What Happens at a Horse Show?

Although horse shows may seem chaotic to the newcomer — horses and people are wandering everywhere — events are very well organized. A lot goes into putting on an event like this. The place for the show itself must be secured in advance. Show premiums (the list of classes and the entry form) must be sent out to contestants. Then, we can forget to find willing and able judges for the events.

As you watch the contest, you’ll be very aware of the judges and the awards given to winners. After all, most of us are there to win. In the following sections, I’ll go over judging, placings, and awards that are part of every equestrian competition. Knowing how an equestrian show works can help you get the most out of them, whether you are a spectator or a competitor.

A Brief Look at Judging

In most contest classes, deciding winners is kind of a subjective thing. In other words, the person presiding over a particular class determines the first place winner and other placings based on the judge’s opinion. Although they try to adhere to a standard when making their decisions, the choice is ultimately rather a personal one. Still, it’s very bad form not to remain respectful of the results. Many judges volunteer their time and don’t get paid for the work they do; others just receive a stipend from the sponsoring club. Fortunately, timed events like show jumping and gymkhana, which are speed events, are not subjective. In those contests the horse either accomplishes the goal or doesn’t. The results in those classes are cut-and-dried. So who are these judges, anyway, that can make or break a contestant’s afternoon? Most are very experienced equestrians who have themselves competed in the events they’re judging. Many are trainers in those disciplines. Some are even tested well beforehand to demonstrate that they are knowledgeable enough to be a judge.

Awards and Placings

As you hear the judge’s decision in each class, placings come into play. At most shows, the announcer names the horse and/or rider with the last placing announced first. The announcer then works his way up the list until finally giving the name of the first place winner. Most of the shows place horses from the first to sixth place, although some bigger shows will go as far as tenth place. In a large class show, even a tenth place award is an honor to receive.

The types of awards depends upon the particular show. Just about all equestrian events give ribbons to the winners. Each placing will have a different color, although the color standards can vary from country to country. In the U.S. shows, ribbon colors usually follow the guideline below:

First: blue

Second: red

Third: yellow

Fourth: white

Fifth: pink

Sixth: green

Seventh: purple

Eighth: brown

Ninth: gray

Tenth: light blue

For still higher awards, such as Champion or Reserve Champion, winners take home trophies and/or large, fancy ribbons. At the bigger national shows, those awards would go to the first and second place winners respectively. In some shows, cash awards are even part of the deal. Cash prizes depend in large part on the particular discipline. For instance, a cash prize may be awarded at certain western style events like reining. At large jumping shows, horse-and-rider teams could earn thousands of dollars for a top prize.

Please don’t let this little description satisfy your curiosity. Let it whet your appetite for a memorable family fun day. Take a camera, shoot some video, and let the competitive spirit get into your blood. You may someday find yourself holding your breath when it’s your chance to win a ribbon.

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