Horse Show Basics: Running the In-Gate

Horse Show In-gate


Paddock Masters, or staff who run the in-gate at horse shows, can be quite influential on the experience of exhibitors, spectators, judges, and management. At large horse shows, they often make running a gate look easy.  They are always calm and patient, and know exactly what is happening next. However, when someone is unfamiliar or new to the job, perhaps at a smaller show, or even a schooling show, they can quickly be confused and overwhelmed.  

How do paddock masters learn their job?  Usually, they need to shadow a more experienced official in order to get it down.  However, there is a first time for everything, and if you are trying to learn how to run an it-gate, or just understand it in order to enhance your horse show experience, you may find this useful. This informal guide aims to give just a little bit of help and structure to ease the learning curve. But always defer to individual show management, of course!


  • Inform the judge of what horse/rider/trip that he or she is watching via walkie-talkie.
  • Keep the riders coming in and out of the ring in an orderly and efficient way so the classes are completed in a timely fashion.
  • Keep accurate records of who has ridden in what class.
  • Constantly inform the riders and trainers of class status so that they may plan accordingly- you should make frequent announcements via walkie-talkie to this end.
  • Raise jumps and replacing rails as necessary.
  • Accurately record judge’s placings, note ribbons before handing out, and get judge’s cards to office.
  • Especially for USEF sanctioned events, have an awareness and understanding of the rules and specifications for the classes in your ring.

The Rundown

  • You will receive sheets for each class of the day in your ring, which will list all the entries.
  • Some classes will run concurrently, which means the ‘cards’ for these classes will be ‘open.’  
  • Also, the Warm-Up is a class that is open all day and for which the jump high varies according to the division at any given time.  Each horse and rider combination can only ride once in the Warm-Up, and they must do it before they compete in any other jumping classes.
  • For example, if there are two Beginner Over Fences classes, they will run at the same time, as well as with the Warm-Up.
  • Management may also decide to run two different division together, or an equitation class with a hunter division if it will be more efficient and if the jumps are the same height for all classes.
  • When you get your class sheets, you want to try to come up with an estimate of how long each class will take/ when the next will start and write it down for reference so you can easily answer questions, which will be frequent.

Class Timing

When figuring out how long each class will take, assume 2 minutes per ‘trip’ in the ring, and then 15 minutes between each group of classes/open cards. This is the best case scenario, and often it takes far longer. But it’s a good goal, and if things are running well, it’s as fast as it could reasonably go, so riders need to be ready for that time.

Keeping Track

Use the class sheets and write a list of all the entry numbers that will compete in each set of open cards, along with the number of “trips” they have, as they check in with you. I like to do this in a table format. Below is an example of a table you could make, as you go, on your sheets. Riders or trainers will come by and ask the class status, and then ask to “post” at a certain point in the class if you have a big group.  If you have a very small group there is no need to post as everyone goes close to the same time. They will check in, warm up, and then be hoping to compete asap once they get back from warming up. For this reason, it’s important to keep people in more or less the order you told them, when possible.

Number Trainer Classes
151 Beezie W, H1,H2, E  (denotes warm-up, first and second hunter trips, Eq  trip)
107 McClain H1, H2 (denotes just two hunter trips)
176 Mavis W, E (denotes warm-up and equitation)

This table helps you keep track of how many trips you have, also keep the classes in which each rider is competing straight.  As they complete a trip, just strike it out with your pen so you can easily reference what’s next.


If there are more than a handful of riders in a class, it’s helpful to separate them into rotations of three in order to keep them organized.  So that means that three riders at a time (often it makes sense to do all the riders who ride with one particular trainer in a group, if the trainer has multiple and likes that) will take turns, each doing one trip at a time, until that rotation is done.  So when someone posts, if they say, for example, I want to go early, but not first. You could say, how about I put you in my second rotation?

Sometimes people will choose to “stay in” and do their trips back to back without leaving the ring.  They can do this, but according to USEF rules they can only complete two trips consecutively, or staying in.  However, if they come out for a moment, and no one else is there to show, they can go back in.

Adds & Scratches

Every show management team will have different policies on additions to the class (adds) and class drop-outs (scratches). Ask about the policy if they don’t make you aware. Some require riders to bring an add/scratch form to the in-gate. Others just have you note adds and scratches for yourself on your own sheets, and then the office will keep track by looking at the judge’s cards.   But regardless, be sure to make sure you add and scratch to the right classes/trips so you can tell the judge the correct class.

Communication is Key

-Radio the judge, as each rider walks in, and tell them the specific trip/class that they are doing at that moment- the rider or trainer should give you this information. It is crucial that this is correct, because is they go in and do a different course than the one that corresponds to what you told the judge, they will be disqualified.  So make the rider or trainer confirm the trip for accuracy.

-Don’t forget to make announcements via walkie-talkie (and a loud voice if there are enough riders nearby to merit it) of trips left and trips till the flat.  Also, if you have yet to have any specific people from your sheets check in. Making sure riders and trainers are well-aware of your ring status at all times is one of the most important functions, and key to running an efficient gate!


  • Check the individual show policy on how ribbons are labeled and organized, as that also falls under your domain.
  • Keep up with what is going on in your ring, what is coming next.
  • Send judges’ cards to the office as soon as possible.
  • Know who your ring crew is, so you know who will be setting jumps for you.  In the absence of this crew, the responsibility will usually fall to the paddock master!

Knowing the ins and outs of running an in-gate can come in handy in a lot of ways.  It can lead to some exciting and challenging employment opportunities, for one. But it can also help exhibitors appreciate the time and effort their horse show staff is putting in for them.  It’s all part of being a well-educated and conscientious competitor, which always one of the Horse Show Leases program goals. To learn more about the Horse Show Leases program, contact Alicia Wilkinson today!


Photo courtesy of Ken Walker

Jenn Crow
Latest posts by Jenn Crow (see all)