I know the thoughts of horse showing can be overwhelming, so here is a concise guide that lays it all out! The first four things you should ask yourself are the following:
1. What are your child's goals? If they are happy with once per week lessons, that's fine! If they want something that challenges them, then showing might be the perfect opportunity to raise the bar.
2. What is the financial commitment? Do you want to do local C shows that cost under $300 or do you want to haul to a rated show where entry fees alone are going to cost $350? If you're child wants a future in the horse industry, then your end goal as they approach teenage years is to work on rated shows that will build their equine resume.
3. Do you have your own horse? If you don't have a horse, are you planning to lease? If you can't afford a full-lease, is there a family that you can half-lease (meaning you share the ride time and half the expenses) the horse with? It is super important that you as the parent assess how serious your child is about horse showing. If you aren't looking for a long term commitment, my best suggestion is to find a family to half-lease with.
4. What kind of show parent do you want to be? Do you want your child to do ALL the work (clean the stall, clean the tack, get the horse ready, etc) or do you as the parent want to be a part of the process and help your child as much as possible? This is really important to discuss with your trainer ahead of time. For example, I grew up in Pony Club where parents were't allowed to help at all (you would get points off for unauthorized assistance), but I understand that outside the rigors of Pony Club moms and dads just want to help their child be successful - and more hands the better!
The first step to horse showing is to have a horse, or access to a horse, that you can show. Understand, if your child takes lessons at a facility where horses are used regularly in a lesson program, it's going to be difficult (or cost a good bit of money) to take those lesson horses off the "lesson horse roster" and send them out for a weekend for your child to show. Parents often fail to realize how hard horses work in a lesson program and that the most popular lesson day is often the same day as a show (Saturday). This is why it's important to have access to your own horse, or if you're not ready to purchase, a lease or half-lease. Realize that also factors into coaching and trailering fees. The more kids that attend a show, the more expenses can be shared. Sending off only one kid to a show with a trainer for the weekend can be quite costly.
Leasing a horse is typically done in a contract (6-12 month duration) in which there is a lease fee. The lessor is responsible for the lease fee, boarding, veterinary, farrier care, and tack. If it's a half-lease situation two families share the horse and these expenses. This can work out really well if kids want to go to the same show with the same horse and they ride in different divisions. Leasing is also a great way to introduce a child to the responsibility of horse ownership without the permanency of owning a horse. In order to show the horse will also have to be up to date on vaccinations and have a negative coggins test.
Shows are typically divided into different levels. There are rated shows that will require national memberships and not something I would recommend for a first outing. There are also lower-level B and C shows that are more flexible on show attire, have various classes, and a more relaxed atmosphere.
If your child is interested in showing but doesn't want to ride in their first show, presenting their horse in a showmanship or halter class gives them the opportunity to show off their horse and have the horse show experience without actually riding. This is a GREAT class to do for kids at the beginning of the show to help get their jitters out and let the horse see the arena while they are on foot.
There are hunter-jumper shows that have jumping, dressage shows that focus on dressage, combined test events that include dressage, jumping, and cross-country, and local shows with open classes (walk-trot-canter in a group on a rail). It's important to decide what type of show environment your child is seeking before determining what show you go to. There are also many opportunities locally in our area to haul to clinics and ride with a clinician. This is a great opportunity for kids that are nervous about showing because it takes off the pressure to win (and the first time going out) and replaces it with a positive learning experience to focus on. I would HIGHLY recommend going to a local clinic as a first outing because it will give your child and your horse and opportunity to settle and learn.
Typically horses are most settled when they haul to a show the night before and are allowed to settle in. However, there are also local shows in the area that are "day trips" that can be hauled to and back within the same day. Here are some expenses that you might expect with showing:
1. Trailer fee (it costs money for the truck, the gas, and the trailer to get you to the show)
2. Coaching fee (remember, it's not just the time the coach is with you at the show, think of all the lessons they are missing at home, and also the fees they have to pay for barn care while they are away from the barn). This coaching fee is also due for the travel days, so if you leave on Friday for a 2 day show the fee is due for all three days.
3. Entry fees - these vary widely from $10 per class to $350 a weekend depending on the type of show you are going to.
4. Show clothes - If you're planning to do multiple day shows, think multiple pairs of breeches and show shirts for the North Carolina heat.
5. Horse fee - if you are using a regular lesson horse from the barn. This fee typically runs $150 per horse per day.
6. Hotel fee
7. Grooming supplies and extra saddle pads (this is your tack cleaners, sponges, high gloss, hay nets, etc).
8. Braiding Fee (typically $40-$65 depending on the amount of work needed done and the venue)
9. Odds and ends like coolers, food, photos, etc.
10. Ulcerguard for the horse while they are traveling
If reading this article inspires you and motivates you to begin the horse searching process, please take my advice and HIRE a trainer to do the horse/lease shopping process. Yes, there is a fee to hiring a trainer which is typically $75 per hour plus expenses, 10% finders fee, or $20 per video evaluated, but it is worth it to find the perfect fit. When you find a horse that you like you should also do a pre-purchase exam with a veterinarian so you know what you are purchasing.
Horse showing can be a very rewarding process for a young child and teaches numerous life skills. The first step to horse showing is gaining access to a horse that you can show. Need help? Send me a message or comment below.
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Ashley is a dressage trainer and instructor that loves to train dressage and teach lessons.