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Your First Pony: It’s Show Time

This article is from the January 2020 Horse Deals magazine.

Going to your first horse show can be both very exciting and nerve-racking all at the same time; as there is so much to experience!

PG Peskett Photography

PG Peskett Photography

Planning & Preparation

Start planning several months ahead of time; so you and your pony can get lots of practise which is needed, whilst you start to get all the extra bits and pieces together for the show ring. Get mum or dad to get your horse shampoo and conditioner from the saddler; as the products they sell are designed for animals and do not contain harsh chemicals. The saddler also sells starter show kits. This could be of help if you do not have any show equipment at hand. Old towels are very handy to have.

There are many videos on YouTube on how to plait and prepare a pony for the show ring. I suggest you watch a few of these before starting on your own pony. Practise plaiting your pony’s mane and forelock as many times as you can before your first show date.

Find a Suitable Show

There are many types of horse shows which are held at various locations around the country. I suggest you start at one of the local shows being held in your area; and one that has a novice or beginner ring.

For your first few shows stick to the novice or beginner rings. Most often than not, a show program of the event will have been printed and circulated with all the classes and rings stated.

So, once you have found the show that you are going to take your pony to, you will need a few tips on how to catch the judge’s eye.

Washing Your Pony

The day before the show, it should be spent washing your pony and paying a lot of attention to his tail, as many judges will have a good look at the dock area (that is where his tail hair grows out from). Be careful when washing around his head area; try and avoid getting shampoo in his eyes and water in his ears.

Once you pony has been washed, excess water scraped off and you have towelled your pony down; pop a dry towel over his back to keep his kidneys warm; this is a good time to plait him up, as his mane will be damp and so will be easier to plait.

A comfortable skinny hood is ideal to help keep his plaits together overnight; as well as clean rugs to help keep him shiny and dust-free, but be careful not to overheat him.

Arrive Early

Horse shows are busy places. There will be a lot of different things happening and your pony may get a bit frightened; try to arrive at the show a couple of hours prior to starting time, so that you can have a calm walk around with your pony to familiarise your pony with the immediate surroundings.

Led Classes

This is a class where you do not put the saddle on your pony, only his bridle, as the judge looks at his conformation and type. Make sure you are leading your pony correctly, lead him on his left side and place him between you and the judge; walk at a brisk pace by his shoulder and have a good contact with his head, as it’s very important to show that he has a nice forward walk.

Judges will ask you to trot him out and then back towards them; this is so that they can see his straightness and movement; once again run at a brisk pace so your pony has the opportunity to show off the length of his trot without becoming unbalanced, or breaking into a canter.

Try not to run over the judge when moving back to them… when you halt – stop in front of the judge - try and make your pony stand square and straight.

Smartest on Parade Classes

Judges will firstly look at the overall appearance of both you and your pony, under saddle, going around in a circle; the judge will then line you up with the other competitors to take a closer look at your pony, tack and you.

Your pony’s coat needs to be clean and shiny, with no manure stains, dust or dirt on him. His hooves should be polished with either a hoof shine or hoof black. Your saddle and bridle must be clean and well conditioned, with the bit and strip irons clean and well polished. Your riding attire should be neat, clean and well-fitting; with your hair tied back or put up into a hairnet under your helmet. It is the attention to detail that will help get you over the line in each of these classes.

Rider and Ridden Classes

This is when all your hard work and practise pays off. In both classes, it is very important that your pony works well and behaves in an acceptable manner (not running around the ring in an uncontrolled manner). This is when all your practise and training gets put to the test.

The judge may ask you, and the other competitors in your class, to work out on the circle; so give yourself plenty of space and listen closely for the commands that the judge, or ring steward, may give you to carry out. For example; walk on, trot please, canter on, change rein through the middle and so on; and if you are lucky enough, the judge will call you in and give you a ribbon.

A good point to remember is that at all times when you are in the ring the judges as well as the onlookers eyes are upon you; even when standing in the line-up and the judge is looking at another pony working out, make sure your pony is standing up properly and you are sitting up straight; as the judge could look back at you and your pony to compare it with the pony and rider that is working out at the time.

Height Terms:

A pony does not exceed 14hh
A galloway is over 14hh and does not exceed 15hh
A hack is over 15hh


Even though you may be very nervous, try and remember to always be polite and well mannered when out competing; as all judges will not like a bad-mannered and a sour-faced person on a pony. Always congratulate the placegetters as they too have worked very hard to get there.

Watch and Learn

Take the opportunity to watch a few of the experienced riders and their horses as they compete in the open classes; you will see how they prepare and show off their horses and ponies; and try to remember that even those really experienced people were once beginners, just like you. Instead of thinking of them as the competition, try to see them as talented people from which you will learn a lot from.

Most of all, remember to have fun, enjoy yourself, and gain invaluable experience — hopefully this will be your first horse show of many.

Happy horsing around

with Catherine Shelley

NCAS EA SSTA/ CE Level 2 General Coach, NCAS Level 1 RDA Coach, Dip. of TB racing -
Melton Equestrian accredited with EA Ready, Set, Trot program.

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