over it. I was not about to let that happen this time, so I pressed hard to keep her straight and she jumped right in! In this direction the three was a little more of a push, but of course Addy always opens up. We stayed nice and straight and kept my outside leg through the approach down to the stone wall, and finished out.

This was when my trainer informed me that the jumps were, in fact, set to 3′. Wait, whaaaat? I just jumped a 3′ course without freaking out and we did it without meeting distaster? I’m still absolutely giddy about this! This was the confidence boost I needed to feel completely ready for the show on Sunday- we got this!

Like a paranoid horse mom I felt her legs all over for any sign of injury after hopping off, but it looks like moving around did the trick because any swelling was gone. No heat in her legs and no ouchy spots, even after poking and prodding hard. Which is about as expected, because she didn’t take a single tender step the entire lesson, but you guys know how it is. You hafta check to be sure.

I’ve got a happy sound horse and we are going to absolutely nail it on Sunday. Wish us luck! I’ll come back with a full report on how it goes.

PS- Sorry about the lack of pictures 😦 Sadly manfriend is not always able to come and be my photographer. If you’d like to get your horse-pic fix, find me on Instagram @hellomylivia! I post pics of Addy there almost every day, and they’re super cute. I’m biased. But seriously she’s the cutest horse to ever exist. In the world. Ever.

Any tips for showing at 3′? Any big differences once the height goes up? Any more horse show advice in general? I absolutely loved your tips last time!