Why do people go to horse shows?

I’ve never seen the appeal, but there’s a huge industry and entire careers built off of it, so clearly there’s something to it!

Just curious to hear why you enjoy it, and maybe see what I’m missing out on. :wink:

(Open to answers from any discipline, this forum just seemed to be one of the most active ones.)

As a competitor or audience?

As a competitor it’s the same as wanting to compete in any sport. Why do adult ammies run marathons or play tennis? You have some skills to use, you like the sports ritual of everyone doing the same limited formulaic thing to see who is best at it, you like the comments of a judge, you find the total milleu interesting and exciting, it gives you a goal, it gets you somewhere new, and there’s a social aspect.

I have to say that my personal professional background is in the arts where you are rewarded for originality. If you can do something well in a way no one else can, that’s the height of acclaim. Hence my horse can help me decorate a Christmas tree at our holiday open house. That’s the total opposite of the sports mindset where the activity is narrowed down drastically and everyone is evaluated on the exact same criteria.

However if I had access to a horse that was likely to do OK at any given discipline I would likely do a few local shows just because.

My job category is in fact very competitive at least at the start but as I said, you compete on originality. I know how long it took me to professionalize my ammie skills and how much that changed how I felt about my skills. I feel like I don’t necessarily have the mental energy at this point to professionalize my riding and that it needs to stay as a respite from all that. But I could easily see how showing might become a central goal. Why not?

As a teen I went to every local playday schooling show I could hack to because it was a community event. I got a lot of 4th place ribbons in large but mediocre classes of 1970s backyard horses. I can’t see treating shows like that as an adult, they are too expensive and formal.


I enjoy the technicality of the sport.

Competing at a jumper show allows me to test myself, and to push myself beyond the comfortable routines of home. I also have a competitive nature, but even if I don’t win, I enjoy the process of learning from my mistakes and being able to go home and figure out how to fix the problems I discovered at the show.

Competing also gives me a goal to work towards, which helps me to plan and structure my rides accordingly instead of settling into the same type of ride every day.

Watching others at shows is good for training my eye, and I just enjoy watching horses at their best.


Why do I “horse show”?
At its best, showing enables a rider or horse person to put all the months, years or even decades of practice and experience to a test with a living partner to see if in a pressure situation (judged) they can achieve the symbiotic harmony and flow in whatever the test happens to be for that exercise --how close to perfection can the execution be. It is a test (ideally) of horsemanship, diligence, focus, understanding and harmony. As a rider, I don’t really want the almost unattainable perfection, rather I want to know I improved upon something and got closer to that perfect ride–not necessarily won a ribbon or a class but rode my horse well and he understood what I was asking and what the exercise was. The judges feedback is useful for those benchmarks. There is also a social aspect to it–a camaraderie of being with your fellow participants and horse people and sharing and cheering for each other’s dreams and goals.

At it’s worst horse showing can be an uber competitive cheat fest that treats animals like disposable things and he who has the most money usually wins. When it is always about the ribbon or the “glamour” and not about the horse or the horsemanship the ugly side of horse showing is exposed.


As someone who has pretty much retired from showing:

*Did the Hunters mainly because someone else set fences (& took them down after).
Also enjoyed the camraderie when I showed with a trainer & her clients (I was one)

*Dressage let me see how a judge viewed the progress I’d made with my horse

*Eventing because Wheee! Cross Country!

*Pleasure Driving because it’s fun to dress up & see other’s turnouts
*CDE (to be honest, we’ve only done CT) because Cones!

Up until last year, I drove in the Pony classes at Fair for the payback. $25 for 1st in a class that cost $5 - payback to 5th ($5).
But Fair is in August & Too.Dang.HOT! :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:
This year, I may trailer in for a day to do Gamblers Choice & a single Pleasure class.
Or not.


Oh yes as @Night_Flight says, training the eye. As a kid I used to go watch any horse show class I wasn’t riding in and used to watch those open rail classes that hardly exist anymore, and try to guess the placings. I also watched jumpers and developed an eye for when a refusal was coming. As an adult I found I could predict a wreck even watching Spruce Meadows Masters on TV. Way beyond anything I could even aspire to but the same principles apply. You can absolutely have a technical eye above your own skill level.

I do agree that showing is a great way to test out whether you can pull it together under pressure. As an adult I did some dressage tests one year when I had the ride on a school master and that was way different from just schooling, very very useful data from the test comments plus video.


I enjoy shows mostly as a spectator or groom to a friend. I love hanging out with friends, watching the classes, pitting my opinion against that of the judge, trying to learn from the differences! Being outdoors with other horse people, in the fresh air, learning more about a discipline I know something about or enjoying learning about one that’s new to me.

If I was competing, I loved watching with my friends, watching their rides, and then taking my turn at being “onstage”. My chance to “shine” (or not, as the case may be!). :wink:


Well, my horse is retired, so these days I go to help friends or to tune my eye to what good looks like.

Growing old is inevitable but growing up is optional- I LOVE the precision and technicality of the equitation. I show in that division because it lets me hone skills that are transferable to any discipline and test my practice in a new environment. I know what kind of courses I set and my trainer sets. What can my horse and I do in a novel context? If someone beats me, can I tell why, and what can I learn from them?

I like taking horses to horse shows because it’s a great way to teach them life skills in an environment where people know how to act around horses. At horse shows, baby horses learn about traffic, sounds, new places, funny colored flowers on the ground, bicycles, ponies, golf carts, rain on a tent roof, and people crowding them. But people biking at a horse show know to stay out of harm’s way (or they ought to,) whereas if I took my horse out on a multi-use trail to learn about bikes, I might be surrounded by idiots and the horse might not have a horse friend in eyeshot to tell him not to panic.


As an older adult, I show for entirely different reasons than I did when I was younger and I have a lot more fun.

  1. A fun weekend away from home. Stay in a hotel. Eat out. Watch people and horses. Eat junk food. Hang with my friends.

  2. Call me shallow, but I like winning stuff. External validation. :laughing:

  3. It’s really satisfying to see my horse (and myself) progress through the show season. Between shows, I work to develop new skills and fill in the holes that were uncovered at the last show.

I will also note that, despite what I said in #2 above, I don’t have to win to have a satisfying show experience. Even if things don’t go well, it’s at least a learning experience and I go home with a whole new list of things to work on. Sometimes, being able to say, “Hey, I didn’t die,” means it’s been a successful day.


This is my definition of success all too often!

I enjoy putting together everything I’ve been working on. Courses ride differently at a show than they do at home for me (arena size, for one). And the mental aspect is what I really struggle with. It’s helped build my confidence to show consistently and know I can put together a round under pressure and in a new environment, even if it isn’t pretty.


my horse was put down 20 years ago due to old age. We used to event. Yesterday, ALL DAY, I jumped judged in the heat because I love eventing and this is the last way I can be involved. Sometimes, if I am contacted, I will help paint jumps. I miss it.


Two big reasons. First, I’m very competitive and I like winning. And second, I’m very goal-oriented and its a goal to work toward. Having a show schedule and wanting to work on certain things depending on the show, or setting goals for the season, helps me track progress. And being judged is another measure of progress. As someone else said, I don’t need to win to have a good show. I have a baby horse who is learning - I don’t go with blue ribbon expectations. But I do want to “beat” our previous trips, and I do want to improve to the point that we can be competitive one day, and I’m happy to keep doing our homework at home and at shows to get there.

I feel like sometimes people are nervous to say they enjoy showing because they like winning - but I think that only becomes a problem when you enjoy winning to the exclusion of everything else, can’t enjoy yourself without winning, or put winning above your horse. You’re going to a competition after all…it is okay to want to win that competition!


Well said!! This is exactly how I feel about it. And having to test myself in the show ring really seems to help me solidify the training we do at home, I showed the last two weekends, and even though I’m exhausted, and my wallet’s a lot lighter, I came home with a strong feeling of satisfaction over the progress we made! My horse and I both improved, and that was the point.

Plus, there is a social aspect for me as well. I enjoy all of the people from my barn, and my trainer, and there is a good sense of camaraderie. And, I have a number of friends at other barns I’m always glad to see, so I look forward to catching up too.


For maybe a different perspective than above… I’m not very competitive by nature and I really enjoy being at home and focusing on my progress there. I find showing anxiety inducing but usually show once or twice a year to have a day out with the horses and my barn friends, and hopefully get some good photos and a laugh. If I ribbon that’s great, but I’m usually in super competitive .80 or .90m jumper classes where some fearless 14 yr old beats us all.

I enjoy showing more with baby horses, where the focus is on them having a positive experience rather than on results or ribboning. I am bringing my greenie to a little schooling show in a few weeks just to chill and hack around, and we probably won’t even enter a class - I just want him to have a day off property to get some exposure.

I do go to shows a lot just to support people and lend a hand, or to hang out and watch. I like seeing which trainers and programs are doing well, whose clients are scary riders, what classes are filling vs not filling, what people are wearing, etc. Gets you out of the ‘bubble’ of your own barn.

1 Like

My motto “Safe, sound, around; in that order”
Also known as rules 1 & 2 :joy:

  1. Don’t Die
  2. Pain Teaches

My reasons are a little different than most, but I’m probably not entirely alone.

  1. If you own a hunter, but don’t show it, the value of that horse is dramatically impacted. I hope I never have to sell my horse, but if I do, a hunter with good show miles is a ton more valuable than one without.

  2. I want competitive-level training. I have been riding seriously for many years, and a casual low-level barn wouldn’t be suitable for me and my young horse. He needs good pro rides and I need quality training to progress. For a hunter, that means you’re boarding at a show barn. In most cases, you have to show (at least a little) if you want to be in their program/at their barn.


I’m curious, cyanskies, why DON’T you show? This is something that continually plagues me. I don’t go to horse shows but I train like I am. I have a really nice horse and I can’t help but feel like I’m SUPPOSED to be showing. I don’t actually care for it either. It’s so physically and emotionally draining. It’s early hours and long days, most of time in the worst heat. I hate standing ringside with my horse. I hate how he wants to graze and sniff things and look at other horses.
What I DO like however is watching horse shows. I love seeing all the gorgeous horses jumping around. I love the social aspect of it but I don’t ride in a show barn so if I go I’m going alone. I think I would make a good “owner” though if I had the money. I would just tell my rider/trainer to take the horse to a show and I’ll show up to watch. Actually, I don’t mind the grooming aspect of it. I’ll clean the stalls, hand walk, bathe and even braid! There’s too much stress involved in getting the horse to the ring AND riding lol

  1. My discipline of choice is very uncommon in the US; there are maybe 2-3 competitions annually across the entire United States, most of them being a multi-day drive away. No thanks.

  2. I don’t do things I don’t want to do. I have multiple very nice, very expensive horses who had competed before I imported them. I don’t show/compete with them because I don’t see any reason to. It sounds exhausting, the travel is hard on the horses. I also am extremely hard on myself as a rider and a highly anxious person - at this point in my journey I need positive coaching and a lot of encouragement. Literally paying someone to judge me sounds counterproductive.


A few different reasons.

Like another poster mentioned, if god forbid something happened and my horses had to be sold it would be better for them if they’ve been exposed to the horse show scene and have a show record.
In the same vein, I have a lovely 5yo mare who I would like to breed in a few years. Again, for the foals sake I think it’s better if the mare has a record and has proven that she’s worth breeding from a performance perspective.

I’m not as competitive as I used to be when it comes to the horses. But I still enjoy showing off my geldings hack winning trot. Last year it was a treat to have several other BNT ask my trainer if he was for sale. I like going to the venues with impeccable footing and beautiful jumps (and of course buying photos of my horses all cleaned up jumping over said beautiful jumps).

There’s a bit of a runner’s high after competing as well. Even if I had a crappy day I still find it easy to put on a smile, cheer on my friends, spoil my horses, and find a positive.


Soooo… what’s your discipline?
I only ask because you’re here in the hunter/jumper forum, and curious what you’re riding in, if it’s not part of what falls in that genre? Also, maybe if you share your discipline, others might be interested in getting together in either a competitive or non-competitive event to share your passion or have some exposition events at local shows to get more of a local following and increased interest?

What may sound counterproductive to you brings many of us more meaning to life. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. I’m not sure it’s that hard on the horses honestly, as I’ve seen horses that have never left their properties also struggle in very rigorous programs. I’ve watched horses completely lose their minds if they’re not loaded on the rig with all the others. So maybe hard for some, but others seem to really not mind it.
If you’re highly anxious, I would imagine that a lot of the riding sequence is tough for you. It’s probably also tough for your horses as they can’t channel those emotions as to whether it’s something that they should also be worried about. I’d imagine that you struggle with trainers and lessons as much as you would with horse shows since there’s a lot of scrutiny in even the day to day exercises?
Rather than pondering why we show, it sounds like you might need to work with a sports psychologist to understand the reasons behind your anxiety and how you can work to put those feelings behind you. As someone that can get myself worked up about little things, I’ve contemplated doing the same.

Lastly, if there are really only 2-3 competitions nationally, I can see from a shipping and financial perspective why that is probably out of the question. Have you considered other disciplines that are more local to you and more judgement-free (aka clinics, demos, adult camps, schooling days at local showgrounds) where you might be able to benefit from a change of scenery, some interaction with fellow equestrians, but not high stress?

1 Like