SmartPak Monday Morning Feed: 25 Things to Do Before a Horse Show

The time has come — horse shows are coming back! So here are 25 things you can do to prepare before a horse show.

SmartPak staff veterinarian, Dr. Lydia Gray, outlined these helpful hints on what you can do to prepare for a horse show on SmartPak’s blog. Even though not all of the things on Dr. Gray’s list will apply to everyone, they’re certainly good reminders on what needs to be done  — especially since some of us may be a bit rusty due to the horse show hiatus.


1. Renew memberships
This is the very first thing I do for the new show year (which starts December 1st). Emails from organizations you’ve belonged to in the past start to come in during the fall which helps. I’m a member of these organizations for competition/score/award purposes: US Equestrian, United States Dressage Federation (USDF), American Driving Society (ADS), American Trakehner Association (ATA), Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA), and HUB Club (my local carriage driving organization).

2. Prepare my “show folder”
I carry a clear plastic binder with me whenever I travel with my horse that contains all the documentation I need for shows, clinics, lessons, out-of-state trips, etc. Once I renew my memberships, the new “membership card” for each organization gets printed out and put in here along with my horse’s breed and organization registrations, his Coggins, an extra signature card, US Equestrian vaccination record, and a copy of a test from the highest level for freestyle eligibility.

Photo courtesy of SmartPak

3. Request “special” paperwork
If you or your horse require additional official documentation for competition, such as a note from a veterinarian or an official dispensation certificate from US Equestrian, now’s the time to ask for these.

4. Schedule Coggins testing
This is planned for as close to last year’s date as possible to avoid overlap as well as a gap. As soon as the document comes I make copies for my “show folder” and for Newman’s “General Health” folder.

5. Plan vaccinations
This is trickier, as I want to schedule the flu and rhino as late as possible in the spring so that my last show of the season (typically October) is within the new six-month rule, yet early enough that the insect-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus and Eastern and Western Encephalitis have time to “kick in” before the mosquitoes and other insects start biting. If your horse has been vaccinated for these diseases before and so this is just a booster, then it takes only about two weeks for his immunity to build back up. I also like to make sure there aren’t any clinics or lessons scheduled the first week after his spring vaccinations, since he might be feeling a bit “punky.”

6. Take trailer in for annual maintenance
It terrifies me not to have my trailer parked at the barn for emergency or disaster purposes, but it also terrifies me to think of having an on-road crisis because I didn’t have it checked over and serviced. If I go early enough in the season, my guys only take a few days to inspect the battery, brakes, lights, tires, coupling, etc and pack the bearings and then it’s back at home.

7. Clean and restock the trailer
Once the trailer has its annual “check-up,” I clean the front dressing room (which I had to empty for servicing) and clean the back horse area, then repack it with the things I use when away from home (shipping boots, shipping halter and lead rope, braiding belt, muck bucket and fork, saddle pads, mounting stool, and so on). I always make sure my emergency stash (gloves, flashlights, tool set, extra halter and lead rope, boots, bandages, road flares, etc) is in good working order and complete.

8. Add events to my personal calendar
I’m old school and like to see all my personal, professional, and equestrian appointments in one place, on paper, so that I don’t plan three things in one day (that still happens, but only because I get ambitious). So sometime early spring, I visit all the websites of all the organizations in which I compete and copy all possible shows onto that year’s calendar. Clinics are also included. With them all in front of me, I can them decide which ones would be best to attend given my horse’s readiness (fitness and training), my availability, and my goals for the competition year.

9. Review year-end awards requirements
In order to achieve my competition goals, it helps to be reminded of what’s needed for each discipline and achievement, especially when you show in several different disciplines. This year my goals are:
• earn one more Third Level freestyle score of 65% or higher for my USDF Bronze Bar
• earn one more Third Level score at 63% or higher for Newman’s “Pb” or “Performance Bronze” from the American Trakhener Association
• earn five scores of 65% or higher for an “Elementary Level” Dressage Seat Equitation award
• earn two more driven dressage scores 70% or higher for my Blue Level Award from the American Driving Society

10. Ensure judging gigs don’t conflict
Now that I have all possible events in one place, I can make sure none of my judging commitments overlap with shows or clinics.

11. Take carriage out of storage
My barn owner graciously allows me to keep my carriage in the extra stall in her garage during the warm months, so it’s protected from the weather yet readily available whenever I want to go for a drive. During the winter though, when I’m not using it, I keep it inside one of those concrete, garage door, self-serv/u-store places. As soon as the overnight temps consistently remain above freezing though in my area – sometime in April – out it comes!

Photo courtesy of SmartPak

Photo courtesy of SmartPak

12. Clean and inspect harness and carriage
The harness gets stored along with the carriage, so when I bring home the whole kit and kaboodle everything gets a thorough cleaning and check-over for safety, missing parts, etc.

13. Replace Newman’s shoes
Because we don’t go anywhere during the winter and tend to have a lighter work schedule, his feet are able to withstand the indoor arena surface without the protection of shoes and so for six months of the year Newman is barefoot. But when his workload increases and we start going places, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to have him reshod.

14. Revisit his diet and supplement regimen
Before things get too crazy, I like to go over my horse’s complete diet with my barn owner, deciding what I’ll take to shows, having a Plan B if he gains or loses weight during the competition season, and determining if he needs any updates to his supplement program, such as more joint support, electrolytes in addition to salt, less Vitamin E since now he’s on grass pasture (doubtful, with an increase in exercise and his PSSM, he needs all the Vit E he can get!)

15. Start fly control
While I’m buying fly sprays to keep him focused and comfortable at shows, I make sure our comprehensive barn program is up-to-date with feed-through fly control products, fly parasites, fans, premise spray, Kool Kurtains, and fly masks, boots, and sheets.

16. Order medications
Unfortunately, Newman has several medical conditions that require prescription medications so I check the rulebooks for the organizations we show under to make sure the guidelines didn’t change, order the appropriate products, and print out US Equestrian Medication Report Forms to accompany entries.

17. Bathe, clip, and pull
I cannot wait for the day when it’s finally warm enough to give my horse a full, soapy bath! Not only does it encourage the rest of his winter hair to finally shed, it also removes urine, manure, sweat, limestone and anything else he may have rolled or slept in. Once the hair is clean, I also clip his bridlepath and other areas, pull and trim the mane, and brush his tail.

Photo courtesy of SmartPak

18. Clean brushes (or buy new)
Now that my horse is clean, I don’t want to groom him with dirty equipment! This year I used the Epona Super Brush Scrubber to clean everything, set them all out in the sun to dry and disinfect, and then (tearfully) went through and discarded brushes that were super old and “dead.” Now my grooming tote is neat and tidy and my cleaning supplies actually get my horse clean!

19. Arrange for bodywork
I’m a true believer in bodywork for athletes, whether the athlete is human or horse. I choose to take yoga, tai chi, and Pilates classes – in addition to weight training and cardio – to keep my body strong, flexible, and to have staying power. Over the years, I’ve learned that my horse benefits from acupuncture, massage and myofascial release, and chiropractic or Veterinary Spinal Manipulation. I back off these modalities in the winter, but when I begin to ask him to really use himself, I make sure everything is in alignment and comfortable.

Photo courtesy of SmartPak

20. Assess tack
Before show season kicks into full gear, I carefully look through all my tack and equipment to make sure I have everything I need and that it’s in good working order. Without this step, sometimes it gets too close to a show for: a new white saddle pad because a mouse chewed the one I was counting on using, or a curb hook (or the whole curb chain!) that walked off during the winter or new stirrup leathers because mine look too scruffy too be seen in public with.

21. Assess rider turnout
Same for my “tack and equipment.” It’s always a good idea to try on what you plan to wear at shows to make sure it (ahem) still fits, isn’t missing any buttons, all the zippers work, and so on. I like to gather my stock tie, pin, blouse, helmet, hairnet, breeches, socks, and jacket – along with my bag of hair pins, safety pins, mirror, brush, lipstick so that there’s no hunting the night before the first show.

22. Sign up for clinics and lessons
I do work my horse almost daily during the winter, but tend to audit clinics and lessons rather than participate. So when I feel like Newman is fit again in the spring, I start signing up for one-on-one instruction because what feels right to me might not actually BE right and I’d rather get this feedback in a learning environment than a competitive environment.

23. Arrange for help at shows
Not so much for a “regular” dressage show, but for carriage driving and our new discipline, sidesaddle, I need a second person at competitions to help me get ready. Rather than wait til the last minute and have to stress about finding someone with a free weekend (good luck with that!) I arrange for a “helper” at shows many months out.

24. Watch “How To Do Dressage Braids”
Before I have to braid Newman’s mane for our first show, I like to gather my braiding equipment and practice as it’s been six months since the last time my fingers were asked to be that nimble. Fortunately this year, SmartPak just posted a video on making those fancy button braids and I’m going to watch it one more time before trying it myself!

25. Update Equestrian Entries
Everything is in order and our first show is just two weeks away so it’s time to upload my documents to this online show entry service and enter! Here’s hoping I haven’t forgotten anything!

Here’s hoping that you’re prepared for your next show. What do you do to makes sure you’re prepared?

Go SmartPak and go riding!