Horse Show Preparation Genius guide to staying sane!

Taking your equine partner off-property to compete in a new environment can be a very nerve-wracking and stressful experience. If things are not prepared and planned out ahead of time there is a chance that critical items may be left behind at home. To ensure smooth sailing while away, it is extremely important that horse show preparation and organization begin weeks ahead of your departure date.

Over the years that I have been competing in different riding competitions, I have gained the organizational skills needed in order to be prepared ahead of time. In the past I would pack up my horse tack the night before leaving, this left me scrambling to find a pair of gloves or boots to borrow while in the show ring.

As you can guess, that carried over to my performance within the show ring, because of all the scrambling that happened before mounting and feeling stressed. To make sure you do not make the same mistakes, here are some pointers to follow.

Months Before Competition

Before deciding which classes you will be competing in it is important to figure out what both you and your horse are comfortable doing. This can be done by practicing various jumping exercises or creating conditioning sets to get in peak athletic shape.

Having a professional trainer to guide you is always highly encouraged as they will always be willing to help with different questions and advice. It is very important to make sure that you keep your horse on a consistent schedule to allow for muscle buildup and fluidity within training.

At this point in time, it is also a good idea to figure out if others would also be interested in going to the horse show. This allows you and others to figure out trailering placement for your horses so you are not left looking for a ride last minute.

Weeks Before Competition

At this point in time, you should have consulted with a trainer and decided on which divisions you will be competing in. This allows for better preparation in pinpointing what you exactly need to be working on.

This may mean that you have a dressage test that needs practicing, a certain jump height that will need to be implemented within the coursework, or a cross-country level that needs to be schooled. Oftentimes issues arise that may need extra attention.

Personally, my horse has trouble picking up his left lead while doing a dressage test, because of this weakness I have been doing more transitions while going to the left to strengthen up that side of his body.

Horse Show Preperation

Preparing Your List

I recommend that you begin creating a list of things that you will need to pack in the weeks to come (I will include my personal list below). Your list should include things for both riding and horse care.

It helps to put the items needed under different categories to make it easier to read. While writing out your list, think of the order you will use the different items and write them down as they come to mind as you may discover you need to pack more items than expected. Also make sure to double-check your list before packing.

Horse Show Packing List

Riding essentials:

  • Boots (for horses)
  • Saddle
  • Ear Bonnet
  • Riding Crop/Whip
  • Saddle Pad
  • Half Pad

Grooming Essentials:

Stable Supplies:

Horse Care:


  • Hay
  • Grain
  • Alfalfa Cubes

For The Rider:

  • Muck/Tall Boots
  • Tan Breeches
  • White Show Shirt
  • Black Belt
  • Tall Socks
  • Black Gloves
Horse Grooming Tools

Days Before Competition

As your competition begins to approach faster and faster, your nerves and excitement will increase. It is now time to go over your packing list and start organizing everything! I recommend using a tack trunk with wheels as it is easier to move from place to place (I use a 50-gallon Stanley chest) this allows me to pack many items into it.

Gather all of your items into one area and start packing them up neatly. Place the larger items on the bottom such as saddle pads and blankets, as the trunk fills place the smaller items on the top. Use a Tupperware container to store little clips or ties along with other small items.

Leather items such as saddles and bridles should be protected by saddle covers and bridle bags. This prevents your tack from obtaining scratches and keeps them nice and neat. Once all of your horse’s tack has been gathered, start loading it into the trailer. It is best to do this the night before departure when you are done using your equipment. 

Load in an organizational manner so unloading is a seamless process. This is also a good time to pack up the hay, grain, and supplements your horse will need over the next few days. Scoop the grain into separate ziplock bags for each feeding, this is easier than hauling large bags that will take up lots of space.

Depending on how much your horse eats you will need to be sure to bring enough hay. Be sure to also have all of your clothes/essentials/food packed the night before leaving! 

Day of Competition/Departure Day

Arrive at your barn early enough to begin getting your horse prepared to leave. Every horse acts differently within the trailer which means some may need standing wraps, shipping boots, or a head bumper.

Standing wraps help protect the horses’ legs from any possible injuries that may occur while within the trailer. Head bumpers are also another piece of protective equipment that prevents head injuries if they were to hit their head on the roof of the trailer. Once your horse is all wrapped and prepared it is time to go!

Arrival At Showgrounds

When you arrive at the showgrounds it is important to first unload your equine partner and get them settled into their stall with water and hay, this allows them to become comfortable with the new surroundings. Next all tack and equipment will need to be unloaded in an organized way.

Oftentimes I will rent a “tack stall” to store away all my things while I am at the competition. A lock and chain will also be used in this case to keep my equipment safe while I am not there. The day before I compete at the new venue I will always hack around the property to get my horse comfortable with the new surroundings.

At the end of each night always clean up your area and reorganize everything so it will be ready for the next morning. Lastly, always keep a positive and uplifting attitude towards other competitors while competing as it can oftentimes become stressful, and in the end, you are all in it together! Happy horse showing!

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