Horse showing is tough. The early mornings and long days. The seemingly endless work to be done. Then, a thrilling win makes you feel on top of the world. Why do we do it? After all of the hard work, it feels good to accomplish something along with the other members of the equestrian community. It’s fulfilling to take care of our horses, work with them and watch them succeed. It’s tough, but triumphant. Why do people run horse shows? For the same reasons. It’s truly a labor of love. If you have never had the chance to get a first-hand look at how horse shows operate, now is your chance. In this post, I’ll convince you that you should not only take a look but get involved - it will make your own horse showing experience better.
Why Get Involved? Have you ever wished there were more horse shows near you? More classes that fit what you’re looking for? More prize money available to win? Horse show managers work hard to provide opportunities for all kinds of horses and riders. But what you may not see is horse show managers already clocking crazy amounts of hours to handle every aspect of the horse show. The support staff provide an incredible team, but typically they have full-time jobs outside of showing or bounce around to various shows. And with all of the staffing shortages around the world, the horse show world is no different. Plus, it can be very expensive to put on a horse show, hire staff and provide prizes - issues that might affect what a horse show can offer or convince a show manager not to bother hosting a horse show. If you want to see something different at the horse shows you attend, reach out to the horse show manager and ask to get involved. There are so many ways to provide assistance, and be the change that you want to see. You can get a group of friends together to do it with you, and you may even inspire others to follow your lead. In that way, even a small effort on your part can generate a big change!
"Working on the management side of horse shows truly opened my eyes to so many elements of competition that I had never seen as a rider. It's so easy to be consumed by your own experience, but the more riders can get involved with the operations of a show the more they will understand the reasons behind why decisions are made. This understanding leads to the conversations and ideas that will ultimately support the evolution of our sport in a meaningful and impactful way" says Amanda Diefenderfer, show manager at the Paso Robles Horse Park in California.
I’m In! What Can I Do?
For the organized rider:
● Before the Show Preparations ○ Planning ribbons and prizes ○ Planning special events and hospitality ○ Creating or updating the prize list ○ Assigning stabling
● During the Show Organization ○ Getting ribbons to the correct rings in the mornings ○ Assisting in the horse show office ○ Help get any snack stations or lunch areas organized
For the energetic rider:
● Horse show check ups ○ Walking the show grounds and making sure there is toilet paper, paper towels, eating stations are clean, trash is in trash cans, barns areas are tidy, secretary office is clean, etc.
● Running judges cards to the horse show office
● Help get lunches, snacks and water to the judges
● Volunteer for jump crew
For the tech-savvy rider:
● Social Media ○ You can reach out to horse show managers and ask if they need any assistance posting to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Tiktok. ○ Some shows may not have a social media presence - so you could offer to start a profile for them! ○ Offer to set up a poster board at the horse show with the handles for each social account and any hashtags the horse show uses. That way people will remember to tag the horse show - the horse show can “share” the content to show their appreciation for the support!
● Ringside ○ Ask the show manager if they would be willing to use RingSide Pro! It’s a simple service that allows horse show staff to send text message alerts out to people across the show grounds. ○ You can volunteer to keep an eye on the rings and send out any info about schedule changes, ring delays, etc. Or hang out in the show office and send out any special announcements, reminders, or heads-ups for the next day’s schedule.
For the studious rider:
● Ask to shadow horse show staff such as the office secretaries, in-gate starters, show manager or even the judge or course designer! ○ If reaching out to a judge, it’s best to avoid any shows where you may know the competitors so they can get a truly candid experience with a judge. ○ “All of these positions help give people a new perspective on the big picture of the decisions show staff have to make to balance both the competitor in need that is in front of them and the overall big picture of what benefits everyone at the show the most” says Amanda Diefenderfer.
● Learn about USEF programs to become a certified judge, steward, schooling supervisor, etc. ○ Having more local licensed officials helps horse shows lower costs by reducing travel costs. ○ Plus, it’s a structured way to learn a skill that you can be paid for at a horse show.
For the creative rider:
● Create a “Photo Op” station at the show for riders to take pictures with their ribbons.
● Ask if the prize list needs cover art - you could create it!
● Ask to be an assistant or intern for the horse show photographer.
● If the horse show website has a blog, ask to write a post from the rider’s perspective.
For the eco-friendly rider:
● Create water stations to refill reusable water bottles.
● Research if recycling bins or compost bins can be added to the show grounds.
● Collect shavings bags to be recycled.
● Create a “ribbon recycle” program to save any ribbons that would be thrown away.
● Check out other options provided by Green Is the New Blue: https://www.greenisthenewblue.org.
One (or more) of these ideas won’t take up much of your time and will make a big difference to the horse show! "There are so many aspects that go into putting on a successful horse show. For the smaller boutique shows, like Deep Run Horse Show, where we rely on volunteers to help run and organize the show, anytime we can have knowledgeable people willing to help out is an added bonus for us” says Allison Whittemore of the Deep Run Horse Show in Virginia. Want to reach out to a horse show manager to get started? Jessi Lohman from the Maryland Horse and Pony show says to keep in mind that “no matter the avenue you'd like to pursue in working at horse shows - professionalism, reliability, clear communication and exemplary customer service are paramount. There isn't a single role on the show grounds that doesn't involve the need for a great customer service skill set.”
Don’t have the time to help out in person? Donations and sponsorships are some great ways to support horse shows without a time commitment.
● If you have a business, you can promote it by donating some of your goods or gift cards for your services.
● Most horse shows will let you designate what the prize will be for - the winner of a class or division, a trainer award, a best turned out award, a sportsmanship award or even a raffle!
● Another great way to promote your business is by sponsoring RingSide Pro textmessage alerts at the show! It is an easy way to both: ○ Provide an incredibly helpful tool to riders so that they can get text messages about what’s happening around the horse show and ○ Get info about your business in front of riders, trainers and parents
● Even without a business to promote, horse shows love assistance from individuals and families via cash sponsorships or donated prizes! You might be surprised how affordable it is and how big of a difference it makes.
● Some horse shows, such as the Deep Run Horse Show, are 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. This designation allows you to write-off donations via sponsorships. No matter how you choose to get involved, horse shows will only improve with support from more people. So grab some friends and get started!