Horse shows come in all shapes and sizes. There are schooling shows, regional shows, IEA shows, and A Shows. Bigger shows, of course, have more horses and exhibitors and therefore require more staff. However, there are some roles consistently must be filled at all shows, big or small. Understanding these roles will lend to your confidence and success as a competitor.
This is the competitor- anyone who is presenting a horse to show. In the simplest terms, it’s the riders. But the term exhibitor encompasses more than just riders- it’s trainers, owners, and the parents paying the bills. More collectively, exhibitors are the teams that puts forth an entry in the show. Even more simply, it’s means the participants of the show.
This is one of the most important, and challenging, jobs at the horse show. Stewards are basically the rule-keepers. They are present at all rated shows, and bigger shows normally have more than one. These experienced horsepeople must watch the exhibitors and their horses at all times, making sure rules, regulations, and good horsemanship is maintained in the barns, arenas, and everywhere on the show grounds. They are the ones that measure ponies, manage schooling rings, and chastise and report rule-breakers. It’s not always a fun job, but it’s they that ensure our events are run consistently and safely, for both horses and riders.
The show manager is the person who is the person who makes sure all the different components of the show run cohesively. At a smaller show, the show manager may need to take on multiple duties- perhaps they also design courses, act as a steward, or help in the show office. And at larger shows, there may be multiple show managers in order to coordinate different aspects of the show. Show managers are incredibly busy people, acting as the major decision maker and overseeing all staff, exhibitors, and horses. They are tasked with making sure the show meets all the requirements of the appropriate governing body (like USEF) as well. They must be fair but impartial, abide by all rules, and make sure the show’s past and future legacy is maintained. It’s not an easy job!
The judges must separate and compare the competitors. Some shows have multiple judges, some have just one. But multiple day, rated shows must make sure there is a different judge for each ring every day. The judge’s job is a scared one, and they must remain focused and impartial. That’s why exhibitors really shouldn’t approach them or engage them. If you have a question for a judge, you must find the steward, who will first try to help you with your question themselves. If they deem it necessary, they will then approach the judge on your behalf. Although exhibitors don’t always agree with judges’ decisions, it is important to have a spirit of good sportsmanship and to at least respect the covenants of our sport, and by extension the calls of our chosen judges.
This is one of a couple of people with whom exhibitors have the most contact at the horse show- they play a crucial role. You will find the show secretaries in the office, those perpetually busy horse show experts. Show secretaries can be your biggest ally, if you are kind, gracious, and prepared. Horse show secretaries organize and track all the entries at the show, as well as results. They also keep track of association memberships. They answer questions all day not just from exhibitors, but from management, announcers, judges, and crew. In short, they are busy! Be extremely gracious and patient when you are in the horse show office, and always check in the prize list for the answer to your question before you ask.
This is another person of incredible important to exhibitors. They, like show secretaries, are one of the major influencers of your horse show experience. Paddock masters are literally as (well as figuratively) gate keepers. They are the people that coordinate who is showing, in what order, and when- and then communicate the information to the judge and announcer. These individuals must keep track of trainer conflicts, riders who have multiple rides, arena drags, progress at other rings, and anything their judge might need. Not to mention near-constant questions from exhibitors all day.
Always introduce yourself, learn their name, and treat your paddock master with kindness and the utmost respect. They are balancing the needs of hundreds of people, and it is not easy.
Braiders take care of braiding the manes and tails of the hunters (and sometimes jumpers, though often grooms take care of those). They work incredibly hard to accommodate every horse, and maintain the highest level of quality as they work. Their work is done overnight, and in exquisite detail, perfecting hundreds of braids. Their fingers are sore and swollen, but they are devoted to the task. Always make sure you get in touch with your braider well before the show, even a week in advance if possible. Have your manes pulled and clean, and even. Have a tail bandage ready, and know your horse. If he is going to be a tough customer, let your braider know, and be there to help.
Your teammates, or barnmates, should be pretty obvious. You train in the same program, and therefore hopefully are supportive of one another. That said, that support and family atmosphere isn’t always automatic. It needs to be actively cultivated. And in doing so, your entire horse show experience will be enhanced in surprising ways. Create a team-centric, fun culture by showing up not just for your own classes, but everyone else’s too. Make a point of being there for them, helping out where you can, and even taking some pictures or video. Being there for your teammates can help you remember a crucial key to horse show enjoyment- it’s not all about you.
Your trainer is perhaps the most important person at the horse show for you. All the above people come together to create the horse show experience, but it is your trainer who helps you navigate the challenges, excitement, and growth. Your trainer lends you not just advice, but structures the entire horse show experience through their attitude, knowledge, and enthusiasm. Your confidence in your trainer and program adds to your personal confidence as you walk into that show ring Appreciate the time and effort your trainer puts in for your entire team by supporting everything he or she is trying to accomplish. This can mean everything from working hard to improve your own performance, to polishing your barnmates boots, to tidying the aisle, to showing up with coffee for all.
As with any endeavor, you get out what you put in. Though you might feel overwhelmed with your own needs, or your own nerves at a horse show, being aware of the efforts of everyone around you can actually help. You become part of something bigger, and your community begins to feel a little stronger, and your sense of self, and of purpose grows as well. The Horse Show Leases community is a strong, successful one, and we would love to welcome you to it- contact trainer Alicia Wilkerson today!
Above photo courtesy of Lindsey Kite-Smith.