Understanding Show Ring Timing

Show Ring Timing

One of the hardest parts of hunter/jumper horse shows is the timing. It’s very difficult, sometimes, to learn how to predict when classes will run.  Even when you do understand show ring timing, there are numerous variables that can throw the schedule off. When there are multiple rings, multiple riders, and multiple horses, things can get tricky.  So, we are Horse Show Leases will try to break it down for you. 

Why Does it Matter?

Why do we really have to stress about the exact timing of the classes?  Can’t we just fly by the seat of our pants? Or better yet, can’t we just let someone tell us when to go- our trainer, our groom, some other exhibitor?

No, you can’t.  Not if you are trying to be any kind of conscientious horseperson. We need to keep track of show ring timing so we can avoid: 

  • Missing  our classes
  • Slowing down the rings making people wait for us
  • Rushing our horses through their warm-up time
  • Exacerbating time conflicts between rings- in which the trainer has multiple riders need to go at the same time in different rings.
  • Missing a chance to reduce the stress by smoothing out the schedule.  Horse shows are stressful. For the rider, the trainer, the grooms, parents, and most of all- the horse. Good timing decreases rushing and therefore reduces stress on your horse. This lends to their ability to perform as well as their overall quality of life. 

Be the Star Pupil

Speaking of your trainer, they have a lot on their plate.  Take some responsibility for your schedule and learn how to read the ring- then tell them the information. Good clients come to their trainer with accurate information and educated schedule predictions.  Then, it’s one less thing your trainer has to do, and trust me: they will appreciate it.   

Also, when the ring inevitably changes, you can let your trainer and goom know the adjusted timing without them having to figure it out for you. Plus, you won’t be in the dark or at their mercy. It’s absolutely amazing how much more smoothly things run when riders understand and pay attention to the way their ring is running. 

Assume Ideal Circumstances

Let’s get down to the numbers. 

Here is the primary thing to understand: You must figure everything assuming everything will run as efficiently as possible.  Even if there is only a 20% chance of that, the consequence of not planning for it is missing your class. Plus, at most bigger shows the chances are greater that it will run efficiently.  They don’t mess around! So, figure out the in-a-perfect-world timing. Then, pay attention to factors that will slow the ring down as they happen. Yes, this requires paying attention and checking repeatedly!

Defining the Terms

For clarity (and those that are new to horseshowing), let’s define the relevant terms:

Trip: This refers to each individual 8-10 jump round that each horse and rider perform, and corresponds to a particular class and designated course. Riders usually have multiple trips when they go to the ring, and they are allowed to perform 2 trips back-to-back, if they choose to stay in instead of leave. 

Rotation: When there are many riders in a class, the person in charge of the ring (paddock master) will separate competitors into groups of 3, or sometimes 4. That group is called a rotation.  Those horses will take turns until all their trips are completed. This can be 2, 3, or 4 trips per horse, depending on schedule and their specific entries.  

*So, you might be listed 4th to go in a class, but if you are in the 2nd rotation and the first three competitors all have a warm-up, 2 hunter classes, and an Equitation trip on their entry, then you are actually the 13th trip. And the 5th person listed is the 14th trip.*

**You must know what rotation you are in!**

Card: Card refers to the judge’s record for each specific class. So, for each individual class, there is a:

-Designated course (on a diagram outside the ring)



When the paddock master says that, for example, “we have 3 cards open,” they are referring to how many classes are running concurrently. So, you might have the warm-up card, Modified Hunter class 271 and Modified Hunter class 272.  Therefore, there is a maximum of 3 trips per competitor. That doesn’t mean everyone will have all 3 trips though!

Getting to the Math

Each trip is generally considered to take 2 minutes to complete.  

Flat or Undersaddle Classes: Figure 10 minutes

Make sure you count trips, not horse in the class!  


            Let’s say that on the schedule, there is a warm up and two rounds of Modified Hunters.

            There are 40 horses in the Warm-up.

            There are 12 horses in the first Modified Hunter

            There are 11 horses in the second Modified Hunter.  

            The Warm-Up runs all day, so you have to find out from the paddock master how many Modified Hunters are entered in the class.


Let’s say there are 10 Modified Hunters to take a warm-up trip (Caution: at a lot of shows, this number can change as you go). 

             You are the first horse in the third rotation. Let’s say that all the horses in the first two rotations are in the warm-up- so they have all three trips.

            This means you have six trips, and technically 12 minutes, ahead of you. If everyone’s ready, that means you may need to be warming up when the first horse is in the ring. 

            If it’s a slow ring where no one is ready, you may be waiting. 

            So again, the main thing to do is watch, listen, learn, and pay attention!


For more horse show tips, contact Alicia at Horse Show Leases!


Jenn Crow
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