Imagine competing from the comfort of your home arena (or pasture!) and still showing against riders from all over the country. Is this the future of horse showing?
Horse showing is a beloved year-round sport for many of us, but let’s face it — it’s not without its fair share of headache and stress. You need a trailer, for one thing, or a friend willing to haul you. It’s likely that you’ll be waking up extra-early and getting home quite late. Prepping for the show might start a solid 24-hours before you even step foot on the show grounds in terms of organizing your equipment, cleaning your tack, bathing and braiding or banding your horse. If it’s a multi-day show, you’ll be renting stall space, not to mention a hotel room for yourself (unless you’re lucky enough to have living quarters in your trailer or the show is close enough that you can commute). And let’s not even think about the hurry-up-and-wait of the horse show itself.
And the reality is that horse showing might not be your idea of fun: maybe your horse is very anxious off-property, or doesn’t do well in company. Maybe you have a little performance anxiety yourself. Or perhaps you’re new to the idea of horse showing and don’t know if it’s worth it to invest all that time and money to see where you stand.
For any of these reasons (and more), there’s a new solution: internet horse showing.
There are a few varieties of virtual horse shows: there are several websites and Facebook groups devoted to the photo horse show, where you can submit a photo of you and your horse to compete in classes such as conformation, turnout, best form over fences, etc. with categories included for photography (I saw one for “best eyes,” as an example).
The other type of online horse show is performance-based through video. The International Performance Horse Development Association, or IPHDA, hosts monthly online horse shows with real professional judges, awarding points and prizes to competitors with year-end circuit points tallied. For all intents and purposes, the IPHDA seems to operate like any other show association with membership required to participate.
IPHDA classes fall into three categories: groundwork (performed in a roundpen), rider confidence (for young or beginner riders to receive plenty of feedback from the judge) and performance horse development (judged on the horse and rider as a team in any tack). The IPHDA also offers classes in ranch riding and performance as well as any-tack dressage.
Here’s an example video of a groundwork pattern, with the pattern dubbed over the video to explain what is required:
Competitors videotape their ride, upload it to YouTube and then submit the link for judging. Each show announces which IPHDA pattern it’s following and then gives competitors a few weeks to submit their entries; judging takes place after the entry deadline. Judges then place the class and give feedback to each entry; cash prizes are awarded with points going towards year-end awards.
There are a few clear advantages to competing in a virtual horse show: you can receive feedback from a judge on your horse’s performance unlike a “live” horse show in which the judge may not have time to discuss your trip or may only leave cryptic notes on your scorecard. Riders can get a good idea of what they might want to work on before heading to a live show. For riders without the means to travel to a live show, virtual shows can still grant them the opportunity to compete. The online shows also have more lenient rules on legal tack: bitless bridles are considered appropriate in many classes where they would be ordinarily banned, for example.
But there are distinct disadvantages as well — part of the fun of hauling to a horse show is all the hard physical work it takes to prepare, the hours you spend on the rail cheering for your friends and the camaraderie of hanging out all weekend on the show grounds. Personally, I enjoy the butterflies that come from riding into the show ring with all the eyes upon you, even if I might not admit that in the moment. That kind of “horse show feeling” just doesn’t seem to be there when you’re sending in your videotaped ride.
For more information about the International Performance Horse Development Association, check out the association website.
Weigh in, Horse Nation! What are your thoughts on virtual horse shows? Are they a valuable tool for developing the horse and rider? A fun supplement to a regular show season? The ultimate new replacement for the hassle of horse showing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!