With all the cold, miserable weather we’ve been having, we’ve been searching for things to get excited about. Well, we’ve noticed show schedules beginning to appear on our leaflets table and we’ve definitely noticed glimmers of the competition season starting to creep in. Despite the delay to the start of the season, people are starting to head out to indoor venues to strut their stuff and get their neddies back in the game for the season ahead. Showing on grass is trying to get going but it’s not been easy with all the endless rain, with many venues having to cancel early shows due to very wet ground and water logged lorry parking.
But it’s not all bad, the wait to get started means more time to get prepared, make sure your kit is all ready to go and that your horses are fit and in fine fettle.
So what’s the point of showing?
Showing can definitely be a little bit marmite and some people would rather boil their own head than stand in a show ring. However, I do feel that there are a lot of benefits to showing, and it can be a really great day out. After all, who doesn’t love seeing a show ring full of beautiful horses strutting their stuff and shining their beacons as fabulous examples of their breed/type?
For me, the best way to show is with an affiliated society. Each society will have it’s own championship show as well as qualifiers for the big events of the season. With an affiliated showing society, you are guaranteed to be competing against horses and ponies who are of a certain calibur and are true to type. You will also have judges and stewards who are trained professionally by their respective societies and therefore, are knowledgeable and experienced horse people who can judge you and your equine fairly, with a critical eye.
Breed societies do a huge amount to ensure that records are kept regarding breeding, genetics and breed history. They ensure that breeders are encouraged to strive to produce the very best stock in terms of conformation, movement and temperament. There are societies who work tirelessly to promote their particular breed or type of equine and to ensure work is done to keep rare or endangered breeds accessible. For example; the Coloured Horse and Pony Society (CHAPS) and the British Skewbald and Piebald Association (BSPA) have done fantastic work over the years in getting coloured horses and ponies recognition for their versatility and adaptability. There are now coloured classes at the showing world’s most prestigious events, such as Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) and the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) at Hickstead. The Tradtional Gypsy Cob Association (TGCA) has done an amazing amount of work for the gypsy cob, not only getting these equines recognised as a breed in their own right, but also working to improve welfare; working with vets, farriers and welfare charities to educate the gypsy community at Appleby Horse Fair each year, providing sponsorship for the the ‘Best at Appleby’ awards.
Showing is also a fantastic way to introduce young riders to competitive riding. Lots of today’s professional riders come from a showing background as they can begin on the lead rein, progressing to first ridden and then further. Children and young people learn, not only how to ride a pony to show it off to the best of their ability, but also the discipline and dedication it takes to get a their pony ready and prepared for a show day. There are societies which cater specifically for children and young people; such as the British Show Pony Society (BSPS), Ponies Association (UK) (PUK) and the National Pony Society (NPS).
Another benefit of showing is that it’s a fantastic way to expose young horses to a competition environment. I always takes my young horses out in-hand showing as I feel it is an essential part of their education – as the saying goes, “Perhaps the greatest kindness you can do any horse is to educate him well”.
Firstly, it teaches them to accept all the faffing and preening you need to do to get them ready – all horses presented in the showring must be turned out to a high standard, so your youngster needs to be happy being bathed, trimmed, plaited, brushed, sprayed, etc. Secondly, the judge will not stand for bad behaviour in the ring, so you must ensure your horse is mannerly and knows how to behave. Obviously with youngsters there are allowances made for the odd “baby” moment. However, if your horse is consistently rude in the ring, they will not be placed, and may even be asked to leave the ring in extreme cases. It is important that you spend time at home teaching your youngster to walk and trot nicely inhand, as well as to stand and wait politely. Thirdly, showing your youngster will stand them in good stead for the future in terms of desensitizing them to a showground environment and teaching them to accept other unknown horses within close proximity without having a hissy fit! This is invaluable once they begin competing under saddle.
Top tip: Be meticulous about cleaning all your tack and equipment day to day, so that it is always show ready. This will save you time when you are preparing for a show.
How do I get started in showing?
If you want to give showing a go but are not really sure where to start, the first thing you need to do is assess your horse and work out which classes you should enter. There are many different types of horses and many different classes that you can enter. The best thing to do is to have a chat with somebody experienced who can give you their opinion on the best classes for your horse. Go along to watch some horse shows and see how things are done and which classes have horses that are most similar to yours. Once you’ve worked out which classes you want to start with, then just go for it. I know that the showing world has a reputation for being a bit bitchy, but in my experience everyone has always been very friendly and willing to help others.
What do I need to wear?
The attire needed for showing is very traditional and above all else, should be smart, clean and tidy.
For ridden classes, you should wear a tweed jacket with beige, cream or canary breeches with black boots and a velvet hat that matches your jacket. Most people will have a navy or black hat, but there’s no reason you can’t wear a grey or green hat, for example, if it goes with the tweed you have chosen. You should wear a white collared shirt with a plain tie, again this should match your tweed and your hat. When entering a championship, especially an evening gala performance, you should wear a plain navy or black jacket and matching hat. Some people choose to wear a beagler or top hat for championship performances, but it is perfectly acceptable to wear a hard hat. If you are just dipping your toe in the water and you don’t have all the necessary gear, don’t worry too much. Just compete wearing what you have, as long as you are smart and clean, it really doesn’t matter.
For in-hand classes you should wear smart trousers with a shirt and tie, a tweed jacket or waistcoat (depending on the weather), gloves and boots which are smart but comfortable enough for running. You should wear a hat – whether it be a hard hat, a flat cap, a beagler or a fedora, as long as it looks smart and is in keeping with the rest of your outfit.
We carry a lovely range of showing attire here at Equitogs; including tweed jackets from Mears, Cavallo and Pikeur; breeches in lots of different styles, ties, gloves and hair accessories. We also stock the Charles Own Fian and Wellington hats, so have a hard hat for all head shapes.
How should I turn out my horse?
As with everything else, your horse should be super clean, gleaming and very smartly turned out, according to his breed and type. Broadly speaking, natives and traditionals should be shown unplaited in their natural state and most others should be plaited and trimmed. If you are showing a native or traditional, they should have good quality mane, tail and feather and should have any long hairs under the chin or belly removed so as to appear tidy and well kept. Plaited ponies and horses should be as smart as possible, plaits should be neat and evenly spaced/sized, any excess hair should be trimmed – some people like to trim whiskers but I would not advocate doing so personally; horses need their whiskers and removing them can be very stressful for them.
Tack should technically be brown and should be as simple and smart as possible. Martingales and anything other than a cavesson noseband are not correct, unless you are competing in working hunter classes, as depicted in the photos shown here of our lovely customers Phoebe and Brittany Varney. It depends on the class type as to whether embellishments and coloured browbands are allowed, but you should check with your chosen society’s members handbook if you are unsure about specific turnout requirements.
Go and have some fun!
There are so many aspects to the showing world, it would be impossible to cover them all in one blog. The main thing is to get out and about with your horse and have some fun. Showing is a fantastic showcase for all sorts of breeds and types and it is so important to appreciate those animals that are well put together and beautifully trained. If you are just starting out and you don’t have all the correct gear, don’t worry about it – just give it a go anyway. If you find that you enjoy yourself and that you are successful then you can always invest in new kit at a later date. Go and enjoy yourselves!