Horse show success is so much more than winning ribbons, buckles, and trophies. Success means having fun and enjoying the experience while you’re working towards your goals, improving your personal performance, and developing more skills.

Here are seven top tips to help you do your best at every horse show.

1. Give Yourself Enough Time – Horse show nerves are to be expected, but they only become worse if you’re feeling rushed. When heading off to the show, plan your time to allow for problems loading your horse, traffic, etc. Once you’re at the show, you need time to unload, make your entries and/or get your number, and tack up. If you’re at a new show ground, having time to familiarize yourself with the layout is helpful. You also need time to warm up adequately (without over-practicing) and get to the in-gate for your class without rushing or being late. Some horse shows disqualify riders for holding things up at the ring. Even if you’re not rushed, horse show nerves can happen. Rather than focusing on feeling “anxious,” reframe those butterflies in your stomach or tension in your chest to mean that you’re “excited.” When you’re on-deck (next to go into the ring), use the time to feel more calm by taking slow, deep breaths. Making the exhale longer than the inhale and opening up your peripheral vision turns on your parasympathetic (calming) nervous system.

2. Turn Out Matters – When you and your horse are immaculately groomed, the judge will take notice and you make a good first impression. Ensure that your clothing, helmet, boots, and tack fit well, meet the requirements for the class, and are neat, tidy and clean. Keep a towel and brush nearby so that before every class you can wipe dust off your boots and clean your horse’s mouth, nose and eyes.

3. Know The Rules of Each Class – Rules may vary depending on the discipline and level of show. A local schooling show may have a focus on safety and allow tack that is not permitted at rated shows. Using equipment that is not permitted will result in being disqualified from the class. If in doubt, ask the ring steward or show host.

4. Have a Good Attitude – You are being judged the moment you enter the arena. Enter confidently, smile, and make friendly eye contact with the judge for a few seconds. If you make a mistake during the class, stay relaxed and carry on without doing anything to draw more attention to it. The judge may have missed it (especially in a large flat class) or it might not be as bad as you thought.

5. Avoid Schooling or Training – Remember that you are showing your horse. If things don’t go well (every horse and rider have off days), avoid clucking, kicking or otherwise ‘disciplining’ your horse. All riders have experienced mistakes and bad rides; losing your temper only makes a bad impression on the judge and onlookers. Take any mistakes as lessons for what to work on at home before the next show.

6. Know Your Course/Pattern/Test Before You’re on Deck – Look at the course/pattern/test as early as possible before your class. Use a memorizing technique that works well for how you learn best – visual, audio, or kinesthetic. Draw it out on a paper, noting where the in/out gates are, where the judge is situated, and where any gait changes happen. For visual learners, imagine (visualize) yourself riding it well and bring in as much detail as possible. For audio learners, say the pattern out loud and try giving obstacles/jumps names and colours. If you learn by doing (kinesthetic), walk or “trot” a mini version of the pattern on foot. Use sticks as jumps or cones to mark obstacles or dressage letters. Regardless of which learning style you have, watch other riders in your class from different areas around the ring, if possible.

7. Show Good Sportsmanship – In flat classes, use your ring well while being aware of other riders in the class. Avoid cutting off another rider in the hopes of getting in a better position. Stay off the rail, avoid crowding or “tailgating”, and keep your own space. If your horse is acting up, move to the centre of the arena out of the way of the other competitors. If you don’t receive a ribbon, or you think you did better than someone else who placed higher than you, be a good sport. Accept your placing gracefully and sincerely congratulate the winners. At schooling shows, judges are often happy to explain their placings to help with your learning process. Approach the ring steward first, though, to ask if you can speak with the judge and take his/her comments as lessons for next time.

Happy showing!