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horses and horsemanship
4-H HORSE PROGRAM
4-H HORSE PROGRAM
HORSES AND HORSEMANSHIP
This educational material has been prepared for 4-H use by the Cooperative Extension Services of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture and State Land-Grant Universities in cooperation with the National 4-H
Council and the American Quarter Horse Association.
Trade or brand names used in the publications are used only for the purpose of educational information.
The information given herein is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no
endorsement of products or breeds of horses by the Federal Extension Service or State Cooperative
Extension Services is implied, nor does it imply approval of products or breeds of horses to the exclusion
of others which may also be suitable.
This material was originally published by the National 4-H Council, 7100 Connecticut Avenue, Chevy
Chase, Maryland 20815.
Programs and educational materials supported by National 4-H Council; Extension Service, United
States Department of Agriculture; and all Cooperative Extension Services of the State Land-Grant
Universities are available to all persons regardless of race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin or
handicap. All are equal opportunity employers.
THE SHOW RING ARE YOU AND THE HORSE READY?
Performance showing is considered by most horsemen
as the ultimate goal in the showing of a horse. In the
case of 4-H horse activity, it is the most demanding
preparation, the most training and the greatest attention
to detail. Performance showing is as variable as the
types of horses shown. It can be a class for elegant
gaited horses or it can be a class for versatile Western
trail horses; it varies from high-stepping harness horses
and ponies to the novelty races of gymkhana events; it
can be as sedate and precise as dressage or as fast and
free as pole bending and barrel racing. But through it
all runs a central theme, a unity of purpose, this being
to display the horse at his best, doing what he does
best. The rider then, in contrast to his dominant
position in equitation classes, has a minor role. He is
there to give aid and direction, to encourage but not as
is all too frequent "go along for the ride". In contrast to
equitation where the rider should seem to merge with
his mount, in performance the emphasis should shift to
the horse, and the rider should seem to be no longer a
part of the scene. In fact, the rider should seem to
Showing in performance classes is and should be fun.
This fun should be the result of the knowledge that
both horse and rider are completely prepared to accept
the challenge of demonstrating the true ability of both.
The show arena should not, however, be looked upon
as a "show-off arena", nor should it be considered a
schooling arena or training ground. It is a place of
work, strict rules, and attention to the 4 C's:
confidence, cooperation, consideration, and
What is required to show a horse in a performance
class? What is required to win? Neither question can be
answered simply. There is complete dependence on all
past experience and knowledge; since as was
previously indicated, this type of showing is more or
less the apex of all horse showing.
As is stated in the recipe for rabbit stew, first you
must catch a rabbit, so indeed to show in performance
classes first there must be a horse. There are a wide
variety of performance classes so that almost any horse
can do moderately well in one or more of them. If
interest lies in one particular phase of performance, a
horse suitable to be shown in those particular classes is
required. Selection of a suitable horse to fit desires or
demands is of major importance. It is virtually
impossible to take just any horse and hope to compete
on equal terms with horses bred, selected, and trained
for one particular type of performance. No one should
expect to show one horse in very many classes. Most
horse shows preclude entry of one horse in more than a
very limited number of classes, and very few horses are
able to compete successfully in more than a very few
It should be borne in mind that the actual length of time
a horse is engaged in a performance class is quite
limited, for as little as 20 seconds in races to as much
as 20 minutes or more in large pleasure classes. Since
the exposition time is so short, it's obvious that the
show ring cannot be used to train. There is little enough
time to just demonstrate already learned ability. It also
serves to emphasize the fact that most of the work for
performance classes must take place outside the show
arena and long before the show.
Once the horse has been properly trained and the rider
is ready, then actual showing can be considered.
Showing begins long before entry into the ring. Most
horses cannot be "turned-on" at the entry gate. They
must be warmed up to the occasion. The rider has to
prepare himself as well. But, even farther back, is the
saddling or harnessing of the horse and the dressing of
the rider. Both horse and rider should be prepared long
enough in advance of the call for a class so there is no
rushing. Great care should be taken to insure every
detail is correct. A check list such as a pilot uses before
take-off is very helpful. The tack of the horse should
be checked to be sure it is sound and complete and it
conforms to the class requirement. These requirements
do vary from show to show within the same class;
failure to meet requirements is just cause for dismissal
or even refusal of entry. Typical items to watch for are
ATTENTION TO THE 4 C'S: CONFIDENCE, COOPERATION, CONSIDERATION AND CAREFULNESS
THE SHOW RING ARE YOU AND THE HORSE READY?
such things as slickers, spurs, crops, ropes and hobbles.
A check of the horse's feet and shoes could forestall
many problems. Insuring the tightness of shoes is
essential before most performance classes because
re-shoeing during a class is impossible. Many of these
classes are extremely hard on shoes, so only good
shoes that have been put on properly should be
allowed. Equal care should be taken to insure that
personal appointments are as prescribed and are
This is also the time to make the final decision
concerning actual entry into a class. Since most horses
are vanned to shows, the chances of leg injury are
always present. It is much better to scratch an entry
than to enter a lame, injured, or sour horse. This type of
entry is an insult to the judge, to the audience as well as
to fellow exhibitors and to the horse himself. In
general, it is considered a poor practice to ride your
horse to a show and then expect top quality
performances. It should be remembered that to be in
top form, both horse and rider must be fresh, rested and
in top physical condition. Also, it is extremely difficult
to keep a horse and appointments clean and neat during
a long ride.
When all preliminary preparations for a show have
been completed, the warm-up of the horse should
begin. This should be timed so as to give both horse
and rider a chance to get stiff muscles loosened up and
to achieve a mental attitude conducive to competition.
This length of time will vary with each horse and with
the class. Many horses need only to be walked for a
few minutes, others perform best when quite warm.
The horse should not be indiscriminately raced nor
should last minute training be attempted. If an exercise
area has been provided this should be used. If none is
available, some area away from people, cars and other
distractions can usually be found.
Alleyways, runways, and parking areas or any area
where there are many people should be avoided during
warms-ups. Anticipation of the classes will create a
great deal of excitement, particularly in young people.
This excitement is often transmitted to the horse. Every
effort should be used to ease this tension and control
Timing warm-ups to be complete at about the time a
class is called takes practice and a knowledge of the
horse. It is generally much better to have to wait a few
minutes to enter the arena than for the rest of the class
to have to wait for a late entry. All entries should be
ready to enter the arena when the class or their
numbers are called. There should be no attempt at entry
before a class is called and certainly the entry should
not be made late. Some shows allow for only a short
waiting period so punctuality is essential.
Each class has its own prescribed rules and procedures.
Every rider should be completely familiar with these
procedures from entry to exit. Failure to follow a given
course or the directions from judges and stewards will
be considered disqualifications in many events. When
gait or direction changes are called for, compliance
should be as rapid as is safe and correct. It is most
disrespectful to hesitate or ignore such directions and if
repeated, often calls for dismissal from the class.
The conduct in a class, whether in a group that is
working together or an individual working singly,
should be approached in a businesslike manner. Even
though these classes are usually "fun", as indeed they
should be, they are all serious. It is a time for maximum
effort on the part of both the rider and his mount. It is
not a time to wave to friends or to "show-off'. No
horse should be handled in such a manner as to make
him excited. There is a wide difference between
animation and excitement.
While in group classes, bunching up should be
avoided. If it becomes necessary to get away from a
pack or bunch, a rider may short cut a corer, pass and
get into the clear. A reasonable distance between
horses should be kept. The horse should be placed in
such a position that the judge can clearly observe him.
However, one rider should never purposely attempt to
place his own mount between the judge and a
competitor. This is bad show manners.
When horses are asked to be aligned in the center ring,
immediate compliance is again in order. Failure to line
up quickly or properly can accomplish nothing more
than irritate the judge and cause a "loss of points".
There should be room left on each side of the horse for
close inspection by the judge. When horses are too
close the judge cannot see; what he cannot see he
cannot place. What usually happens as a result of the
judge's not being able to see a horse is a lower placing
than perhaps deserved. At no time should the exhibitor
relax or allow the horse to relax. Showing begins at
entry and ends after exit. Nothing creates a worse
impression of a horse than to see one badly out of
position among a group being held posed and at
attention. There is no way of anticipating a judge's
turning for a look backwards, so the necessity of
keeping set is always present. The audience is watching
Many performance classes do not require posing, gait
changes and the kinds of situations previously
discussed. Classes such as Western trail, barrel racing,
pole bending and reining usually have a contestant
working alone, against a clock or under the careful
THE SHOW RING ARE YOU AND THE HORSE READY?
scrutiny of a judge. In timed events, form counts little
except as it may effect time; but even in these timed
events, time is not all important.
Generally speaking, the same type of actions are
required in such classes as reining and trail. Emphasis
should be on a quiet, steady, well-mannered display. At
no time should the rider display loss of temper, with its
resultant abuse of the horse, nor should the rider
indulge in any actions that would tend to excite or
annoy the horse. Very careful use of the reins to avoid
any indication of head fighting is required. If spurs are
worn, they should not be used except with a light
When winners are announced there is a tendency to
either relax or become more excited. Both should be
avoided. Win graciously lose the same way. When
riding to pick up the rosette, care should be taken to
avoid riding over the judge or steward. If no award is
received, exit should be in an orderly manner after the
Pay close attention to the official discussion of the
placing of the class. This will help you to perform
better in the future. One of the worst things that can be
done after a class is to engage in criticism of the judge
and his decisions. He usually knows much more about
the entire business than any of the exhibitors and was
in a much better position to see the class, thus render a
decision. It's all too easy to find other losers to "cry"
with. After all, there can be only one winner.
Another rather unpardonable bit of conduct is all too
frequently seen following the completion of a class.
This is groups of exhibitors, now free from the
anticipation of the show arena, racing around, both
mounted and afoot, causing distractions, confusion and
in general, being of no little annoyance to the
exhibitors in the arena the judge and the audience. It is
certainly poor manners and thoughtlessness on the part
of those thus engaged.
Win or lose, improvement can always be made.
Everyone can profit from experience and the show
arena is good experience. Always the attempt should be
"To make the best better".
The performance classes for horses are so many and
varied that it is not possible to describe them in a guide
sheet of this kind. Instead, follow the official rules of
the show in which you are exhibiting.
SPECIAL SHOW HINTS FOR YOUTH
1) Be ready when class is called.
2) Good sportsmanship shall prevail at all times.
3) Unnecessary roughness or discourtesy will be cause
to be dismissed from further competition.
4) Contestants shall, at all times, act as ladies and
5) Exhibitor shall keep horse under control at all times.
6) No horse is to be exercised except in assigned area.
No riding shall be permitted in spectator or concession
7) Do not tie horses to arena fence or park them at the
8) Check saddle cinch before every performance and
loosen cinch after each class when dismounted.
9) Neat and appropriate attire shall be worn in all
classes. Sneakers and low shoes are not considered safe
10) Teach horse to lead easily and freely at any gait
before trying to show in ring.
11) Walk beside a horse when leading, never in front
12) Always turn the horse to the right and walk around
him when showing. This allows the judge an
13) Every show announcement is to carry a full
description of what the class will be expected to do and
how it will be judged.
V A 'L
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THE SHOW RING ARE YOU AND THE HORSE READY? Page 6
DRAW OR PASTE A PICTURE OF YOUR HORSE HERE.
THE SHOW RING ARE YOU AND THE HORSE READY? Page 7
1. This document is 4HHSG02, one of a series of the 4-H Youth Development Program, Florida Cooperative
Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Printed. Please visit the
FAIRS Website at http://hammockifas.ufl.edu.
2. S. W. Sabin, Comell University, Debbie Glauer, member of 4-H Animal Science Design Team, Department
of Family, Youth and Community Science, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural
Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611.
.LI, UNIVERSITY OF
Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, Christine
Taylor Waddill, Director, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this information to further the purpose
of the May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress; and is authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only
to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, age, sex, handicap or national origin. The information in this
publication is available in alternate formats. Single copies of extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available
free to Florida residents from county extension offices. Information on copies for out-of-state purchase is available from Publications
Distribution Center, University of Florida, PO Box 110011, Gainesville, FL 32611-0011. Information about alternate formats is available from
Educational Media and Services, University of Florida, PO Box 110810, Gainesville, FL 32611-0810. This information was published
December 1989, Florida Cooperative Extension Service.