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.
There are ten international disciplines run under rules established by the Fédération équestre internationale (FEI):
The rules of the FEI govern competitions open to riders from all nations, including the Olympic games and the World Equestrian Games.
At the other end of the competition spectrum, Pony Club is an international movement that teaches young people riding skills suitable for eventing and other English riding competition. To help develop positive experience and good sportsmanship, Pony Clubs also sponsor horse shows open only to young people under the age of 18 and their horses. Various nations also have their own programs for developing young equestrians, such as the 4-H program in the United States.
Horse shows in Australia are governed by Equestrian Australia, Show Horse Council of Australia and different breed societies. Much of the development of the show horse (also referred to as saddle horse) discipline was developed over the last 40 years by Fran Cleland through her involvement with the Equestrian Federation of Australia's (EFA) Victorian branch (now known as EV). Fran Cleland is the wife of Reg Cleland who was the longest serving Chairman of the Victorian branch of the EFA which was in turn responsible for running The Barastoc Horse of The Year Show the premier horse Show in Australia for over 40 years and under the direction of Fran Cleland introduced Newcomer, Show-hunter, leading rein, first ridden, owner rider and working Hunter classes into the Australian Show Horse scene.
The governing body for Equestrian activities in Canada is Equine Canada (EC).
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 that 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 that 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 Showjumping Association (BSJA), while one-day and three-day eventing are overseen by British Eventing.
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 , 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 English or Western riding events. However, there are still some multi-day, all-breed events that feature multiple breeds and disciplines.
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, as shown in the following chart:
|1st||blue||red||yellow||yellow||orange||red||red blue white||blue, yellow||red||blue||gold||1st|
|7th||purple||any other||green||pale green||purple||orange||7th|
|dark purple, light purple||blue,|
or solid purple
or solid lavender
Champion & Reserve Champion ribbons are commonly called Tri-colors. They are usually a combination of the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd place colors for Champion and 2nd, 3rd, & 4th for Reserve Champion.
Show jumping, also known as "stadium jumping", is a part of a group of English riding equestrian events that also includes dressage, eventing, hunters, and equitation. Jumping classes are commonly seen at horse shows throughout the world, including the Olympics. Sometimes shows are limited exclusively to jumpers, sometimes jumper classes are offered in conjunction with other English-style events, and sometimes show jumping is but one division of very large, all-breed competitions that include a very wide variety of disciplines. Jumping classes may be governed by various national horse show sanctioning organizations, such as the United States Equestrian Federation in the USA or the British Showjumping Association in Great Britain. International competitions are governed by the rules of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports. Horses are very well-known for jumping in competition or even freely.
Dressage is a form of riding performed in exhibition and competition, as well as an art sometimes pursued solely for the sake of mastery. As an equestrian sport defined by the International Equestrian Federation, dressage is described as "the highest expression of horse training" where "horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements."
Eventing is an equestrian event where a single horse and rider combine and compete against other competitors across the three disciplines of dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. This event has its roots in a comprehensive cavalry test that required mastery of several types of riding. The competition may be run as a one-day event (ODE), where all three events are completed in one day or a three-day event (3DE), which is more commonly now run over four days, with dressage on the first two days, followed by cross-country the next day and then show jumping in reverse order on the final day. Eventing was previously known as Combined Training, and the name persists in many smaller organizations. The term "Combined Training" is sometimes confused with the term "Combined Test", which refers to a combination of just two of the phases, most commonly dressage and show jumping.
Equestrianism, commonly known as horse riding or horseback riding, includes the disciplines of riding, driving, or vaulting with horses. This broad description includes the use of horses for practical working purposes, transportation, recreational activities, artistic or cultural exercises, and competitive sport.
A riding boot is a boot made to be used for horse riding. The classic boot comes high enough up the leg to prevent the leathers of the saddle from pinching the leg of the rider, has a sturdy toe to protect the rider's foot when on the ground and has a distinct heel to prevent the foot from sliding through the stirrup. The sole is smooth or lightly textured to avoid being caught on the tread of the stirrup in the event of a fall.
A Hanoverian is a Warmblood horse breed originating in Germany, which is often seen in the Olympic Games and other competitive English riding styles, and has won gold medals in all three equestrian Olympic competitions. It is one of the oldest, most numerous, and most successful of the Warmblood breeds. Originally a cavalry horse, infusions of more Thoroughbred blood lightened it to make it more agile and useful for competition. The Hanoverian is known for a good temperament, athleticism, beauty, and grace.
Equitation is the art or practice of horse riding or horsemanship.
The Selle Français (SF) is a breed of sport horse from France. It is renowned primarily for its success in show jumping, but many have also been successful in dressage and eventing. An athletic horse with good gaits, it is usually bay or chestnut in color. The Selle Français was created in 1958 when several French riding horse breeds were merged into one stud book. The new breed was meant to serve as a unified sport horse during a period when horses were being replaced by mechanization and were transforming into an animal used mainly for sport and leisure.
The United States Equestrian Federation is the national governing body for most equestrian sports in the United States. It began on January 20, 1917, as the Association of American Horse Shows, later changed to the American Horse Shows Association (AHSA). In 2001, the organization changed its name to USA Equestrian (USAE) and, in 2003 it merged with the United States Equestrian Team (USET). In 2017, USEF rebranded as US Equestrian. In 2019, USEF abandoned and sold its own laboratory to the University of Kentucky.
The Hunter division is a branch of horse show competition that is judged on the horse's performance, soundness and when indicated, conformation, suitability or manners. A "show hunter" is a horse that competes in this division.
Hunt seat is a style of forward seat riding commonly found in North American horse shows. Along with dressage, it is one of the two classic forms of English riding. The hunt seat is based on the tradition of fox hunting. Hunt seat competition in North America includes both flat and over fences for show hunters, which judge the horse's movement and form, and equitation classes, which judge the rider's ability both on the flat and over fences. The term hunt seat may also refer to any form of forward seat riding, including the kind seen in show jumping and eventing.
Saddle seat is a style of horse riding within the category of English riding that is designed to show off the high action of certain horse breeds. The style developed into its modern form in the United States, and is also seen in Canada and South Africa. To a much lesser extent, it is ridden with American action horse breeds in Europe and Australia. The horse breeds mainly used for this flashy style are typically the showy Morgan Horse, and the high stepping American Saddlebred.
A sport horse or sporthorse is a type of horse, rather than any particular breed. The term is usually applied to horses bred for the traditional Olympic equestrian sporting events of dressage, eventing, show jumping, and combined driving, but the precise definition varies. In the United States, horses used in hunt seat and show hunter competition are often classed as sport horses, whereas the British show hunter is classified as a "show horse."
Western riding is considered a style of horse riding which has evolved from the ranching and welfare traditions which were brought to the Americans by the Spanish Conquistadors, as well as both equipment and riding style which evolved to meet the working needs of the cowboy in the American West. At the time, American cowboys had to work long hours in the saddle and often over rough terrain, sometimes having to rope a cattle using a lariat, also known as a lasso. Because of the necessity to control the horse with one hand and use a lariat with the other, western horses were trained to neck rein, that is, to change direction with light pressure of a rein against the horse's neck. Horses were also trained to exercise a certain degree of independence in using their natural instincts to follow the movements of a cow, thus a riding style developed that emphasized a deep, secure seat, and training methods encouraged a horse to be responsive on very light rein contact.
English riding is a form of horse riding seen throughout the world. The term is misleading because many equestrian countries like Germany, France, Italy or Spain have used the same style of riding, with variations, for centuries. There are many variations, but all feature a flat English saddle without the deep seat, high cantle or saddle horn seen on a Western saddle nor the knee pads seen on an Australian Stock Saddle. Saddles within the various so-called English disciplines are all designed to allow the horse the freedom to move in the optimal manner for a given task, ranging from classical dressage to horse racing. English bridles also vary in style based on discipline, but most feature some type of cavesson noseband as well as closed reins, buckled together at the ends, that prevents them from dropping on the ground if a rider becomes unseated. Clothing for riders in competition is usually based on traditional needs from which a specific style of riding developed, but most standards require, as a minimum, boots; breeches or jodhpurs; a shirt with some form of tie or stock; a hat, cap, or equestrian helmet; and a jacket.
The show hack is a type of ridden show horse, exhibited to a standard first established in England.
The National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA) is an equestrian organization in the United States that began by promoting and staging Pleasure riding events. Since then, several more disciplines have been added. It was founded in 1983. It is currently headquartered in Gurnee, Illinois, United States. The NSBA has a partnership with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) in order that both associations can benefit from the many rules and regulations they have in common.
Equestrian Canada, formerly known as Equine Canada and commonly known by its acronym, EC, is Canada’s comprehensive national governing body for equestrian sport. It is the executive branch of Canada's Olympic and Paralympic equestrian teams; the national association and registry of Canadian equestrian athletes; the national regulatory body for equestrian coaches, competition organizers, and judges; and the national federation of Canadian horse breeders and Canadian breed registries.
The Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) is one of America's most elite horse shows, founded in 1958. The takes place every October in the Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, D.C. The event is highlighted by international level show jumping, top show hunters, and two equitation championships. The event is currently ranked as a CSI-4*-W International show jumping event, as well as a USEF Premier Hunter and USEF 6* Jumper show.