Everything you wanted to know about going to a horse show!
For horse shows there is the “pre show”, “during show” and “after show” phases. I’ll try to cover all the important information for each.
BEFORE THE HORSE SHOW:
Entries: You must send in an entry for almost every show. (The exception is the little ATF fun shows, like the Halloween show.) You MUST ask Alison what level to enter. Whatever barn is hosting the event will have an entry. Usually it is found online at their website.
Opening/Closing Entry dates: You will find an opening date and closing date on the entry. The opening day is when they will start to accept entries. Some shows will receive more entries than they can accept. They will take the first entries they receive. The Groton House show is like this. To have the best odds of getting your entry accepted, you should mail your entry on the opening date. The closing date is the last date they will accept entries. Some shows may accept entries after the closing date with a late fee.
Fees: There is a cost to attend the show. The money goes to paying for judges, maintaining the facility, rentals, and paying for new jumps, footing, etc. The show fee must be included with your entry. The entry will ask for your horse’s name. For most schooling shows, just enter “ATF Horse”. The entry will also ask for a “coggins”. The “coggins” is a blood test to see if horses have the virus that causes Equine Infectious Anemia. Our horses are tested every year and we get a printout of the results to send with entries. Alison has the coggins online and can give you a copy or will bring them to the show for all our horses.
Additional fees: Apple Tree also has fees to take you to a show. There is a coaching fee that covers Alison’s work day and there are trailering fees. These cover the cost of the truck and trailer which must be regularly maintained to keep them safe for our horses. If you are sharing a horse, the trailering fee can be split between the riders.
Dressage Tests: Every show can choose between the A and B dressage test for each level. It will tell you what test to learn on the entry or the farm’s website. It is your responsibility to look that up and learn the correct test. We will do our best to give you an opportunity to practice your test during lessons, but it is very difficult to also teach you the test while lessons are going on. Please come to your lesson already knowing the pattern.
XC schooling: Alison takes people to local XC facilities frequently throughout the summer to practice riding XC. There is a fee to the facility we go to as well as a fee for Alison’s time. We highly recommend that you take advantage for any XC schoolings that are offered, even if you don’t necessarily have a show coming up. We cannot guarantee that we will be able to take you right before the show. Weather, horse availability, your availability, lesson schedule, etc. all can get in the way of taking you schooling.
Attire: For cross country you can wear any color combinations that you would like. Dressage: For some schooling shows they may allow neat casual attire, which generally means no dressage coats. In that case you can wear a neat polo shirt with little writing on it. Please check with Alison before the show to make sure you know what to wear if it doesn’t say specifically on the entry. For jumping, all riders must wear a medical arm band. They can be bought at most tack shops. For XC jumping, you must wear a jumping vest.
DAY BEFORE THE SHOW:
Bathing/Tack Cleaning: Horses and tack need to be clean and packed in the trailer before we go to a show. Manes also need to be braided (unless otherwise stated). Most shows occur on Sundays, which means you must wait until after Saturday lessons to begin. At first, tack cleaning, bathing, and braiding will take 2-3 hours, so please plan for that. As you become more experienced, it will go quicker. Work can be split up between all riders sharing the horse. There is limited supervision at the barn during these times, so parents need to plan to be at the barn as well. The trailer also needs to be packed with hay and water for the horses. Alison will instruct riders on how much needs to be packed. The barn must be left neat and tidy before you leave. The wash rack must be picked up, string thrown away, brushes put away, etc.
Horse Selection: Ahh, finally the big question! How we assign horses is a complex algebraic algorithm that involves many hours. In truth, the first part of the equation is that Alison needs to know who signed up for the show. When she sends out emails with show options, you need to respond and tell her that you will be entering. The faster that happens, the faster she can assign horses. Once we know all the riders going, we match up the horse with the riders skills. We consider the abilities, age, and fitness of the horse, the levels that have been entered by the riders, and the abilities and experience of the riders. A 3-phase is very physically demanding on a horse, so they cannot be ridden by more than 1-2 riders.
Please go to the ATF website Calendar page and follow the link to sign up for shows you will be entering.
If you want to guarantee being able to ride a particular horse, you need to bribe Alison… no just kidding, you need to lease the horse. They always have first dibs!
DAY OF THE SHOW:
Times: Horse shows are ALL DAY AFFAIRS. Please plan accordingly. Being a large show barn, we will undoubtedly have the first and last riders of the day. We will leave ridiculously early and get back late. The rider is responsible for their horse’s care all day. (If two riders are sharing the horse they can split up the day) This also includes going back to the barn and putting the horse away!
The show will issue you a dressage and jumping time. These will be published online usually 1-2 days before the show. You must be warmed up and ready when it's your time. You may not have enough time to warm up if you are not careful and plan accordingly.
Alison will decide on a departure time in the morning. You will likely need to come ½ hour before that to load up the horse into the trailer. There are some exceptions made for our littlest riders. We cannot determine the departure time until the show releases the rider times. This may not be until 1-2 days before the show.
Parent Presence: If you child is under 18, parents are expected to be at the show. This is for safety reasons. While we do everything to avoid this situation, if a child is hurt and needs to go to the hospital, Alison cannot leave the show grounds and take them!
Getting to the show: Alison’s truck can only take about 3-4 people. Please don’t assume Alison can take your child to the show and you will meet us there!
Course Walking: Part of your coaching fees include Alison or another ATF instructor walking the XC and Stadium courses with you. Often the only time to walk is before the show starts. That means we need to show up EXTRA EARLY to walk all the different levels. You are expected to walk the courses with a trainer. It is not optional. Our experience and skills will allow us to instruct you on how to ride each fence. After the official course walk, it is recommended that you walk the XC and stadium courses 2-3 additional times so you remember where to go. You must plan your day accordingly to leave time for all this course walking. You can get eliminated for going off course.
Getting Ready: As a general rule, it will probably take you about ½ hour to tack your horse up and get ready for each phase. You should be on about ½ hour before your dressage time to warm up your horse. For stadium and XC it only takes about 15-20 minutes to warm up the horse. Many schooling shows have you go straight to XC after stadium, so you will show up for stadium in your XC attire. All jumping phases require a medical arm band. Don’t forget it! You cannot jump without it. You are responsible for keeping track of your day to make sure you are not late!
During the day: Horses need to be walked, given water, and hay bags refilled throughout the day. You are responsible for the horse you are riding, so you must return to the trailer frequently to check on them. If a horse is off the trailer, please clean up their spot in the trailer so they don’t have to return to a dirty spot. Do this for all horses, not just your own.
Scoring: The scores in eventing are based on penalties, so the lowest score wins. That’s the score with the fewest penalties. The dressage test scores each movement on a scale 1-10 (10= good). They add all your movements together, do some fancy math, and change the total into a penalty score. So you want a low number. The stadium and XC phases will add penalties for mistakes that are made, such as refusing a jump, knocking down a rail, making circles in stadium, etc. If you do stadium and XC perfectly, nothing will be added to your dressage score. You can also get eliminated for making BIG MISTAKES! If you fall off, get lost on XC, have too many stops/runouts, etc. You are responsible for knowing all the rules! Most events follow the rules established by the United States Eventing Association. Here is a link to the rulebook. You should read and understand all the rules so you don’t get eliminated!
AFTER THE HORSE SHOW:
When you are done your three phases, you must check the score boards to make sure no mistakes have been made. If you think your score is incorrect, talk to Alison and she will instruct you on what to do. After scores are posted, there is a 30 minute protest period. Ribbons are distributed after that. Sometimes we may ask a parent to hang back and pick up the ribbons if the day is getting late. Make sure to pick up your dressage test from the show secretary. This will have important feedback that you’ll want to improve upon for next time. It’s a good idea to show Alison or your regular instructor this so they can help you on specific skills.
When we return to ATF, the horses must be unloaded, put away and fed. You are responsible for the horse that you took to the show. After that, all riders meet in the trailer to clean out the stalls and restock the hay nets. Once the trailer is clean, then the tack can be unloaded. If there is an overabundance of people cleaning the trailer, some may go and start unloading tack. Please unload everyone’s tack, not just your own! Please consult Alison or one of the older helpers to see if everything is done before you leave!
Horse shows are really a lot of fun! We will do everything we can to assure you have a fun and educational day. While we love to see our riders bring home the ribbons, eventing is a tough sport and takes a long time to get really good at. It’s one of the hardest of the horse sports. You have to train for three different disciplines! Unlike other horse shows where you might come home with 6 easily earned ribbons, in eventing, all three phases count towards one final score. Depending on how many riders are in your division, you may not get a ribbon. Don’t be discouraged though. Eventing takes time and patience, but you will improve. At first your goal should be to complete all three phases. Then you should aim to complete all three phases with no penalties. Then you should improve your dressage score so you finish higher in the rankings… and then…. You should worry about ribbons! Good luck!
But how do I get better FASTER??????? Riding once a week is tough if you want to improve quickly. Most of us that compete a lot ride 5-6 days a week! If owning is not in the books for you, consider leasing a horse. A half lease will allow you to ride an extra 2-3 days a week. Ask Alison what horses are available right now for lease!