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* What type of shows can an adult beginner participate in?

Sorry these questions seem pretty basic, but I honestly do not know. I have been googling things, but no luck with my research.

At the moment I am just riding English casually. I have never been to any show before and am interested in competing in one. I wouldn’t say I have a specific discipline, but I have been over some small jumps and have a solid walk and trot. My canter is getting there, but not ‘show ready’ yet. (especially for dressage)

What type of shows can an adult beginner participate in?

Many people tell me I can do an introductory dressage test. I would like to do jumpers, but I don’t think I am ready for a full course… unless it’s only a few jumps.
What are those shows called where the riders go into the ring and the judge says “all walk,” or “all trot” ?

Can somebody explain how beginner shows work? What to expect?


Generally, regardless of discipline, you are going to be looking for “schooling” shows as you first start dipping your toes into the world of horse showing. “Schooling” shows - how they run and what to expect - are going to vary hugely according to where you are and who is offering them. You need sources local to you for the best information, and Google is your friend. Once you find a likely possibility, READ the show information that is posted and ask questions of the manager or secretary if you need clarification.

I offer the following by way of example. In my neck of the woods, there is a local equestrian center that offers a couple of different schooling show series from fall through spring. They have a dressage series that offers dressage tests and an English/Western series that offers primarily “rail” classes (the one where riders go around as a group and the judge calls “all trot”, etc).

The dressage shows run very much like “rated” dressage shows although have more relaxed rules as far as tack and attire. They attract dressage riders and eventers practicing in the office season as well as people who have never tried dressage.

The English/Western shows offer riding classes in western tack as well as some in-hand classes in the mornings. In the afternoons they offer English rail classes. They finish the day by setting up some jumps and offering low-level introductory jumping classes: ground poles, cross rails, and 2’. The ground pole classes are literally poles on the ground. There is also a class called Hunter Hack that includes working on the rail and then jumping two jumps in a line. These E/W shows attract all sorts - from beginner beginners to 4-H and Pony Club kids to folks who show breed or B shows who are just getting miles in the show arena. They do not usually attract the “pure” dressage or hunter/jumper folks.

Generally most hunter/jumper schooling shows offer beginner hunt seat flat classes. They also often offer “pile of poles” and crossrail divisions.

In my area the Colorado Hunter Jumper Association offers these “Outreach” Divisions at most of their recognized shows.

If you want to show, and are new to horses and to the showing environment, you would probably find it less overwhelming if you had a coach to guide you through the process. Are you in riding lessons currently? If so, ask your coach about what there is locally.

There are indeed very basic beginner type classes that are walk/trot. These might have beginner riders in them, but they might also have experienced riders with young horses that need the exposure to the show atmosphere.

The 3 basic divisions in English competition would be dressage, hunter/jumper, and rail or “hack” classes (where you have a group of people in the ring doing different gaits to the judge’s commands. In dressage and hunter/jumper rounds you are alone in the arena.

At schooling shows, there may be walk/trot classes in all these divisions, and the hunter/jumper classes might have a poles class where you just trot over poles on the ground. These classes might be primarily for small children, though.

As far as doing a walk/trot dressage test, despite it being very basic and no canter, there are still a number of things you need to do such as have the horse moving appropriately, and be very accurate with riding your pattern and your transitions. And even for a trot poles class, you need to be able to remember the pattern and keep the horse moving smoothly. Some coaching would help here.

I would recommend first going and watching a show similar to one you would like to attend, and pay particular attention to the classes you would like to compete in.

I would also give some thought to how your horse behaves off property. Shows are high energy environments for horses, and even the kindest horse can get worked up and frisky. Also you will need to ride in the warm up arena which at a schooling show may be full of other frisky horses, including green OTTB ridden by trainers, and tiny ponies whipping around ridden by tiny children. How do you feel about navigating chaos?

Also, when you say your canter is a work in progress, what exactly do you mean? If your horse got frisky and decided the canter in a walk/trot class, or in warmup, what would happen? Could you calmly and effectively bring him back to a trot, or would you get unbalanced, tilt forward, panic, fall off?

It’s fine to bring a horse to a show with the intention of only participating in the walk/trot classes, but I think it is dangerous to bring a horse to a show if you are not comfortable riding him and controlling him if he decides to canter.


Around here, most walk/trot divisions at schooling hunter/jumper shows are restricted to children. However, there is often a Pleasure division which has three or four classes, walk/trot being one of them (and you can enter just that class, without the others).

Dressage shows are also a great option. Intro A is a relatively straightforward walk/trot test without any cantering. And you are in the ring by yourself so no worrying about traffic. Hunter/Jumper attire/saddle is completely fine. Plenty of non dressage people use the schooling shows at lower levels to get some miles.

Some areas also have a non-discipline specific series of fun-type shows. There is one near me that offers showmanship and western in the morning, gymkhana around lunch, and some basic hunter classes in the afternoon. They have a beginner adult division that doesn’t require any cantering.

It’s just a matter of asking around your local area to see what you have available.

I would attend some local schooling shows (as a spectator) to get a feel of how they are run and what the norm is as far as horse and rider presentation.

Thanks for your advice! Your post was very informative. I don’t think I am giving myself enough credit with my canter… I am comfortable at the canter, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a dressage test(making a perfect circle) or navigating a complex jumping course.

When I was a kid, we used to go to “Open” or “Pleasure” one-day shows put on by local facilities. English and Western halter and showmanship (in-hand) classes in the morning, followed by English and Western pleasure (horse is judged) and horsemanship (rider is judged) riding classes for the rest of the day. No jumping or dressage, just rail classes. Low class fees, no stalls. Usually hosted by the facility itself, the county horse association, the local 4-H group, etc.

If you prefer H/J or dressage instead, I co-sign hooking up with a coach if you don’t already have one, and at least going to watch one or two that you have your eye on. Ask questions. Also, wherever you show, be sure to read whatever rules or rule book the show or hosting org publishes.

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Why not attend some shows that may have classes that interest you and see what you think?

the breed we have many of the breed shows have intro level classes

If you want to show, you really should be working with a trainer that can teach you the ropes of what it takes to show in what classes, be sure you have the right horse for that, the tack and clothing appropriate for those and get you prepared and help you star showing.

If you don’t have a trainer yet, going to a few local shows will help you find one for the kind of showing you think you will like to try.

It really depends on what is available in your area. In my area, one of the H/J Associations sponsors “lesson horse shows” as well - the local lesson barns take turns hosting shows and haul in their lesson horses for riders to share. They offer beginner flat and crossrail classes for kids and adults.

If there are few barns in your area, there may be fewer shows. Are there any Facebook pages for horse shows local to you? Tack stores? They tend to know what is going on locally.

Are you on Facebook? The Charlotte Area Equestrians and WNC Equestrians groups often have show listings, and if you post that you’re looking for some small, very low-key schooling shows, someone will point you toward some. Definitely go check out some schooling shows and take a look at the class lists. That should give you some idea of which classes you’d like to try.

Definitely a schooling show would be a great place to start. Also, many larger stables will have “fun shows” for their boarders, and may allow you to trailer in for that. You can look into county fairs and 4H fairs (if your area has such things)-- generally these are not real high-level competitions and around here, the county fairs do have adult classes.

But this is a hyper-local question. I think your best bet is to go to a bunch of shows around you for the remainder of the summer and just observe what classes they offer, and who is riding in them. Then make plans to show next year at the venues that seem best suited to you. By then you’ll be cantering courses :wink:

One thing you might consider is ask the show stewards if you can trailer your horse in (offer to pay a trailer parking fee of some sort) to get him some exposure to the hustle & bustle of a show.