A Horse show is a judged exhibition of horses and ponies.
Many different horse breeds and equestrian disciplines hold
competitions worldwide, from local to the international
levels. Most horse shows run from one to three days,
sometimes longer for major, all-breed events or national and
international championships in a given discipline or breed.
Most shows consist of a series of different performances,
called classes, wherein a group of horses with similar
training or characteristics compete against one another for
awards and, often, prize money.
The United States Equestrian Federation is the American
national body for equestrian sport and as such is also the
recognized entity overseeing the Olympic-level United States
Equestrian Team. It also organizes and sponsors horse shows
for many horse breeds who wish to utilize the drug testing,
judge certification and standardize rulemaking process of
the USEF. In addition, it sanctions events in disciplines
and lower-level competitive areas that are not
internationally recognized, such as show hunter and
equitation. Other US organizations such as the National
Cutting Horse Association , United States Eventing
Association (USEA) and United States Dressage Federation (USDF)
organize competitions for specific disciplines, such as
Cutting, and some breed organizations such as the American
Quarter Horse Association sanction their own breed-specific
Horse shows in the United States take several forms: Some
are restricted to a particular breed, others are "open" or
"all-breed" horse shows, which offer both classes open to
all breeds as well as breed-specific classes for many
different breeds. In the last few decades, American "open"
horse shows have tended to become specialized by discipline
into hunter-jumper or "sport horse" shows, dressage shows,
and shows featuring Western riding events. However, there
are still some multi-day, all-breed events that feature
multiple breeds and disciplines.
In the United Kingdom there is a distinct difference between
"horse competitions" such as dressage or eventing and horse
shows. Horse shows provide an opportunity for riders and
owners to exhibit their animals without taking part in any
of the Olympic disciplines. Classes are divided into ridden
and in-hand sections and there are many different classes
for different horses and ponies. For example, there are
classes for Mountain and Moorland pony breeds, show hunters,
show hacks, equitation, and various show pony classes. Many
clubs hold riding club classes, where a horse or pony must
perform a short "show" (solo performance) and jump a single
fence which varies in height from 2 feet to 3 feet 3 inches.
Most shows also include show jumping and working hunter
The British Horse Society oversees many shows at national,
regional and local level as does the Pony Club, the British
Show Pony Society and the British Show Horse Association.
Breed societies, particularly those which look after the
Welsh pony and the Arabian horse also organise their own
shows. At local, unaffiliated level, riding clubs across
Britain organise regular shows, which are often staffed by
volunteers. The newly formed Showing Council is working
towards officially overseeing all horse shows (non-FEI
The Olympic equestrian disciplines are overseen by the
British Equestrian Federation. However, there are several
subdivisions within the federation. Dressage competitions
are held separately from regular horse shows, and are
overseen by British Dressage. Show jumping competitions are
overseen by the British Show Jumping Association (BSJA),
while one day and three day eventing are overseen by British
Horse shows in Australia are governed by the Equestrian
Federation of Australia.
The governing body for Equestrian activities in Canada is
Equine Canada (EC). Depending on the type of competition,
some activities are run in a manner similar to their
counterparts in the USA, others more closely resemble those
in the UK.
A saddle seat class lined up and awaiting awards
There are a range of competitive equestrian events available
and specific offerings range widely by nation and even by
region within a given country. However, in North America,
most horse shows provide the following range of classes:
The English riding classes fall into two primary styles,
hunt seat and saddle seat. "Hunt type" or sport horse
classes include dressage, show jumping and show hunters,
Eventing (also called horse trials), and English pleasure or
Hunter Under Saddle, also known as a "flat" class, where the
event is judged on presentation, manners and rideability of
the horse). "Saddle seat" or "Saddle type" classes are all
on the flat and are mostly variations on English Pleasure,
though the high action "Park" style classes differ because
they emphasize brilliant trotting action. Equitation classes
judge the form and ability of the rider.
Show jumping, eventing and dressage are sometimes called
"Olympic" events, because they are the equestrian sports
included in the Olympic Games.
Western or Stock horse competition includes working cattle
events, such as cutting, team penning and working cow horse
in the USA, and campdrafting in Australia. They also include
"dry" classes (without cattle) that include western
pleasure, reining and equitation.
There are also specialized classes for draft horse showing,
and a number of events for horses and ponies driven in
harness, including Fine Harness classes for Saddle Seat-type
horses, Roadster classes that use equipment similar to that
of harness racing, and the FEI-sanctioned sport of combined
driving. Miniature horses also have their own shows, with a
number of specialized classes.
Most horse shows offer Halter classes, also called
"breeding," "conformation," or "In-hand" classes. In these
classes the horse is led without a saddle, not ridden, and
its conformation and gaits are judged. To train young
equestrians in halter showing techniques, horse showmanship
classes (also called Showmanship in hand or youth
showmanship), are offered. They are the halter equivalent of
equitation, in that the handler, not the horse, is judged on
his or her abilities.
Classes may be broken down by the age of horse or rider, by
the number of first place ribbons earned by horse or rider,
and by size or breed of horse (or pony). In addition, there
is a near-infinite range of regional or specialty classes
that may be offered. Various types of costume classes are
frequently offered; sidesaddle classes are common; a "leadline"
or "walk-trot" division may be offered for small children or
very inexperienced riders; and assorted "freestyle" classes,
where a horse and rider perform a routine set to music, are
Rodeos and horse pulling competitions are not technically
horse shows, but they are competitive equestrian events,
often with a great deal of prize money. Equestrian vaulting
is not usually seen at ordinary horse shows, even though it
is an FEI-recognized equestrian sport. Games, such as
Gymkhana or O-Mok-See competition are usually held
separately from ordinary horse shows, though a few of these
"speed" events may be thrown in as "fun classes,"
particularly at 4-H, Pony Club, and other small shows.
Prize money is sometimes awarded, particularly at larger
competitions. The sum varies by the placing of the rider,
the prestige of the show, and the difficulty of the class.
Horse Shows do not offer cash purses as large as those the
thoroughbred racing industry, though a few of the biggest
show jumping, cutting and reining competitions may offer
purse money into the low five figures. However, most show
horses in the United States, especially those at the amateur
levels, rarely win significant cash prizes during their show
career. At best, a solid competitor might break even on
entry fees and, if they are quite lucky, cover some travel
expenses. Most money made from showing horses is indirectly
earned by breeding fees paid for top horses, the sale of
their offspring, or from the training fees paid to top
Trophies are usually awarded to the first place horse in a
class, depending on the size of the show. In a championship
event, trophies may be awarded to both the champion and the
reserve champion, and at a national or international show,
trophies are sometimes given to the top five to ten
Medals are given at international events such as the World
Equestrian Games and the Olympics. Usually only three
medals, Gold, Silver, and Bronze, are awarded to the top
three individuals or teams.
Ribbons are often given for the top placings in a class.
Often ribbons are given through the top six place entries,
although some of the larger shows may award ribbons to the
top ten. Ribbon color varies from country to country
A horse show ringmaster, sometimes also called a ring
steward, is an individual who works in the center of an
arena at a horse show and carries out many duties to assist
the judge and other officials. Unlike a Horse show steward
or the judge, the ringmaster is not a licensed official of
the show. At the biggest shows, the ringmaster may be a paid
employee of the show, but at smaller shows is apt to be a
In a few competitions, usually national championships or
other shows of national importance, the ringmaster may be
colorfully attired in a manner similar to the ringmastger of
a circus or the bugler at a horse race. In such cases, this
official wears a top hat (or hunting cap for hunting and
jumping classes), white jodhpurs, and scarlet ("pink") guard
coat. More commonly, at ordinary horse shows, the ringmaster
will simply wear neat clothing and comfortable shoes,
similar to the attire of the judge.
Rarer still, is the practice of having the ringmaster summon
each class of exhibitors and horses, usually by blowing a
trumpet, fox horn, or carriage or coach horn. More commonly,
the show announcer simply performs the task, simply calling
each class by number and title over the public address
The duties and responsibilities of a ringmaster of a horse
show varies by discipline and geographical region. These can
* summoning the class;
* keeping the show running smoothly and listening to the
judge. The ringmaster does not help to judge the class in
* policing the ring by being alert to safety issues and
watching the horses, riders or drivers;
* passing communications from the judge to the announcer to
call for specific gaits in a class, for the line up, etc.;
* transmitting the judges' cards to the scorers or the
* acting as a scribe (trail or reining usually);
* restraining an unruly horse (they should be physically
able horsemen), helping a rider or driver that is in
* serving as a timer when a shoe has been thrown during a
class and a specified time is allowed to find and have the
farrier replace the shoe;
* working with ring crew for each class set up;
* pinning ribbons or distributing ribbons to winners;
* supporting the steward(s) in identifying questionable
equipment and attire.
In Tennessee, the ringmaster has a legal duty under cruelty
to animals statutes to disqualify and report to authorities
certain animal abuses.
Some notable individuals who have served long careers as
ringmasters in the United States include Dutch White, Honey
Craven, Vincent Wholey, and Paul Copanas.
Equitation refers to a rider's position while
mounted, and encompasses a rider's ability to ride correctly
and with effective aids. In horse show competition, the
rider, rather than the horse is evaluated. Such classes go
by different names, depending on region, including
equitation classes, rider classes, or horsemanship classes.
Judging criteria covers the rider's performance and control
of the horse, use of riding aids, proper attire, correct
form, and usually factor in rider poise and the cleanliness
and polish of horse, rider and equipment. The performance of
the horse is not judged per se, but a poorly-performing
horse is considered to reflect the ability of the rider.
Equitation classes occur in the Hunt seat, Saddle seat,
Dressage, and Western disciplines. A good equitation rider
is always in balance with the horse, maintains a correct
position in every gait, movement, or over a fence, and
possesses a commanding, but relaxed, presence, able to
direct the horse with nearly invisible aids.
In the United States, the largest organizer of equestrian
competitions is the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF).
The organization offers equitation classes at its recognized
shows, including those in hunt seat, dressage seat, saddle
seat, and Western.
Hunt Seat Equitation
Main article: Hunt seat
The Hunt seat style of riding is derived from the hunt
In equitation competition, flat classes (those that do not
including jumping) include judging at the walk, trot, and
canter in both directions, and the competitors may be asked
to ride without stirrups. It is correct for the riders to
have a light and steady contact with their horse's mouth the
entire ride. Loss of a stirrup or dropping the reins are
also faults, and may be cause for elimination.
In over fences classes (classes in which the horse and rider
jump obstacles), the competitor rides over a course of at
least six jumps (usually more). Fence height may go up to
3'9". Classes often require at least one flying lead change,
and one or more combinations. The rider is judged not only
on position and effectiveness of aids, but should also
maintain an even, forward pace and meet each fence at an
At the highest level of hunt seat equitation are the
national Maclay finals and USEF Medal classes in the United
States, and the CET (Canadian Equestrian Team) Medal in
Canada. These championships and their qualifying classes may
include bending lines, roll back turns, narrow fences, and
fences with a long approach to test the rider. Fences must
be at least 3'6" and may be up to 5' wide, and the course
must have at least eight obstacles and at least one
combination. However, the course may not include liver pools
or open water elements.
Equitation tests may be chosen by the judge to help place
the top riders. These tests are required in the medal
classes. Tests may include a halt for several seconds, rein
back, demonstration of the hand gallop, figure-8 at the trot
or canter with correct diagonals or leads (simple change of
lead or flying), trotting or cantering low fences (up to
3'), jump obstacles at the walk (up to 2'), jumping fences
on a figure-8, oral questions regarding tack, equipment,
conformation, and basic horsemanship, riding without
stirrups, performing a turn on the forehand or haunches, and
a serpentine at the trot or canter with flying changes.
Riders may also be asked to switch horses at higher levels
of competition, such as at a national final. Switching of
horses is no longer common at smaller competitions due to
the risks involved.
An equitation round in 2004 callbacks
Saddle Seat Equitation
Saddle seat is a uniquely American form of riding that grew
out of a style of riding used on Southern plantations, with
some European influences from "Park" or Sunday exhibition
riding of high-stepping horses in public venues (often
literally, city parks). Today it is seen most often at horse
shows organized for exhibitors of the American Saddlebred,
Morgan, Arabian, Tennessee Walking Horse, and the National
Show Horse. It is also sometimes seen in competition for
Andalusian horses. There is now an international
competition, the Saddle Seat World Cup that includes the
United States, Canada, Europe and Africa. Other national
saddle seat equitation competitions include the NHS Good
Hands Finals and the USEF (US Equestrian Federation) Finals
held at the American Royal Horse Show in November.
Gaits shown in Saddle Seat classes include the walk, trot,
and canter. Some competitions may call for extended gaits,
particularly the trot. In some cases, breeds who can perform
five gaits add equitation classes that require two
additional gaits: the "slow gait" and "rack." All classes
require Rail work, where competitors show and are judged as
a group going both ways of the arena. Saddle seat equitation
may include individual tests or a pattern to be ridden.
Tests may include backing up, mounting and dismounting,
riding without stirrups, "addressing" the reins (i.e.
picking up the four reins correctly), figure eights,
serpentines and straight line patterns done at any gait. At
the canter, only simple changes of lead are required when
changing directions. It is possible to have a "ride-off,"
where two or more riders are asked to perform additional
work to determine the winner.
Correct position for the rider is to have the shoulder, hip,
and heel in a line. He/she is also to have a straight line
from knee to toe, and from elbow to wrist to the horse's
bit. The rider's back should be straight yet relaxed, and
the legs and arms are to remain virtually motionless.
The informal dress for saddle seat equitation includes a
coat and Kentucky jodhpurs of a dark, conservative color,
e.g., herringbone, pin stripes, black, blue, grey, dark
burgundy, dark green or beige; a white or pastel collared
shirt with a tie; derby or soft hat; and jodhpur boots.
Vests and gloves are optional. After 6 p.m. formal wear is
required. This habit includes a tuxedo-style jacket, pants
and vest with bow tie and formal shirt, and top hat.
Pleasure equitation is another form of saddle seat
equitation in which a rider is required to wear informal
dress (coat, jodhpur pants, derby or soft hat, all in a dark
color) in the day and evening and ride a horse that has a
full mane and tail which is not set.
The value given to rail work and pattern work varies from
qualifying competition to championship competition.
* USEF Rules for Saddle Seat Equitation
Main articles: Western riding and Western pleasure
Western equitation (sometimes called Western horsemanship,
stock seat equitation, or, in some classes, reining seat
equitation) competitions are judged at the walk, jog, and
lope in both directions. Riders must sit to the jog and
Riders must use a Western saddle and a curb bit, and may
only use one hand to hold the reins while riding. Two hands
are allowed if the horse is ridden in a snaffle bit or
hackamore, which are only permitted for use on "junior"
horses, defined differently by various breed associations,
but usually referring to horses four or five years of age
and younger. Horses are not allowed to wear a noseband or
cavesson, nor any type of protective boot or bandage, except
during some tests that require a reining pattern.
Riders are allowed two different styles of reins: 1) split
reins, which are not attached to each other, and thus the
rider is allowed to place one finger between the reins to
aid in making adjustments; and 2) "romal reins," which are
joined together and have a romal (a type of long quirt) on
the end, which the rider holds in his/her non-reining hand,
with at least 16 inches of slack between the two, and the
rider is not allowed to place a finger between the reins.
The correct position for this discipline, as in all forms of
riding, is a balanced seat. This is seen when a bystander
can run an imaginary straight line that passes through the
rider's ear, shoulder, hip, and heel.
The Western style is seen in a long stirrup length, often
longer than even that used by dressage riders, an upright
posture (equitation riders are never to lean forward beyond
a very slight inclination), and the distinctive one-handed
hold on the reins. The reining hand should be bent at the
elbow, held close to the rider's side, and centered over the
horse's neck, usually within an inch of the saddle horn. Due
to the presence of the saddle horn, a true straight line
between rider's hand and horse's mouth is usually not
Dressage Seat Equitation
Dressage seat equitation is a relatively new class offered
at dressage shows. Unlike a dressage test, the horse's gaits
are not judged, although the horse's frame is taken into
consideration by the judge, but rather it is the rider who
is evaluated. Also, instead of a single competitor in the
ring, there are several riders in the ring at one time.
The rider is judged on a proper classical position. This
includes evaluating leg position, seat, hands, balance, and
rhythm. The rider is to be relaxed and not interfere with
the horse's movement, but able to make full use of all
riding aids. The rider and horse should have unity, and the
rider should use the aids correctly and efficiently.
The United States Equestrian Federation outlines the rules
for Dressage Seat Equitation
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