5 Tips for Surviving Winter Horse Shows

A winter horse show is great, sometimes.  It seems to me like any show falling between December and March is often thought of as a ‘schooling show’ if you reside in any climate wear riding outside during that time becomes…challenging.

Personally, winter is boot camp time at my barn.  Even though this year has been unusually warm, we’ve been stuck in the indoor arena for the last three months and the idea of hauling somewhere just to see a different stretch of wall go by is becoming more and more appealing.

I sympathize with you guys down in Florida, riding with the short sleeves and palm trees and sunny weather.

Just kidding.

For those few equestrians whose horse is ready to show and compete, winter horse shows offer a great opportunity to get a jump start on year end awards or points.

I’ve always tried to space my shows out as far as possible so being able to start in January, the first rated show in my area, would be great.  Weather cooperating. Realistically I’m looking at the end of April as the very earliest possibility for showing.

This means my season will likely consist of one show every month from April until October.  Why only one show?  I don’t like to cram shows too close to each other because then there’s less room for improvement.  Plus, it’s just about all I can financially handle at a time.

These horse show things are expensive!

For the rest of the equestrians and equines considering a winter horse show, it’s more likely to be a learning opportunity.  A pseudo clinic if you will. A winter show is great to introduce new horses and riders to ideas, environments, and experiences that they’ve not been exposed to before.

Entries are almost always lower at winter horse shows compared to summer ones so they’ll be fewer horses, less competition, and the possibility for great schooling time.

Unfortunately other people have exactly the same idea.

As a photographer, I’ve seen a wide spectrum of winter horse shows ranging from 40 novice riders and novice horses in the ring at once, to fairly small, calm, shows where everyone seems to have a good grip on what a horse show is and nothing too overly dramatic happens.

You never know what you’re going to get until you get there.

So what can you do to make a winter horse show a successful and productive experience for horses and riders alike?

1.) Know your goals and be prepared

If you’re going to go and compete, then be prepared to compete.  Have your show day routine down, have you’re tack clean, have your clothes ready, and know about any rule changes that might have come into effect at the beginning of the new year.

If you’re going for a learning experience, still be ready.  Make sure your equipment is clean and in order, be presentable, and take some pride in your presentation.  You’re routine can be slightly more relaxed, but this is still, hopefully, in preparation for a future show so try to incorporate all the things that you would do at a show in the future.

2.) Check the weather

Those lovely winter storms seem to pop up and dump snow and/or ice at the most inopportune moments.  If the weather is looking less than friendly, see if you can go a day early or stay a day late to avoid hauling in it.  Many hosts will either give you a break on the stabling fees, or sometimes waive them all together.

Always bring extra food, blankets, bedding, and if you can water.  For you too!

3.) Call ahead

It’s never a bad idea to call ahead to check in with your hosts.  If the weather is bad they’ll know to look out for your arrival. If they release them, see if you can get class counts, forms, competition numbers, and anything else that you can prepare for ahead of time so you can get it done and out of the way.

If there is a ton of snow hanging around, it never hurts to ask where the best place to unload and park your trailer is.  This will not only make it safer for you and  your horse, but it’ll also get them out of the cold trailer and into the warm stall quicker.

4.) Have a schedule, but be flexible

For open shows, a show bill might be all you get, but if your show has a schedule, get one and then keep it current.  Mark down any delays or schedule changes so you don’t forget about them.

Keep an eye on times where you can get your horse into the arena and familiarize them with their new work space.

Always remember that this is a new experience for some horses and riders so try to be flexible!  Plans can change on the fly so be prepared.

5.) Bring a friend with a camera

I cannot tell you enough how valuable any and all videos are.  Even just pictures could reveal things to you that won’t be obvious while you’re riding.

It’s also great for showing progress.  I wish every day I that I’d had gotten any video of any ride from my first few years riding.  Iv’e got some rare action shots but mostly its pictures of Bubba and I standing and smiling somewhere.

Either way, if something hilarious happens, you’ll have proof.


There you have it!  Good luck at your winter horse show and be sure to let us know if you have any fun adventures along the way 😉