How to Act at a Horse Show
April 30, 2010 1:02 PM   Subscribe

What's the proper protocol to observe when you're a spectator at a horse show jumping or dressage competition?

I want to be a good spectator when I occasionally see live horse show jumping and dressage competitions. What's the proper etiquette here?

1. There's usually no bleachers, so, from where would one watch the competition?

2. Is standing right by the gates where the jumpers enter OK?

3. Besides making loud noises or really sudden movements that would spook a horse, is there anything else that's off limits?

Any other dos or don'ts for this type of thing?
posted by FergieBelle to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Stay clear of areas where the riders and staff are working. If there are any really forbidden areas, the staff should have them fenced off. As you said, no loud noises or sudden movements.

I would watch what other spectators are doing as far as hanging on the fence or what not. I usually stand a few feet back from the fence when I am taking photos, especially when the riders are coming close. Horses are funny animals, you don't want to be blamed for spooking them.

Clap when everyone else does. Some places, folks will hoot and holler. Follow the crowd.

Don't be afraid to talk to the riders after they compete and are out of the arena. Don't give the horses anything sugary unless the rider says it's okay. Even then, carrots or apples are better than sugar cubes. Horse are like kids, they can get antsy after eating sugar.

Um, that's pretty much it. Wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water. A hat is a good idea. Boots are good, especially in sandy areas with lots of horse poop. Plus, you'll look like you fit in.
posted by Xoebe at 1:15 PM on April 30, 2010

A quick web search turned up this nice summary of horse show spectator etiquette. I like the rule of thumb they suggest: "Spectator etiquette at equestrian competitions closely parallels that of major golf tournaments."
posted by RichardP at 1:17 PM on April 30, 2010

Don't stand ny the gate if you can help it. It's a pain navigating a crowd on a young (or stupid) horse. Plus its dusty. Find a nice spot somewhere else.

It's common sense really, you don't have to be as silent as a golf match. Show horses are expected to deal with regular stuff like people, dogs, cameras and not be spooky. But it is good to avoid having unusual stuff along the rail like umbrellas, flappy things, noisy things etc. Never hang anything on the rail or leave it where it can blow or roll into the arena. Always keep your dog leashed and quiet! And your children under control. Stay away from the horses and ask before approaching to pet one. Most horses are friendly but some are definitely not.

I assume you are going to very small local competitions since you said there are mo spectator areas. Just be aware that you are dealing with children and novice (and nervous) adults who may not be very experienced or skilled. A little consideration on the part of the spectators is always appreciated as are kind words or applause.
posted by fshgrl at 2:10 PM on April 30, 2010

Some good general rules for being around horses:
- Stay out of the way. Waaaaay out of the way. Even extremely well trained horses can misbehave, spook, or take off without a rider in control. If the show is happening in an outdoor arena course, don't stand by the rail and definitely not by the gate. Don't lollygag around main traffic ways where the competitors will be walking to and from the arena.

- Expect things to go wrong. This sounds really pessimistic, but CRAZY stuff happens when animals involved, especially big, powerful, fast animals that you're on top of. Just yesterday a girl at my barn had her horse tied up to a wooden post when the horse spooked and took off backwards, dragging this enormous log (at least 6 ft). The girl kept her cool perfectly throughout the whole ordeal.

- Don't be a pain. Horses are easily scared, and anything from a plastic bag to a stationary mailbox have been known to freak my horse out. What I'm saying is, don't show up to the horse show dressed like Lady Gaga.

- As far as volume level goes, it really depends on the event. Most events expect a quiet audience, so as not to distract horse or rider, especially with events that require extreme concentration and precision like dressage and jumping. But in other events, such as barrel racing or team penning, rider's get encouragement from the crowd.

If you're unfamiliar with being around horses, just keep your wits about you and err on the side of caution. You should be fine as far as staying out of the way and not bothering the competitors. :)
posted by gumtree at 2:59 PM on April 30, 2010

Watch what everyone else does, and do the same thing.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:03 PM on April 30, 2010

Stay well away from areas horses move through, watch from behind fences on the sides and do not climb on the fences. Watch what everyone else does for applause and do that - it will probably be light clapping after the horse makes a jump or performs some successful maneuver or when results are announced. Do not cheer or wave things unless everyone else is (unlikely). Do not approach people on horses on foot. Do not ask your friends to let you have a turn riding around on or being led around on during the show (annoying! they will be very busy and tired - wait until they offer). Do not attempt to feed horses snacks like carrots or sugar, leave this to their owners. Do not attempt to pet the horses.

Horse people are very nice so if you have a friend they may make it a more fun day than just watching, I would not plan for that happening though. If you want something more to do then take a camera with zoom and try get some nice pics for everyone to look at later.
posted by meepmeow at 3:36 PM on April 30, 2010

Most of these answers are good, but I just wanted to add a couple of things. Regarding your second question, I would not stand anywhere near the gate. Leave this space for the competitors and their trainers and grooms. I show and it's very frustrating when I am next in the ring and I want to be near the entry but can't because other people are crowding the area. Also, depending on the type of show, there may be a board on the edge of the ring where the courses are posted. This turns into another high traffic area where it is better not to be if you do not need to. In general, it is okay to lean on the fence (but not sit on it) as long as the horses are not coming too close to the fence while in the ring. If you feel like you want to lean back to see the horse when it comes by, that's probably an indication that you shouldn't be up against the fence.

Regarding applause, please, please, please do not clap until the horse has completed the course or test. Even if the horse just jumped the most difficult jump or combination on the course, hold your applause until the end. Even if other people are clapping, don't be that person. The crowd is not always right. If the horse still has jumps to jump or movements to complete, applause can be very distracting to both horse and rider. (In my opinion an exception to this rule is if you are watching the cross country portion of an eventing competition. It is more common and accepted for spectators to clap after the horse navigates a difficult combination because the rider usually has a lot more time to prepare for the next obstacle on cross country.)

Other than these things, I would just add to use common sense in your interactions. I think many riders will be happy to talk to you IF you do so in the proper manner. If the rider is hanging out on the horses back, looking relaxed, with the reins long, and a smile on their face, they probably won't mind if you say hello. If they are standing next to the gate watching the ring intently you should probably leave them alone. The same applies to possible horse interactions. If you want to ask to pet a horse, see if you can spend enough time observing the horses to figure out which ones might want to be petted. My horse is very friendly and has a tendency to watch the people and horses around him and stick his head out for attention if you get within five feet or so. As a result, I'm thrilled when people want to pet him because I know he enjoys it. Not all horses are like this though.
posted by horses, of courses at 4:32 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

1) For local events the middle of the fence, across from the judges' box, is usually the place to be. You can lean on the fence if a) other people are doing it, and b) it's obvious that the horses are not coming near the fence. (For example, for dressage they may have a smaller dressage arena marked inside the fence.) You might want to bring a folding camp chair instead, though.

2) Don't stand near the gate.

3) Flappy things. Someone holding a news paper? Fine. Someone letting a news paper flap around on the ground? So not fine. Also turn the flash off on your camera, it won't help you at that distance and it is just distracting.

The appropriate time to start clapping is when the rider pats the horse. This is the rider's sign that they feel comfortable letting go and that the horse is done working. (If they don't pet the horse, then shame on them.)
posted by anaelith at 5:04 AM on May 1, 2010

No flash. Be aware of the sun's position if you have a long lens, esp. if you're not back-lit.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:42 AM on May 1, 2010

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