Planning a horse show

Part of my duties as a Green Country Dressage board member include assisting in the planning of our schooling show series and managing at least one of the shows. There’s a lot of planning that goes into holding a horse show; if you’ve never done it, you might be surprised at how involved it is!

The first thing that’s required is selecting dates and venues for the show. Dates usually come first. GCD makes every attempt not to conflict with other dressage organizations’ shows; no one wins when you force competitors to choose where they want to show.

Once dates are nailed down, it’s time to find venues for these events. For a schooling show, the essentials are space to set up a full-size dressage arena, a warm up area, and trailer parking. It’s a nice bonus if a venue has stabling, but it’s not required. Spring weather in Oklahoma is often unpredictable, so we try to find venues with covered arenas and well-drained parking areas for our early shows. (If a show is rescheduled because of the weather, it typically loses most of its entries.) We have a rotation of venues in the area which include private farms and rodeo arenas! Since GCD has members scattered across northeastern Oklahoma, we split our shows across the area;that way, members on one side of Green Country don’t feel like they’re always the ones driving an hour an a half to a show!

This venue usually hosts rodeo events.
This venue usually hosts rodeo events.

Generally, we set dates and venues several months in advance; the 2016 dates were finalized last month. It’s important for us to do this early so we won’t be scrambling to find a place to hold a show at the last minute.

After dates and venues are settled, we start calling judges. We try our best to have a different judge for every show; we also try to avoid using the same judges that the other GMO chapter in Oklahoma uses for their shows. Our year end award requirements mandate that a rider has at least five scores from three different judges, and we want to make that as easy as possible for competitors.

Green Country Dressage has a list of favorite judges who are first on our list, but if they’re unavailable, we’ll often ask them for recommendations. Regardless of who we hire, we always make sure they’re at least USDF L Program graduates. It wouldn’t be useful for competitors to get feedback from people who weren’t qualified to judge them!

Judge, scribe, and runner.
Judge, scribe, and runner.

Once judges are confirmed, I put together an entry form. It’s a generic form that can be used for any of our shows, since our classes and entry fees are always the same. It goes on the club’s website, and a copy is sent to the Oklahoma Dressage Society webmaster for posting on their site.

A week or so before the show, I’ll start receiving entries. Most people mail them in, but there’s always a handful of emailed entries. I note on each entry if they’ve paid, if they’ve included a copy of their Coggins test, and if we need anything from them. (Some people forget to sign the liability release!) I slip each entry into my giant binder that’s organized by level; I try to organize entries by level, then by test. If people are riding more than one test, I’ll note that too. The deadline for entries is the Tuesday before the show; I’m happy to say that nearly everyone gets their entries in on time.

I secretly love being show manager because I love getting mail.
I secretly love being show manager because I love getting mail.

When entries are closed, I begin to work on ride times. Here’s a piece of advice for anyone entering a show- if you have a request about your ride time, send a note with your entry or email the organizer! It’s much easier to accommodate those requests when they’re known about before ride times are posted! So if your horse doesn’t handle the heat well, or if you know you need to leave by noon, or if you’re hauling in from a few hours away and don’t want to get up at 4 AM, don’t hesitate to ask for a special time! We always try to accommodate competitors; sometimes it’s not feasible, but most of the time it isn’t a problem.

Ride times are kind of a pain in the ass. I use Google Sheets to put them together; the basics of rider’s name, horse’s name, horse’s Oklahoma Dressage Society registration number, and test are easy. But different tests take different lengths of time to ride, so I’ll flip through the USEF website to see how long they estimate a test will take. (It’s helpfully noted at the top!) Generally, we schedule competitors test length + 3 minutes apart to give the judge time to write comments.

Scheduling is also somewhat dependent on the judge; some judges absolutely do not want to switch between level (e.g. judging all the Training 1 riders, then all the First 3 riders, then all the Training 2 riders). Others don’t mind jumping around. Since we use the same judges a lot, we usually have a feel for what they prefer and schedule accordingly.

When ride times are completed, they’re emailed to people who provided an email address on their entry form and they’re posted on the GCC website. Inevitably, there are two or three revisions as late entries come in, people scratch, or someone panics about their ride time.

Once ride times are finalized, a volunteer prints and organizes tests in rider order, filling in the blanks on the front of the test and assigning numbers. Numbers are neatly tucked into envelopes with the competitor’s name and horse name written on the front.

The day before the show, a few volunteers set up GCC’s arena at the venue. (No venue in the area has a dressage ring, so the club purchased a ring and a trailer to haul it around in.) The day of the show, the show management arrives about an hour before the first rider; I come armed with my binder, a variety of pens and notebooks, and my Chromebook. The volunteer with the tests and numbers arrives, competitors begin to arrive and the check-in process begins. Check-in is typically smooth, although I’ve had to shake people down for entry fees once or twice.

GCC is fancy with its trailer and arena.

Once the show starts, it generally runs itself. There’s a volunteer at the warm up ring, keeping everyone informed about who’s in the ring and who’s on deck; the show office hums with the sounds of someone calculating scores on an adding machine. Another person sets the scored tests on a table with the ribbons attached and writes the scores on a big poster board for everyone to see. Youth members run tests from the scribe to the office. Someone’s always hovering, waiting for their test. Riders use the office area as a place to hang out, complain about the judge and analyze each other’s rides.

It’s not a glamorous job, but show planning and management is a necessary one. If you enjoy the shows your local organizations put on, thank them when you compete. Better yet, offer to help sometime! I’m sure they’d be happy to have you.

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

11 thoughts on “Planning a horse show”

  1. This is great! I signed up to help out with show planning at a local venue next year so in addition to referring to this constantly, guess who I will be emailing last minute with questions! 😀 Hope you don’t mind continuing you share your wealth of knowledge.

  2. I often think that the smaller, local show mangement teams have a tougher job than the big ones because they have less help! When I helped run QH Congress, the programs we used made the job a LOT easier.

    1. I can imagine! I would LOVE to have a program to do all of this for me but I’m terrified I’ll end up being the one who manages ALL the shows because I’m the only one who knows how to use it lolz!

      Johnny and I are working writing a program that will at least take some of the work out of the scheduling, and I’ve been working on developing an online entry system for a while. Hopefully it’ll be done before the 2016 season starts!

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