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Starting Out in the Open Show Ring

with Paul Austin

Horses have been a lifestyle for 30-plus years now. The journey with friends, family and clients has been nothing short of magical. Of course, we all have our fair share of issues, but the good and great times far outweigh those. I now have a team of 4-6 horses that attend most shows all over the east coast of Australia. My coaching sees me doing regular clinics in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and New Zealand.

A student of Paul’s, Willow Crouch, was the winner of her rider class at the 2024 Canberra Royal Show.

A student of Paul’s, Willow Crouch, was the winner of her rider class at the 2024 Canberra Royal Show.

What skill levels do you need to compete in the Open ring? You need to have control of the horse in all gaits. You need to be able to execute a set workout. Walk, trot and canter both directions with an established simple change.

I like to say you need power steering and ABS brakes. These are always best matched with an independent seat.

What basic equipment do you need to not look out of place? A neat fitting saddle and bridle, preferably leather and super clean. The saddle is best to be a dressage or show saddle. A numnah that is not too big and bulky. A show jacket is a must and should not be too big or too small. An approved felt helmet like a Charles Owen or alike. There are many options in the market with some absolute bargains these days for all of these products.

Are there memberships that are required to compete? There is no need for membership for agricultural shows. As you progress into Hack Shows, there will be some form of breed or society membership. Some associations offer day membership, too. Show Horse Council of Australasia and Equestrian Australia also offer show horse membership and shows in all states. It is always best to read programs and approach committees if unsure.

What is a basic outline of the rules & etiquette at a show? Do not be late for classes. Take direction from the marshall or steward who is looking after the ring you are competing in. Know what class you are in, be courteous, and thank them always. Don’t stand in the gateways where horses are trying to enter rings. Be thoughtful and always kind.

If you can, watch a few classes before yours. Look at how they are running the ring and the type of workouts the judge is giving. This is called Ringcraft.

Generally you will enter the ring at walk and the judge and/or steward will then announce to competitors what needs to be done. Normally a walk, trot and canter on the left rein as a minimum. The judge will then call in their selected horses for an individual workout.

Quite simply, follow directions, look at what is happening around the ring, and be alert and attentive.

Upon ribbon awarding, leave the ring in order of placing, and show good sportsmanship. If you are eligible for a Champion or Reserve, be sure to be ready to compete when needed.

How do you prepare in the lead-up to the event? Make sure you know where you are going. Make sure you have cash for gate entry if needed. Clean gear, clean horse, and be well-organised.

What is your preparation the day before? The day before, we will work the horse perhaps a little longer than normal. Make sure you have your ABS installed as previously mentioned.

Make sure all gear is actually packed. We ask ourselves, do we have everything we need to get in the ring? Helmet, saddle, girth etc.

Other things to pack: Plenty of food for the horse and water buckets. Correctly filled out permits if needed. Registration papers if competing in classes that may need it (generally breed classes). We always have an extra halter and lead; you never know if you or the person next door may need one. Sunscreen and fly spray are always recommended.

What is a good routine for show day? Set your alarm early. We will always feed our horses their normal breakfast at home, giving them time to eat where they are happy so their bellies are full. Nice for them, especially before they travel.

Get to the show and give yourself plenty of time to nominate, park and prepare. Depending on the horse, we may give the horse a good lunge and then get on and go for a ride. Familiarise them with the arena and show them the scary stuff. In a show environment, horses will always be more stimulated; there’s a lot to look at. Be prepared to have to work them a bit harder before your first class so their mind is on the job. You will often see horses spirited in the first class, and then, by the time they get to the end of the day, they will be humming along. Work them that bit longer in the morning. You will enjoy the day that much more.

If your horse needs 10 minutes of warm-up under saddle, perhaps skip the led class so you are not rushing to get back in the ring on time. Of course, this depends on the horse, schedule and how the rings are run.

Paul with student Madeline Gaden and her horse Xtra Riches of Sefton after claiming the Grand National Champion Large Galloway in 2023. Photo: Lisa Gordon

Paul with student Madeline Gaden and her horse Xtra Riches of Sefton after claiming the Grand National Champion Large Galloway in 2023. Photo: Lisa Gordon

What are the positives to take away from showing? Do it with friends and family. Support each other. You get to showcase your horse and all the day-in-day-out work you have put in at home. Remember, there are always more judges on the outside of the ring and always another show tomorrow. Always reflect on the way home. What did we do well today, what went wrong, what can I do better? The ribbons are a bonus; the fun, photos and memories are worth so much more.

Anything relevant you wish to add to anyone who is thinking of transitioning or starting out in the show ring? There are some truly beautiful people in the show world. Many are willing to offer guidance, support and ideas. Never be afraid to ask questions, and the biggest thing is to do it because you love the horse first.

Video calling is changing the way you interact with people all over the country. I teach every week in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Tasmania, and even New Zealand. Help and support are literally a video call away.

Showing has been the training ground for many Olympic equestrian athletes. Give it a go, and you may be surprised by how much you learn and the amazing people you meet along the way.

Personally, I am always happy to offer support and opinions to anyone, so please reach out.

I am also very lucky to have the long-time support of some fantastic sponsors. Edwards Saddleworld – Toowoomba, Kelato Animal Health, Judges Choice Australia, Equissage, Barastoc and DQ Saddlery.

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