WinningIt is a given fact that people go to the horse show wanting to win the ribbons. The idea of competing (in anything) is to outperform our peers in a particular activity, and competitions at their core are about success and achievement . The problem arises when the goal turns into winning that ribbon.

Many riders get caught up in their placings at the horse shows. They want to win first place, acquire points, be better than the other people and prove how great their horses are.

Then they are disappointed when their goals are not achieved. Their horse spooks, or something small goes wrong, and their vision of achievement fades to nothingness.

It's no wonder that they leave disgruntled and disappointed. In getting "competitive", they forget the real purpose behind showing: seeing if you can perform at your best under pressure and find out how you fare in comparison to the standards of the discipline.

Here are five sure-fire ways that will prepare you to do your best at the show:

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1. There is only one way to be competitive.

And that way is to NOT be there to compete against everyone else. The only person you are trying to beat is yourself. The idea is to perform personal bests, achieving a higher level of success than you did last time.

What were some problems you ran into last show? What were some things you worked on at home? Are you able to break through those problems this time at the show?

If you can do better than last time, rest assured, success will follow your hoofprints!

2. Set Goals

Before heading out to the show, set three realistic goals you want to achieve. Your aim is to do all the prerequisites up to and including those goals.

For example, if you had trouble keeping your horse round at the last show, this time, your aim could be to keep up a steady rhythm, keep the horse moving strong through his back and develop a balancing but soft contact that helps the horse stay round.

Whatever your goals, make them reasonable and achievable, knowing that thanks to the distractions of the unfamiliar surroundings (for both you and your horse), your performance at the show will likely be 50% weaker than what you produce at home.

3. Focus on the Goals

No matter what distracts you at the show, focus on the goals you set for yourself. Even if the sky falls around you, your mission is to meet those goals.

Do not focus on trying to make a placing. The minute you start thinking about beating others is the same minute you lose sight of why you went to the show in the first place. You are not in control of how the judge places you and how the other competitors perform. But you are in control of what you do and how you work with your horse in the show environment.

4. Win Your Ribbons at Home First

This one is the easiest but also the toughest part. If you can be patient enough to "win" your ribbons at home first, before you ever enter the show, you are well on your way to being successful when you do step foot into the show ring.

How do you win ribbons at home? You decide how well your performance should be, then work on it until you think you would have done well in a competitive environment. After a little practice, you will be able to pinpoint a "ribbon-winning ride" every time, whether it was at home, at someone else's barn, or at a clinic. You don't really need a competitive environment to win ribbons - give yourself a mental ribbon each time you can meet your own expectations!

5. Prepare for the unexpected.

Things don't go as planned on show day. Be ready for that, and be able to forgive yourself and your horse if everything doesn't fall into place at the same time. There is such thing as luck and it does play a factor in everything we do, and luck at the show is no exception. There are so many variables involved in producing your best performance at any given time that it is quite something when it all does come together nicely!

Going to the show should not be about the ribbons - it's about winning ribbons "at home", setting achievable goals and reaching your own personal bests. Get out there and have fun!

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We're commemorating the event by compiling the top 20 most popular articles from the blog, covering topics such as:
- rider position (hands, seat, legs, elbows, upper body)
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Read more about showing here:

So Ya Think Ya Got Something to Prove? Then don’t go to the show. Seriously.

Top 6 Ways to Ramp It Up For Show Season: Preparing for the show season may not be as easy as it looks. There are many aspects that go into getting to the show ring, and even more that need to be done before you even set your first trailer tires onto the road.

Be Productive With Your Nervous Energy at the Horse Show: The tension that builds in you during the warm-up ride can be very useful if you know what to do with it.

Do You Have the “X Factor” at the Horse Show? Finding your “X Factor” at the show is not an easy feat. So many things must fall together all at the same time.


  1. Excellent post. When people focus on the ribbon, the horse often suffers the consequences as the rider (or coach) is willing to do “whatever it takes” and get results quickly. And often short cuts in training are taken that use some sort of force. Getting the best out of yourself and your horse happens when you are both calm and confident. Putting pressure on yourself to win that ribbon does that opposite by increasing your performance anxiety and stress levels. And, as you point out in #5, there are so many factors out of your control. Focusing on being prepared and staying in the moment help you and your horse perform at your best.

  2. Great article, again! I’m heading off to a hunter/jumper show this weekend, so this post is perfectly timed. I couldn’t agree more with your “Win your ribbons at home” tip. If I can’t ride a lovely 2’6″ hunter course at home, I shouldn’t enter that division at the show. The show grounds are also situated next to the track where my Thoroughbred raced for five years, so I need to expect that the bugle call and other sounds of the race track will distract him.

  3. Excellent article. The old comment “ride the horse you brought, not the one you want to have” comes to mind. You cannot suddenly achieve a higher level of ability on yourself or the horse simply because everyone around you is of a higher level. You can only hope to show at the level you have been doing at home. It’s all about practice, consistency and preparedness. Many riders loose a class or a show by simply not being ready. Showing can be fun, and rewarding as long as the ribbons don’t become the only reason for being there. Riding the best class/pattern/round you can is it’s own reward, when everything comes together!

  4. We have had both. My daughter won 1st place in two classes and then the Championship round in her first show. The 2nd show we came in 4th. We were confused. Then we really had our wake up show reality call. Horse spooks in 3rd show, throws my daughter off, and heads for the highway. She was able to get back on him after he was retrieved and came in 2nd and 3rd. I think that was a good sportsmanship award for that!

  5. I went to a schooling show last year – my first dressage show in 25 years. I was riding my trainer’s Dutch Warmblood mare who was 21 years old. I had been riding her for 2 years. The temperature was 95. She was quiet and calm hacking around the grounds. The warm-up was terrific. We entered the ring rocking the centerline and all of a sudden she exploded! Spins, bucks, all sorts of nonsense. I didn’t panic and never lost my seat. Once I calmed her, the judge gave me a lecture about the horse being dangerous. This mare was not dangerous. She had extensive show experience. She was opinionated – of course. As I left the ring spectators congratulated me. My trainer was proud of me. Neither one of us could have predicted that this mare would act like she was on crack. I wasn’t angry that I couldn’t get through the test. The unexpected happened and I handled it. That probably built my confidence more than a blue ribbon!

    1. Congrats. Nothing like keeping your cool in a sticky situation. I had something similar happen to me once and the judge’s comment was something like, “Disobedient. Well handled.” That sort of comment does a lot to help develop confidence…

  6. Well done for teaching me lots of things!! Last year I won a big trophie on my pony Spider and I had to give it back and I’m going to the same show today and I reall wanted to win it again but now I’m just conserntrated on keeping Spider’s head carrage good because that’s what my instructer always says to me but can you reply on how I do that, hopefully you can!! X this was great well done X