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Horse Shows: Types and What You Do At Them

Last updated: October 29, 2022

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

There are many types of horse shows available for kids and adults. My grandchildren love barrel racing, and I am thankful they’ve been able to participate in local shows. It’s given them a chance to improve their riding skills while also watching one another compete.

Competition is a key element of horse shows. Riders compete against each other to see who has the best skills in various equestrian events, such as dressage, barrel racing, or jumping competitions. These events provide the perfect opportunity to see the work put in during training come together.

Being part of a horse show crowd can make you feel like you’re in a completely different world. Whether you’re introducing your family to your love for the sport or you’re experiencing it as a guest for the first time, it’s impressive to see equestrians show off their skills.

Picture of a horse show in dressage

If this sparks your curiosity to learn the different types of shows that exist, then stick around.

Horse shows

Horse shows consist of competitions between horse breeds and equestrian disciplines that get judged for awards and prize money. The horses get judged by their movements, style of jumping, manners, and hunting pace.

In contrast, their riders get judged on their equitation, communication capacity, and ability to control their mount. Horse shows give riders an opportunity to try their horse in a competition. Training is fun, but you never really know how your horse is progressing until you bring them to a show.

Most horse shows have three classes: novice, intermediate and advanced. Novice classes allow horses that have never competed before or are just starting out the opportunity to gain experience without pressure.

Intermediates provide an environment where competitors can work up from beginner levels while still competing against others of similar skill levels.

Finally, there’s the “advanced” category which challenges seasoned professionals. Advanced competitors typically earn points to qualify. Within each of these categories, there are often levels.

English Horse Shows

While there are several competitions for riders and horses to partake in, one of the most popular is the English horse shows. There are several activities within the competition that the riders and horses get judged in this competition.

If you want to compete with your horses and are interested in joining an English show, you’ll need to be highly skilled in the following events:

  • Dressage
  • Show Jumping
  • Eventing
  • Hunter Jumping

Dressage shows

The dressage division of the competition consists of evaluating how the horse responds to its rider and whether or not they are obedient to its rider. During dressage competitions, judges evaluate the horse’s training. It consists of an arranged pattern of movements that increases the difficulty of testing the horse’s precision and harmony with its rider.

Dressage is a part of Eventing and is part of the equestrian events in the Summer Olympics. The showjumping event includes horses that have skill in jumping large jumps within a specific time limit.

In this event, the horses get judged based on the number of obstacles a horse can clear without any errors, such as knocking them down or refusing to move, as the jumps get progressively more challenging as they advance. The winner is whichever horse finishes with the fastest time without any mistakes.

Eventing shows

Eventing is the equestrian triathlon competition that tests the horse’s ability to react to riders through the dressage test. They then evaluate their speed, cross-country jumping skills, and endurance in the competition’s endurance phase.

The last thing tested is their jumping abilities and stamina in the event’s showjumping section. This event is one of the most meticulous tests for both horses and riders. The hunter horses get judged quite differently from showjumping horses.

They get scored by their style, way of jumping, and ability to successfully complete the course. The judges test the horse’s manners, quality, and ease of gait and how they portray their form and safety
over fences.

Picture of an arena at a western horse show.

Western Horse Shows

In the western competition events, the horses get evaluated on lead changes at the lope, the quality of gaits, how they respond to their rider, manners, and disposition. And although all three gaits are required, the majority of the pattern is performed at a lope.

Judges emphasize the horse’s precise, clean lead changes and their overall smoothness in the competition. In this competition, each horse competes individually, all performing four patterns from which the judges choose.

The patterns performed include walks, jogs, jogs, lopes over logs, a transition between a jog to lope, an event with four crossing lead changes, shallow 3 to 4 line lead changes, rein back, and a halt.

Horses must complete all of the lead changes within the allocated area. These are some of the many events that you’ll see:

  • Western Pleasure
  • Reining
  • Roping
  • Barrel Racing
  • Western Riding
  • Trail

Western Pleasure

In the western pleasure classes, the horses get judged on their ability to perform the necessary gaits calmly and conveniently. Horses should appear to be a delight to ride in both gait quality and manners.

Most events require the horses to jog, perform the western trot, walk and lope in both directions on the arena, and walk back quietly. Horses that are part of the reining event have to perform a set pattern that emphasizes how well they respond to their rider and their control by their riders.

Reining shows

In reining competitions, the horses get judged on their abilities to respond to their riders by performing things such as spinning turns, flying lead changes, lengthening and shortening the strides, and sliding stops. The roping events display the horse’s capacity to track a running calf and steer, allowing their rider to lasso the animals to keep them restrained.

Roping shows

Roping events consist of two riders, a heeler, and a header, including various roping events for each team. The winner is the one that manages to rope the steer at the quickest time. In the event, including calves, the winner is
whichever team ropes the calf, ties three of its legs together, and dismounts in the shortest time.

Picture of horses

Barrel racing shows

I’m familiar with barrel racing shows, which are different from rodeo competitions. Each competitor tries to race around barrels set in a cloverleaf pattern during a barrel race. The fastest time without knocking down a barrel is the winner.

Rodeos include various events such as roping, bull riding, and steer wrestling. At a barrel racing show, only barrel racing is included and is typically broken down by classes, such as peewee, junior or senior riders. It’s not uncommon for us to spend all day at a barrel show.

My grandchildren compete in the peewee class; if they earn fifty points, they win a buckle, and the overall winner of the division wins a saddle. At their shows, there are four events, barrels, poles, arena races, and obstacles.

Western riding competitions judge the horses on their capacity to perform an arranged pattern that emphasizes their ability to execute flying lead changes, their quality of gaits, manners, and their responsiveness to their riders.

The trail show competitions exhibit the horse’s ability to pass a series of obstacles that mimic those they will encounter on the trails. Horses get judged on their capability to negotiate these obstacles, demonstrating calmness, safety, and willingness.

Typically, these obstacles include walking over a bridge, opening and closing a gate, weaving cones, backing through cones, and opening mailboxes. .trailer edited

Is Horse Showing Expensive?

If you’re planning on participating in a horse show, you can expect the prices to be costly between entry fees and travel costs for you and your animal. The costs of doing these shows also depend on how many you join.

If you’re a rider trying to qualify for esteemed competitions to win annual rewards, then a specific show can cost anywhere between $700 to $1000. The coaching fees can cost $70 to $100 per day, and daily care for your animal can be around $30 per day.

If you’re new to horse shows, need the experience, and want to gain exposure, you can achieve these goals at smaller venues that will cost you less than the more prestigious shows. Locations such as schools sometimes offer their site for more unrecognizable shows with lower entry fees.

I suggest doing your research before signing up for any shows. Make sure you know which show you rather be a part of, and know your budget before deciding. Horses are costly either way, so it’s best to do your homework.

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What Are Open Horse Shows?

Open horse shows allow all types of breeds to partake in the events. All levels can participate and any horse, meaning there are no restrictions for any rider and their horse to be part of the event. These competitions also often have various disciplines, including both English and Western activities versus one or the other.

What You Do At a Horse Show

Most horse shows consist of a sequence of performances, also known as classes, where horses with similar skills and characteristics compete against each other for awards and prize money.

What Are Rated Horse Shows?

Rated horse shows are competitions and events governed and recognized by the USEF and the USHJA. These rated shows are open to the public, and other barns to join as well.
Horse shows that are rated and governed get rated with either an AA, A, B, or C rating, and shows with the higher rating are the most prestigious, often offering the highest prize money for the winning team. Usually, horse shows with a C rating are more local and offer less prize money than others.