How to Be a Good Horse Show Spectator

I have had so many different experiences while standing around the horse show ring. Some good, some bad. Many (if not most) of my bad horse show experiences are tied directly to the poor choices and behavior of fellow spectators (usually parents). Check out our list of do’s and don’ts before you head to your next show!

horse show crowd

Bad Horse Show Behavior

With more than a decade of showing under my own belt plus ten more watching my daughter show, I could tell some tales. Some of the worst of those stories include:

  • Parents arguing with judges
  • Parents arguing with trainers
  • Kids yelling at their parents
  • Parents yelling at their kids
  • Riders showing poor sportsmanship
  • One farm trash talking another farm
  • Parents from different farms fighting
  • My 5 y/o brother asking the snack stand ladies to cook hot dogs every 5 minutes starting at 7 am. (Okay, I wouldn’t classify that as awful.. it was annoying but also pretty funny and I never get a chance to tell that story.)

Good Horse Show Behavior

Of course for every display of bad behavior, I have seen 5 examples of amazing behavior at shows.

  • Trainers being amazing at their jobs
  • Judges taking time and care when deciding their ribbon winners
  • Riders who aren’t consumed by the ribbons and are instead there for the love of the ride/horse
  • Great team attitudes and sportsmanship
  • Riders who turn mishaps into learning experiences
  • Parents bonding as they watch their kids ride and compete
  • Experienced parents helping out the new parents

As I’m sure you can imagine, spectator behavior (good and bad) affects many people. It can add or detract from the show experience. It is probably not hard for most of us to understand the importance of being a good spectator.

What not to do

Sometimes though, you might not even realize that your behavior is not acceptable. Horse shows are a unique experience. Certain activities that would be perfectly acceptable at another spectator sport, simply won’t fly at a horse show.

Devon Horse Show Jumpers

Leave the noisemakers at home (objects AND people)

Don’t get me wrong – there is a time and place for loud cheering from the crowd at a horse show. We love our annual trip to the Devon Horse Show here in Pennsylvania (pictured above) and some of the most exciting classes and jump-offs end with roars of cheering crowds. Many of the horses that show on these bigger circuits are accustomed to stadiums packed with loud fans. (And those who don’t like it usually have noise protectors in their ears to reduce the noise level!)

At smaller, local shows be aware of your overall noise level. Loud crowds make it hard for the riders to hear the judge’s instructions. Some ponies shy or spook at clapping or yelling. Also, let’s face it: wildly loud screaming cheers can be downright annoying to fellow spectators and to the riders.

Celebrate awards, just be aware of the people and horses around you. Noisemakers such as airhorns are really never a good idea at horse shows.

No flash photography

Camera flashes can spook horses just like loud noises can. When you take pictures or video at a horse show, turn the flash OFF.

Blankets and umbrellas are super scary

Big colorful golf umbrellas twirling around along the fence can send some horses running in the opposite direction. The same can be said for blankets! You might not think twice about your fleece blanket flapping around in the wind, while a pony in the ring decides that they see a ghost and takes off. Try to keep objects and their movements as minimal and obscured from the horses’ vision as possible.

Be a team (farm) player

When you show with other riders from your farm, it’s important to remember that you’re a “team.” Being a good sport is being happy when the team does well collectively. It is pitching in and helping out with the ponies or trailer. You might be able to help a new parent figure out how to put garters or bows on correctly. Remember that you were once new to horse showing and that a little help goes a long way!

Don’t coach your kid

It can be really hard not to correct your child as they pass you in the ring. Wrong diagnols or leads, hand and leg positioning, SMILE, and the list goes on and on with corrections you might want to offer. Try your best to just… WATCH. Keep your mouth shut. Let your child’s trainer handle those corrections.

Stay out of the ring

Unless you are directed otherwise, refrain from entering the ring. Your child’s trainer should be the one in the ring adjusting stirrups, tightening girths and giving her a leg up. If your kiddo falls off, I know your first instinct might be to launch yourself into the ring and scoop her up. Try to let the judge, trainer, EMT, etc have that space first. You can be on hand if they are truly injured or rattled. Otherwise, they will hopefully dust themselves off and hop back on.

Leave the judge alone

Maybe you thought your kid should have placed higher. You might have a question about why he placed how he placed. Do not approach the judge. Your trainer can act as a liaison between you and the judge if there is just cause for needing more information.

Don’t berate your kid after her ride

Some of the ugliest horse show behavior that I have witnessed in my many years is when a parent takes the results out on their child.  Maybe it bears repeating that horse showing is an incredibly pressure-filled sport. The rider enters the ring on a large domesticated beast and competes completely solo performing various tasks and skills. Horseback riding is as much mental as it is physical. Cut your kid a break! There is no place in horse showing for disappointed parents who feel that their child didn’t perform. Leave that behavior at the door and feel pride that your child was brave enough to try. Seriously.

No trash talking other ponies or kids

This might sound obvious, but I have experienced it enough that it’s worth repeating: if you can’t say something nice, don’t open your mouth. You might be tempted to critique another farm’s pony or rider.  Just don’t. You have no idea who is standing around you. For all you know, you are standing next to the pony’s owner. Or maybe it’s the rider’s grandmother. Even if you are SURE that you are only near fellow team members, the world doesn’t need more negativity.

To sum it up, just be nice. Be helpful. Keep the noise down. Have fun! Lead by example. 

Let us know if you have more advice to add. Drop us a comment and tell us about it! 


Horse Show Spectator PIN

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