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A Horse show is a judged exhibition of horses and ponies. Many different horse breeds and equestrian disciplines hold competitions worldwide, from local to the international levels. Most horse shows run from one to three days, sometimes longer for major, all-breed events or national and international championships in a given discipline or breed. Most shows consist of a series of different performances, called classes, wherein a group of horses with similar training or characteristics compete against one another for awards and, often, prize money.


The United States Equestrian Federation is the American national body for equestrian sport and as such is also the recognized entity overseeing the Olympic-level United States Equestrian Team. It also organizes and sponsors horse shows for many horse breeds who wish to utilize the drug testing, judge certification and standardize rulemaking process of the USEF. In addition, it sanctions events in disciplines and lower-level competitive areas that are not internationally recognized, such as show hunter and equitation. Other US organizations such as the National Cutting Horse Association [1], United States Eventing Association (USEA) and United States Dressage Federation (USDF) organize competitions for specific disciplines, such as Cutting, and some breed organizations such as the American Quarter Horse Association sanction their own breed-specific shows.

Horse shows in the United States take several forms: Some are restricted to a particular breed, others are "open" or "all-breed" horse shows, which offer both classes open to all breeds as well as breed-specific classes for many different breeds. In the last few decades, American "open" horse shows have tended to become specialized by discipline into hunter-jumper or "sport horse" shows, dressage shows, and shows featuring Western riding events. However, there are still some multi-day, all-breed events that feature multiple breeds and disciplines.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom there is a distinct difference between "horse competitions" such as dressage or eventing and horse shows. Horse shows provide an opportunity for riders and owners to exhibit their animals without taking part in any of the Olympic disciplines. Classes are divided into ridden and in-hand sections and there are many different classes for different horses and ponies. For example, there are classes for Mountain and Moorland pony breeds, show hunters, show hacks, equitation, and various show pony classes. Many clubs hold riding club classes, where a horse or pony must perform a short "show" (solo performance) and jump a single fence which varies in height from 2 feet to 3 feet 3 inches. Most shows also include show jumping and working hunter sections.

The British Horse Society oversees many shows at national, regional and local level as does the Pony Club, the British Show Pony Society and the British Show Horse Association. Breed societies, particularly those which look after the Welsh pony and the Arabian horse also organise their own shows. At local, unaffiliated level, riding clubs across Britain organise regular shows, which are often staffed by volunteers. The newly formed Showing Council is working towards officially overseeing all horse shows (non-FEI disciplines).

The Olympic equestrian disciplines are overseen by the British Equestrian Federation. However, there are several subdivisions within the federation. Dressage competitions are held separately from regular horse shows, and are overseen by British Dressage. Show jumping competitions are overseen by the British Show Jumping Association (BSJA), while one day and three day eventing are overseen by British Eventing.


Horse shows in Australia are governed by the Equestrian Federation of Australia.


The governing body for Equestrian activities in Canada is Equine Canada (EC). Depending on the type of competition, some activities are run in a manner similar to their counterparts in the USA, others more closely resemble those in the UK.

A saddle seat class lined up and awaiting awards

There are a range of competitive equestrian events available and specific offerings range widely by nation and even by region within a given country. However, in North America, most horse shows provide the following range of classes:

The English riding classes fall into two primary styles, hunt seat and saddle seat. "Hunt type" or sport horse classes include dressage, show jumping and show hunters, Eventing (also called horse trials), and English pleasure or Hunter Under Saddle, also known as a "flat" class, where the event is judged on presentation, manners and rideability of the horse). "Saddle seat" or "Saddle type" classes are all on the flat and are mostly variations on English Pleasure, though the high action "Park" style classes differ because they emphasize brilliant trotting action. Equitation classes judge the form and ability of the rider.

Show jumping, eventing and dressage are sometimes called "Olympic" events, because they are the equestrian sports included in the Olympic Games.

Western or Stock horse competition includes working cattle events, such as cutting, team penning and working cow horse in the USA, and campdrafting in Australia. They also include "dry" classes (without cattle) that include western pleasure, reining and equitation.

There are also specialized classes for draft horse showing, and a number of events for horses and ponies driven in harness, including Fine Harness classes for Saddle Seat-type horses, Roadster classes that use equipment similar to that of harness racing, and the FEI-sanctioned sport of combined driving. Miniature horses also have their own shows, with a number of specialized classes.

Most horse shows offer Halter classes, also called "breeding," "conformation," or "In-hand" classes. In these classes the horse is led without a saddle, not ridden, and its conformation and gaits are judged. To train young equestrians in halter showing techniques, horse showmanship classes (also called Showmanship in hand or youth showmanship), are offered. They are the halter equivalent of equitation, in that the handler, not the horse, is judged on his or her abilities.

Classes may be broken down by the age of horse or rider, by the number of first place ribbons earned by horse or rider, and by size or breed of horse (or pony). In addition, there is a near-infinite range of regional or specialty classes that may be offered. Various types of costume classes are frequently offered; sidesaddle classes are common; a "leadline" or "walk-trot" division may be offered for small children or very inexperienced riders; and assorted "freestyle" classes, where a horse and rider perform a routine set to music, are also popular.

Rodeos and horse pulling competitions are not technically horse shows, but they are competitive equestrian events, often with a great deal of prize money. Equestrian vaulting is not usually seen at ordinary horse shows, even though it is an FEI-recognized equestrian sport. Games, such as Gymkhana or O-Mok-See competition are usually held separately from ordinary horse shows, though a few of these "speed" events may be thrown in as "fun classes," particularly at 4-H, Pony Club, and other small shows.

Prize money is sometimes awarded, particularly at larger competitions. The sum varies by the placing of the rider, the prestige of the show, and the difficulty of the class. Horse Shows do not offer cash purses as large as those the thoroughbred racing industry, though a few of the biggest show jumping, cutting and reining competitions may offer purse money into the low five figures. However, most show horses in the United States, especially those at the amateur levels, rarely win significant cash prizes during their show career. At best, a solid competitor might break even on entry fees and, if they are quite lucky, cover some travel expenses. Most money made from showing horses is indirectly earned by breeding fees paid for top horses, the sale of their offspring, or from the training fees paid to top trainers.

Trophies are usually awarded to the first place horse in a class, depending on the size of the show. In a championship event, trophies may be awarded to both the champion and the reserve champion, and at a national or international show, trophies are sometimes given to the top five to ten competitors.

Medals are given at international events such as the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics. Usually only three medals, Gold, Silver, and Bronze, are awarded to the top three individuals or teams.

Ribbons are often given for the top placings in a class. Often ribbons are given through the top six place entries, although some of the larger shows may award ribbons to the top ten. Ribbon color varies from country to country

A horse show ringmaster, sometimes also called a ring steward, is an individual who works in the center of an arena at a horse show and carries out many duties to assist the judge and other officials. Unlike a Horse show steward or the judge, the ringmaster is not a licensed official of the show. At the biggest shows, the ringmaster may be a paid employee of the show, but at smaller shows is apt to be a volunteer.

In a few competitions, usually national championships or other shows of national importance, the ringmaster may be colorfully attired in a manner similar to the ringmastger of a circus or the bugler at a horse race. In such cases, this official wears a top hat (or hunting cap for hunting and jumping classes), white jodhpurs, and scarlet ("pink") guard coat. More commonly, at ordinary horse shows, the ringmaster will simply wear neat clothing and comfortable shoes, similar to the attire of the judge.

Rarer still, is the practice of having the ringmaster summon each class of exhibitors and horses, usually by blowing a trumpet, fox horn, or carriage or coach horn. More commonly, the show announcer simply performs the task, simply calling each class by number and title over the public address system.

The duties and responsibilities of a ringmaster of a horse show varies by discipline and geographical region. These can include:

* summoning the class;
* keeping the show running smoothly and listening to the judge. The ringmaster does not help to judge the class in any way;
* policing the ring by being alert to safety issues and watching the horses, riders or drivers;
* passing communications from the judge to the announcer to call for specific gaits in a class, for the line up, etc.;
* transmitting the judges' cards to the scorers or the announcer;
* acting as a scribe (trail or reining usually);
* restraining an unruly horse (they should be physically able horsemen), helping a rider or driver that is in trouble, etc.;
* serving as a timer when a shoe has been thrown during a class and a specified time is allowed to find and have the farrier replace the shoe;
* working with ring crew for each class set up;
* pinning ribbons or distributing ribbons to winners;
* supporting the steward(s) in identifying questionable equipment and attire.

In Tennessee, the ringmaster has a legal duty under cruelty to animals statutes to disqualify and report to authorities certain animal abuses.

Some notable individuals who have served long careers as ringmasters in the United States include Dutch White, Honey Craven, Vincent Wholey, and Paul Copanas.

Equitation refers to a rider's position while mounted, and encompasses a rider's ability to ride correctly and with effective aids. In horse show competition, the rider, rather than the horse is evaluated. Such classes go by different names, depending on region, including equitation classes, rider classes, or horsemanship classes. Judging criteria covers the rider's performance and control of the horse, use of riding aids, proper attire, correct form, and usually factor in rider poise and the cleanliness and polish of horse, rider and equipment. The performance of the horse is not judged per se, but a poorly-performing horse is considered to reflect the ability of the rider. Equitation classes occur in the Hunt seat, Saddle seat, Dressage, and Western disciplines. A good equitation rider is always in balance with the horse, maintains a correct position in every gait, movement, or over a fence, and possesses a commanding, but relaxed, presence, able to direct the horse with nearly invisible aids.

In the United States, the largest organizer of equestrian competitions is the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). The organization offers equitation classes at its recognized shows, including those in hunt seat, dressage seat, saddle seat, and Western.
Hunt Seat Equitation
Main article: Hunt seat

The Hunt seat style of riding is derived from the hunt field.

In equitation competition, flat classes (those that do not including jumping) include judging at the walk, trot, and canter in both directions, and the competitors may be asked to ride without stirrups. It is correct for the riders to have a light and steady contact with their horse's mouth the entire ride. Loss of a stirrup or dropping the reins are also faults, and may be cause for elimination.

In over fences classes (classes in which the horse and rider jump obstacles), the competitor rides over a course of at least six jumps (usually more). Fence height may go up to 3'9". Classes often require at least one flying lead change, and one or more combinations. The rider is judged not only on position and effectiveness of aids, but should also maintain an even, forward pace and meet each fence at an appropriate distance.

At the highest level of hunt seat equitation are the national Maclay finals and USEF Medal classes in the United States, and the CET (Canadian Equestrian Team) Medal in Canada. These championships and their qualifying classes may include bending lines, roll back turns, narrow fences, and fences with a long approach to test the rider. Fences must be at least 3'6" and may be up to 5' wide, and the course must have at least eight obstacles and at least one combination. However, the course may not include liver pools or open water elements.

Equitation tests may be chosen by the judge to help place the top riders. These tests are required in the medal classes. Tests may include a halt for several seconds, rein back, demonstration of the hand gallop, figure-8 at the trot or canter with correct diagonals or leads (simple change of lead or flying), trotting or cantering low fences (up to 3'), jump obstacles at the walk (up to 2'), jumping fences on a figure-8, oral questions regarding tack, equipment, conformation, and basic horsemanship, riding without stirrups, performing a turn on the forehand or haunches, and a serpentine at the trot or canter with flying changes. Riders may also be asked to switch horses at higher levels of competition, such as at a national final. Switching of horses is no longer common at smaller competitions due to the risks involved.

An equitation round in 2004 callbacks

Saddle Seat Equitation

Saddle seat is a uniquely American form of riding that grew out of a style of riding used on Southern plantations, with some European influences from "Park" or Sunday exhibition riding of high-stepping horses in public venues (often literally, city parks). Today it is seen most often at horse shows organized for exhibitors of the American Saddlebred, Morgan, Arabian, Tennessee Walking Horse, and the National Show Horse. It is also sometimes seen in competition for Andalusian horses. There is now an international competition, the Saddle Seat World Cup that includes the United States, Canada, Europe and Africa. Other national saddle seat equitation competitions include the NHS Good Hands Finals and the USEF (US Equestrian Federation) Finals held at the American Royal Horse Show in November.

Gaits shown in Saddle Seat classes include the walk, trot, and canter. Some competitions may call for extended gaits, particularly the trot. In some cases, breeds who can perform five gaits add equitation classes that require two additional gaits: the "slow gait" and "rack." All classes require Rail work, where competitors show and are judged as a group going both ways of the arena. Saddle seat equitation may include individual tests or a pattern to be ridden. Tests may include backing up, mounting and dismounting, riding without stirrups, "addressing" the reins (i.e. picking up the four reins correctly), figure eights, serpentines and straight line patterns done at any gait. At the canter, only simple changes of lead are required when changing directions. It is possible to have a "ride-off," where two or more riders are asked to perform additional work to determine the winner.

Correct position for the rider is to have the shoulder, hip, and heel in a line. He/she is also to have a straight line from knee to toe, and from elbow to wrist to the horse's bit. The rider's back should be straight yet relaxed, and the legs and arms are to remain virtually motionless.

The informal dress for saddle seat equitation includes a coat and Kentucky jodhpurs of a dark, conservative color, e.g., herringbone, pin stripes, black, blue, grey, dark burgundy, dark green or beige; a white or pastel collared shirt with a tie; derby or soft hat; and jodhpur boots. Vests and gloves are optional. After 6 p.m. formal wear is required. This habit includes a tuxedo-style jacket, pants and vest with bow tie and formal shirt, and top hat.

Pleasure equitation is another form of saddle seat equitation in which a rider is required to wear informal dress (coat, jodhpur pants, derby or soft hat, all in a dark color) in the day and evening and ride a horse that has a full mane and tail which is not set.

The value given to rail work and pattern work varies from qualifying competition to championship competition.

* USEF Rules for Saddle Seat Equitation

Western Equitation
Main articles: Western riding and Western pleasure

Western equitation (sometimes called Western horsemanship, stock seat equitation, or, in some classes, reining seat equitation) competitions are judged at the walk, jog, and lope in both directions. Riders must sit to the jog and never post.

Riders must use a Western saddle and a curb bit, and may only use one hand to hold the reins while riding. Two hands are allowed if the horse is ridden in a snaffle bit or hackamore, which are only permitted for use on "junior" horses, defined differently by various breed associations, but usually referring to horses four or five years of age and younger. Horses are not allowed to wear a noseband or cavesson, nor any type of protective boot or bandage, except during some tests that require a reining pattern.

Riders are allowed two different styles of reins: 1) split reins, which are not attached to each other, and thus the rider is allowed to place one finger between the reins to aid in making adjustments; and 2) "romal reins," which are joined together and have a romal (a type of long quirt) on the end, which the rider holds in his/her non-reining hand, with at least 16 inches of slack between the two, and the rider is not allowed to place a finger between the reins.

The correct position for this discipline, as in all forms of riding, is a balanced seat. This is seen when a bystander can run an imaginary straight line that passes through the rider's ear, shoulder, hip, and heel.

The Western style is seen in a long stirrup length, often longer than even that used by dressage riders, an upright posture (equitation riders are never to lean forward beyond a very slight inclination), and the distinctive one-handed hold on the reins. The reining hand should be bent at the elbow, held close to the rider's side, and centered over the horse's neck, usually within an inch of the saddle horn. Due to the presence of the saddle horn, a true straight line between rider's hand and horse's mouth is usually not possible.

Dressage Seat Equitation

Dressage seat equitation is a relatively new class offered at dressage shows. Unlike a dressage test, the horse's gaits are not judged, although the horse's frame is taken into consideration by the judge, but rather it is the rider who is evaluated. Also, instead of a single competitor in the ring, there are several riders in the ring at one time.

The rider is judged on a proper classical position. This includes evaluating leg position, seat, hands, balance, and rhythm. The rider is to be relaxed and not interfere with the horse's movement, but able to make full use of all riding aids. The rider and horse should have unity, and the rider should use the aids correctly and efficiently.

The United States Equestrian Federation outlines the rules for Dressage Seat Equitation



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