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The following article was written by Julia Burdy. Julia is the Community Manager here at CRK Training. You may have seen her name and photo replying to comments and posting on the Facebook page, and if you have watched any of the videos here, you have also seen her editing work!

Every Monday, we have a meeting here at the farm to discuss the upcoming projects for the week, and catch up on what we each did over the weekend. Julia often tells us about her shows, and I get to witness how much joy she takes from competing, and how, for her, competing is not about the ribbons, but about measuring the constant improvement in her riding!

I asked Julia to write this article for you, and share why she competes and why you might want to consider heading out to a horse show too!

Its 4 am, my alarm goes off and without missing a beat my feet hit the floor ready to start the day.  Any other day, I would’ve hit my snooze button a few times before finally rolling out of bed.

What can get me out of bed without delay? It is a horse show day. I maybe the only 26 year old with my entire family in tow for the day but I still feel like a kid at heart getting to spend the day with my horse!

I was just 5 when I started showing horses and the rest was history. I’ve always enjoyed the show ring but maybe not for reasons you may think…

For me, it has never been about the ribbons. What made me fall in love with showing was testing my abilities as a rider and my training of my horse. And, honestly, it can be a lot of fun! In fact, competing should be fun! 

My long term goal is to be competing at the 3’ level and the steps I’ve been taking along the way have allowed me to break down my bigger goal into smaller, more achievable steps for me to take along the way. Starting with 2’ courses at local shows, with the goal in mind to just get around the course. Then graduating to 2’3” courses with more finesse, eventually onto 2’6” courses to get more comfortable at a bigger height, and so on. 

Riding into the show ring I don’t have goals to take home the blue or to have the fastest time in the course – my goal is always to have a fun and safe experience with my horse.  However each time we trailer out to put on a performance I want to be better than the last time we ventured out. But when I have a clear goal in mind for the next show it gives me very specific skills that I am trying to improve that help me reach my riding and training goals, I can better analyze where we need to focus on or what has been going really well. 

When I am preparing for an upcoming show, I try to focus my riding and exercises with my horse on exactly what I know will help us perform our best at the show. 

For example, if I am heading to a jumper show I know to implement more turning at speed in my practice rides. I will also work on square turns or rollbacks to practice those sharps turns that might shave a few seconds off of my time.

On the other hand, if I’m focusing on the hunter ring I’m going to practice riding more related distances, even if they are two poles on the ground to sharpen my eye and feeling for the rhythm to make sure I’m getting the correct strides on the lines.

By aligning my skills and exercises with what I hope to accomplish in the show ring I can find a simple trajectory to achieving my goals. But it isn’t only our skills that play a roll in our experiences at the horse show – there are so many factors! 

Next, I’d like to share what I believe are the keys to having a great experience at a horse show.

Picking the Right Horse Show


Which shows or series you select to attend can have a huge impact on your experience. Set yourself up for success by choosing wisely. 

If you are not familiar with the shows in your area it is a good idea to go check them out, see what the facilities are like, and how the competitors interact with each other. 

Environment can have a huge impact on your horse. If your horse doesn’t have much experience off the farm try to find a show with a laid back atmosphere, relatively quiet without too many distractions. 

For example, in our area we have a horse show that has a county fair going on at the same time as the show plus multiple exhibitions occurring throughout the day. This type of show wouldn’t be a choice for a first show because of the very busy atmosphere. 

The level of competition can also play into selecting the right show.  A local show will have a much different playing field than one rated through the United States Equestrian Federation governing body. Local shows are great for getting the show experience without completely emptying your wallet! In addition, there is usually less pressure and competition between exhibitors – great for finding new horse show friends!

Set Yourself Up for Success

In preparing for a horse show, have a clear idea of what types of class you want to perform in. Keep your experience, confidence, and horse’s training in perspective, if you or your horse feel over faced it can totally ruin the experience and the goal is to make it as positive as possible.

Early in my show career, I had a trainer who taught me that you always school at home a level above what you are showing. For example, if at home you are schooling over 2’6” courses find a division that offers 2’ or 2’3”. Or if you doing First Level dressage at home, stick to Training Level at the horse show. This helps me find an extra boost of confidence at the show because it is ‘easier’.

On that same note, if you are already showing and considering moving up to the next level, wait until your current level is ‘boring’. 

Or if you have already stepped up but feel over faced – you are totally allowed to take a step back!

When you select a class to show in pick one thing that you want to focus on and perform well. 

For example, if you are going into the hunter ring and know that keeping the same, consistent canter around the course is a challenge then that is a great thing to make your priority for that show. 

Instead of trying to focus on everything, on the rhythm, your lead changes, and getting the exact strides right, just pick one thing to be really good at that day. 

The Actual Competition

Although everyone is different, I really thrive by having a supportive ‘team’ with me at a horse show. 

Enjoying the team may come from showing in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association during my time at Penn State where riding really is a team sport. 

In riding with the team, sportsmanship was just as important as horsemanship and I believe that should be true no matter what ring we are showing in.

A crucial member of your support team is a good coach, if they are available. Good coaches are in tune with your horse and your comfort level and can help walk you through whatever challenges you may run into at the show. 

When you first start showing it can bring about a little anxiety when it comes to performing in front of the judge, your competitors, and the audience. 

Remember, if you do struggle with anxiety, finding a show that has a low key environment will be very important for getting started. Also, remember why you are at the show in the first place, winning the blue isn’t the only reason to compete – we compete to develop our skills and set goals!

At a competition, I try to focus my mind completely in my riding and my horse. Getting distracted by the audience doesn’t serve either of you and remember that if you are participating in a judged event the judge is there only to call the placings for your class. As simple as it may sound, I like to imagine that I am just in a schooling session at home. 

Focus on the positives of your performance and celebrate even the smallest successes. Even if you didn’t have the perfect trip around the courses, or you made a few mistakes in your test, try to list the positives. 

The smallest successes might mean your horse is usually distracted easily but today his focus was on your cues, you had clean transitions, or maybe the canter just felt really balanced – these are all worthy of celebrating!

On the other hand you can also find any holes in the foundation of your skills or your horse’s training, take them as homework that way next time you’ll be back in the ring better than ever!

And my final piece of advice is that you are your own competition, the only rider you need to beat is yourself. Strive to be better than your last show instead of worrying about what the other riders you are riding against are doing – not only does it make competing a lot more fun but you’ll grow as a sportsman and a horseman.

Thanks for reading, now I want to hear from you! 

Leave a comment below and share your favorite part of competing or what goals you have for the show ring!

P.S. When I’m not helping helping Callie create awesome content for all of you or riding I run a podcast with a friend, called the Canter Banter Podcast. We are just two friends chatting about all things horses, riding, and balancing riding as an adult rider! You can click here to give us a listen!



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39 Responses

  1. Kudos Julia! Very well written and lots of good advice. I like that you have a focus on improving your own and your horse’s performance rather than winning a ribbon.

    1. Thank you Lynn – I’ve never felt like the $2 ribbon is enough of a reason!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  2. I’ve been looking forward to this article today! I’m 48 and have only been riding 6 months, finally fulfilling a life-long dream. My lessons are the best thing I do during the week and I’m looking forward to someday competing in our school competitions, which seem pretty low-key. Your perspective was helpful for a complete newbie, so thank you, Julia!

    1. Glad it was helpful Marissa! Can’t wait to hear about your experiences in the future in the show ring 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  3. I haven’t competed yet. I am 43 years old! But, I have never been keen on the “competition atmosphere”. Your perspective has me thinking differently. I would great enjoy the challenge of the competition and the constant learning and growth! Thank you. You may have opened up a whole new avenue for me and my horses.

    1. I’m glad that I was able to show a different perspective – it is only a competition if you allow it to be 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  4. Fun to read, Julia! Well considered advice, too! Your recommendation to focus on only one element of riding or horsemanship per class is wise. I also appreciate your emphasis on sportsmanship, because that can lighten any tendency to worry about others and re-center one’s attention to the horse and the horse’s well-being in a busy or unfamiliar setting. I think my favorite ribbon from when I was a kid was Walk, Halt! The show ring seems far away now, but you’ve got me thinking!

    1. I’m glad I got your wheels spinning! 🙂 Sportsmanship is something that I think if we all make a point to support each other it would be a more welcoming environment for riders to try showing!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  5. I loved this Julia . You are quite an accomplished rider ! I have a goal to do a horses show , yes even as an older first time rider I’d love to do one . Reading this keeps that goal of mine going ! Loved your tips and pictures . Thanks for sharing with all of us

  6. I have never competed in a horse show in my life. The most that I’ve done is shows at the end of two different horse camps that I’ve been, one of which I still am, a part of, but I’ve yet to compete in any type of horse show. Therefore, I’m not really sure what my favorite thing about competing would be at the moment. To be honest, I’m still trying to decide if I want to show my horse or not. He’s over 20 years old and hasn’t been ridden in a quite a couple years, but I know he used to be able to do dressage moves and was shown during a duration of time before my aunt bought him. Since she passed away, I’ve owned him. I definitely want to ride him though and right now that’s my first goal with my horse. Once I accomplish that, then my goal is just to ride him as often as I am able after graduating from college and finishing up my college education. I’m sure, as time goes on, I’ll start having more goals regarding competing and trying to possibly do my first show. but at the moment, it’s a little early for me to start thinking about that right now. I haven’t read this article fully, but it looks like it contains a lot of good and useful advice regarding competing in horse shows, as well as how to prepare for one. I will definitely read it in full when I get the time. I happen to have just printed it out. Thank you so much for writing it!

    1. Hi Morgen, the best part is that you are the one who gets to decide if you want to show or not…if you try it and it isn’t for you then you don’t have to ever do it again 🙂 Think about breaking down those goals one at a time and see how you feel in a few months!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  7. Hi Julia! I loved reading your article. I’m really enjoying my time with my mule, Anna, by keeping our “working “ time in training short and our “ play” time long. For us our work is developing new skills and our play is anything from taking a walk and grazing to just standing together at rest. To me, our relationship is most important and in hand work, liberty and riding are all icing on the cake.

    1. Great attitude Beth, I love watching you and Anna grow together 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

    1. Thanks Ro! I know you like to get out and compete as well – maybe we’ll see you and Jelly in the show ring someday 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  8. Great article, Julia! I haven’t shown in 40 years, but maybe next year. With the help of Callie’s courses, I might be able to get my Arab ready for shows next year . . . we’ll see. I loved the local summer circuit here in Saskatchewan. Most of the competitors were very laid back and just out for a good time. Sure there was always competition, but for most, it was the comradery and just plain enjoyment of our Saskatchewan summers with our equine friends. Good luck with your jumping . . . always exciting and educational!

    1. Thank you Gaye! The way I think about it is that if you are ready for shows next year then great, but if you aren’t that is totally allowed 🙂 Sometimes if we put too much pressure on ourselves we can make things go backwards instead of progressing.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  9. Hi Julia!
    Perfect timing to have read your wonderful article just now… and your advice goes way beyond the show ring!
    I’m taking my horse into a new environment tomorrow — to a clinic for introduction to fox hunting. He’ll be trailered to a new location, meet new horses ( and hounds!) and it’ll be a whole different experience. So today our training was geared towards our connection, collection and the cues we’ll need to count on to make tomorrow a successful, safe day.
    What inspiration you and Callie give us all!

    1. Jacqueline, exactly the same principles that apply to showing apply to new experiences! Hope you enjoyed the clinic 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  10. Tomorrow is our first derby! Even though we can jump higher at home, we entered the “grasshopper” division for XC and walk/trot for dressage. I’m excited just to be able to go with my horse. We would not have even considered this a year ago, so it’s fantastic to see where we have progressed! Loved the article.

    1. Doing a Derby is on my horse show ‘to do’ list! Great point you brought up about showing lower than you are jumping at home – it is great for both you and your horse’s confidence! Can’t wait to hear about how your show went 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. Hey Julie, We came in second! We could have come in first had I not gotten “lost” in the dressage arena. Our warm-up was beautiful and I had the pattern in my head, but then somehow it flew out after I started the pattern and I was like, where am I? LOL. My coach says that’s an easy one to fix 🙂
        The cross country was fabulous and my horse and I went over all the jumps, and she jumped with enthusiasm.
        All in all a great first show! Thanks again for the nice article.

        1. Awesome! Great work Marika! That has also happened to me – that is why having a great coach to help you along the way is such a great help 🙂

          -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  11. Hi Julia – loved reading your article! Your enthusiasm shows through.
    The points you made about sportsmanship apply to all areas of life. And your article is a timely reminder for me!!!!
    Thanks for sharing!

  12. Perfect timing! I am going to my first schooling show today! I am 66 years old and getting into this game a little later in life lol! Loved all the great tips and reminder to just enjoy your horse and working at what you can do and not what you aren’t ready for. Thanks so much for this great article!

    1. Pam, I hope all went well. I am 58 and just did my first show too. I came to the sport at 56. I was so scared at the show and had so much fun since just being in the process was my goal. First place or last – does not matter since we get a blue ribbon for showing up in life! Onward!

  13. Thank you for the article! I been riding less than a year, English less than 6 months and have done a couple of schooling shows. I just switched trainers because my previous one was condescending and belittling and I wasn’t having any fun showing. In fact, I was miserable. As a former gymnast, dancer and aerialist, I love performing and competing so I new something was wrong. My new trainer is amazing, supportive and this last show was a great experience. Now I can enhance that by taking your advice and focusing on on one thing at a time!

    1. Piper, I’m glad to hear you made the switch and you are focusing on the most important part – having fun!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  14. Great article Julia! Something else that really helped me with my first show was talking through and practicing with our team at home the etiquette, flow and safety of the warm up arena. With so many riders in and out, with new horses being exposed to each other in a potentially small space, stimulation and the need for a high degree of constant awareness it can be a stressful part of the show if you’re not prepared for it. Also, just wanted to mention how blessed we feel within our regional circuit as all the teams cheer for each other. It’s such a wonderful feeling to have this high degree of sportsmanship & support and really sets a positive example for the younger riders! Thank you for all that you and Callie do and can’t wait for your jumping course to be released!

    1. Hi Wendy! I love hearing about barn communities coming together to support, educate, and encourage one another! The warm up ring, in my opinion, can be scarier than the show ring!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  15. Hi Julia. Thank you for the very affirming article. I participated in a local show for the very first time in July. What fun! The young ladies at the barn were very gracious in helping me to get my horse bathed, tack cleaned, and me ready for the show. I could not have done it without them. My trainer’s daughter schooled me a little before the show so I would have a feel for what to expect. I entered 2 classes, a flat class and a Hunter Under Saddle class. What fun! You’re right, it is not about the ribbons. It’s about what I’ve learned so far and whether or not I can put my learning into action. I made lots of mistakes, but those were counted as learning experiences, which I hoped to correct in the second show in August. Unfortunately, the second show was cancelled due to rain. I am looking forward to my next opportunity. Thank you for your words of wisdom and encouragement.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the show – what an awesome accomplishment! Can’t wait to hear about your second one goes 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  16. Great article, and informative show education Julia! Absolutely love you mentioned the training education, to focus on the positives, and that showing is not really about the ribbons. Thanks for sharing!

  17. I am so happy to read this article! This is exactly how I feel about Showing but have never been able to verbalize it. Now I feel like I have a reason to get out there and compete. And I have been listening to your podcast
    Thank you for writing this!

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed the article Rene 🙂 And thanks for being a Canter Banter Podcast listener!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

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