My First Horse Show

horse show ribbons hanging on a stall

I think I have shared this here before, but in case you are new here, I wanted to share this memory with you. My first horse show when I was about 14 years old. I had a horse named Duchess. I have no idea of how old she was, but she was an incredible babysitter of a horse. Her only challenging habit was that she was difficult to catch. As long as I had a bucket of grain though, I could catch her.

My first horse show

She lived in a huge 100 acre pasture, and several times a week my mom would take me to the pasture and I would spend the day out with my horse and her several pasture mates. There was no fancy barn, no arena, or any facilities. I did have a horse trailer that my dad had bought when he bought my first equine, which was a miniature mule named Jack.

Buying Stuff For A Show – Without The Internet

And I used to spend my spare non-horsey time finding horse shows to go to. We didn’t have the internet back then, so my only way to find out about horse shows were flyers that would be posted either in a newspaper, or hanging up at the local feed store. And I found a show that I wanted to go to. It was a schooling show in early April at a very nice facility in Black Forest Colorado. It’s still there, and I think they now call it Latigo Equestrian Center.

I had my horse and trailer, and my father agreed to take me to the show. So all that was left for me to do was to get everything I needed to go to the show. Again, not having the internet meant it was a lot harder to find stuff, especially for a 14 year old kid with no horsey people around. But I figured it out.

My first real horse show

I had an old English saddle that I had found in a newspaper. I traded a typewriter that my mother had given me. But I didn’t have an English style bridle, or bit. I made a caveson and attached it to my western bridle. I also found a pair of old rubber reins at a yard sale, and a small O ring snaffle bit. Now all I needed for my tack was a saddle pad. I did have a neighbor who also had horses, and they lent me a small brown saddle pad that I thought looked great.

Goodwill Was My Friend

my very first horse show

Then I needed to complete my show ring outfit. My parents had bought me a pair of riding boots which I thought were incredible. They were the first version of the tall rubber riding boots that really weren’t that tall. And they were rubber. But, they were tall riding boots, so I was very happy. I also found a pair of Breeks breeches on sale for around $10.00. And they were gold. Yes, seriously gold color riding breeches. They were also about 2 sizes too big for me.

My first horse show

And then I needed a riding coat. So I went to the thrift store and bought a gray pinstripe blazer. It kind of looked like a riding coat. And I had a pink long sleeve button down shirt that I cut the collar off to make a proper English collar.

my first horse show

All I really needed to complete my look was a helmet. I again went to the thrift store, and was so excited to find a real riding helmet. Granted it wasn’t the traditional style helmet. No, this was a Caliente helmet with no brim, and again, it was gold in color. But I didn’t care, I saw an opportunity. I took a squeeze bottle of black shoe polish, and tried to turn the gold helmet into a ‘real’ riding helmet. For anyone thinking of doing this today, please don’t, it didn’t look as great as I thought it did.

By the time I had gathered all of my treasures, I felt I was ready to show. And while I had been gathering my gear over several months, I had been working with Duchess about twice a week. We would work on walk trot and canter, even though I had no idea of what leads were, and had never heard of rising trot let alone diagonals. But I felt I was ready.

It’s Show Day

The horse show was about 20 minutes away from where my horse was. And my horse was about a half an hour away from where I lived. I got up early and waited for my dad to come over and take me out to Duchess so we could get her loaded up. Now it should be known that we had never trailered Duchess before. And I had never taken her off property, so I had no idea of how she would be at a show ground. But in perfect babysitter fashion, she loaded like a pro, and we made it to the show grounds unscathed.

But once we got to the show grounds my enthusiasm quickly changed to anxiety.

It’s Show Time!

horse show advice

While I got Duchess tacked up, my dad paid my entry fee, and came back with my show number. And I looked at all of the horses and riders schooling. Even though this was just a schooling show, I was utterly not prepared for this. But, I just soaked in everything around me, and Duchess behaved beautifully. I took her into an indoor arena, again I have no idea if she had ever seen an indoor before. And she did whatever I asked her to do. Like I said, the perfect babysitter horse.

I remember telling my dad I changed my mind, and I didn’t want to do this. I was so embarrassed of how I looked, and how my horse looked in comparison to these perfectly groomed animals. I just wanted to bury my head, load up my horse and go home. But my dad said no, you have worked hard for this, we are here, and you are going to show.

So I reluctantly waited for my class, and then went in the ring.

I can still remember the announcer asking us to walk trot and canter in the arena. And once I was in the class, even though I stood out in a bad way, I didn’t care. I was on my horse, and in a real horse show. I was so happy. And as I made my circle around the arena, I saw my dad on the rail. He was beaming. I don’t think I ever remember seeing my dad actually smiling, and looking proud. That was a great moment and a very fond memory for me. I can still remember the moment I saw him on the rail, and his smile.

Of course, we didn’t place in the class. But I did it. I went to my very first show.

After the class was completed, we loaded up Duchess and took her home. I was so happy, I didn’t change out of my boots and breeches. I kept them on while we went into town.

Lessons Learned From My First Horse Show

While my first show was definitely one I will always remember, I learned a lot from that first experience that I will take with me while I get back in to showing as an adult.

Go To Shows – Without Your Horse

lessons learned from my first horse show

To know what is expected as far as a horse show is concerned, is to go to the show as a spectator first. This way you will know what to expect when you decide to take your horse to his first outing. Learning everything you can about the show grounds before you intend to compete will help you to be more successful when you are a competitor.

Research Different Shows

lessons learned from my first horse show

Learning which ‘first’ horse show is best for you and your horse is better, and again, will help you to be more successful if you choose a show that you are ready for. If you competed in a horse show in 20 years, you probably shouldn’t choose an A rated hunter jumper show. Maybe start with a small schooling show at that facility or join a local riding club and use their small shows as practice to getting you to the big shows in a year or two.

Buy Your Show Stuff One Piece At A Time

You could go into debt buying everything you need at one time to show your horse. So to make that not happen, buy one thing at a time. Make a list of everything you need, and then buy everything, over time. Budget out how much you can afford to spend each month (or paycheck) for your horse show habit.

And do your research! We are so lucky to have the internet now, along with a lot of equestrian retailers. My favorite place to look for deals on show clothing is of course, Riding Warehouse. That is where I found my show coat for my (hopeful) upcoming show season

Practice, Practice, Practice!

lessons learned from my first horse show

Practice makes perfect, or more appropriately, perfect practice makes perfect. Take the time and prepare for your show. If the show you want to go to is 2 months away, start practicing now. Make sure your horse is able to do everything that will be asked of him in the show ring. If you are a jumper a good piece of advice is to jump lower at the show than you are schooling over at home. For example, if your horse is working over 4 ft jumps at home, enter classes with the max height of the jumps is around 3’6”. You don’t ant to use a horse show as practice. The show is your test. A test of how well you have gotten your horse prepared for the show. So practice to show, and practice often.

One thing I like to do is to pretend I am at the show. I walk in to the arena, just as I would if I were at a horse show. I say out loud, “walk your horses, trot your horses, canter your horses…” You get the idea. I practice at home what will be asked of me at the show to help me prepare for the real thing.

Go Off Property

And practicing what will be in the class is only one aspect of preparing. You also need to consider how your horse will react to being out of his comfort zone. If he is flighty on the trail, you can be assured he will probably be nervous in a completely different environment. So take him out on the trail, practice loading him up into the trailer and going somewhere new.

Tlessons learned from my first horse show

By doing all of these things, and planning and preparing for your first show. And hopefully this advice will help you to have a memorable first show with your horse. Now don’t get me wrong, I treasure the memories of my very first show. And it pushed me to be better, and it really helped me to understand how important the preparation part really is. But if I was better prepared, I wouldn’t have horse show anxiety now.

lessons learned from my first horse show

How about you? What was your first horse show like? And how do you prepare for horse shows? Leave a comment down below, and help others get ready for the upcoming horse show season!


I am horse crazy and love DIY projects, and finding great deals on everything horse related. When I have a new idea, or find a great deal I love sharing this information with you.

    3 replies to "Lessons Learned From My First Horse Show"

    • Nancy Souer

      Hi Lisa,
      Thank you for this article. Lots of things to ponder. However, I am at the other end of the spectrum – have ridden and showed for the last 20 years – but now after a hip replacement, ( prior to the surgery having to ride thru the pain cuz the doctors said I was too young for a replacement) I suddenly feel like I am staring all over again. Oddly, some of your advice applies to us “old” riders. Thanks again.

      • Lisa

        Thank you Nancy 🙂 Its a continual learning process isn’t it? When something changes in our lives, we have to relearn, and start at the beginning again. 🙂

    • Kimberly smiley

      Thanks for telling that story, what a brave girl you were! I was a lot like that, not quite being in the ‘inner circle’. I remember looking around at the same kids winning over and over (this was gymkhana),and kind of thinking that they must have really expensive, special horses. But I loved my Ginger more than anything, and I didn’t really mind not winning. We just did it for fun. My girl just wasn’t very fast. But, like your horse, she was the greatest in the world for a beginner, I loved her so much!

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