How many classes should you go in at a horse show?

Why is it that when people circle 20 classes they qualify to go in on the horse show prize list, they can’t seem to whittle it down to 4-5? Just because you CAN go in all those classes, doesn’t mean you should. I’ve judged countless shows where I see the same horses in 10-15 classes. That borders on inhumane! These poor horses are brought in a hot trailer, continually fed hay to keep them quiet while they wait for their classes, then are “warmed up” before almost every class with a belly full of roughage. It amazes me that more riders aren’t tossed into the pucker brush. What possesses a person to ride these horses for class after class like that? A 99-cent ribbon? Bragging rights?

After watching one Paint horse go around in circles for 14 classes at a one-day show, I spoke to the rider: “I think your horse has done as much as he can for today. Perhaps a rub down, an apple and a quick ride home is what he deserves now?” Answer: “I still have the colorbreed division to go.”
I just don’t get it. The horse was standing in line with his eyes shut. Imagine what his muscles must have felt like?

Generally, show horses are not as fit as trail horses. But showing a horse in 10 or more classes in a day is the equivalent of riding 2 1/2 trail hours at a brisk trot. You wouldn’t do that on a trail horse that only had 15-30 minutes of exercise a day 3-4 days a week. You’d take it easier, maybe a brisk walk for 1 1/2 hours until they were up to the longer trotting trails. But yet, these people do it to their show horses! Worse yet, they are spoken to by stewards, judges, show management and friends, and still do it! Is the bloody ribbon worth hurting your horse over?

In my experience, the people showing with me would pick 2-3 halter classes and then they would have to pick a total of 4 classes to ride in and that’s it. If the horse had a long rest in the afternoon, I’d let them pick a game class at the end of the day.
It is a double-edged sword as show committees need lots of entries to pay for the show but people should not enter more than 6 classes at a one-day show. How about getting your friends to attend the show with you and then everyone wins! Show committees get lots of entries and judges get to see more horses, and horses are not overworked! Win, win, win!

But how do you get people to understand that theory without ticking them off? If you see someone showing their horse over and over to the point where the horses are dragging their heads, say something to the show management, it’s a start. If they’re your friends, mention that their horse looks dog tired and maybe you’ll get through their thick skull!


About hossjudge

Author - mystery novels that include horses Tack shop owner NEHC Large J judge in both divisions Clinician, coach, 4-H leader for 35 years. All around horse nut!
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2 Responses to How many classes should you go in at a horse show?

  1. Melissa Love says:

    I went in 8 classes that were spread apart throughout a 5 hour period. I ride about 2 hours a day EVERY day. My horse wasn’t even breathing hard after the last class. Then the next day we showed in 6 classes and both days we took it easy. Throughout this whole thing my horse was still so energetic it was crazy!! Do you guys think that was bad?? That was our first schooling show and we were told by the show manager to ride in more classes when we only had him in 4 each day?? Do you think we did anything wrong??

    • hossjudge says:

      It’s always good to question, so thanks for that! As always, there is no set amount that makes sense for every horse. Yours is ridden a good amount everyday, so his metabolism and endurance is much more than a lot of show horses. 14 classes in two days is not unheard of or detrimental to horses that are ridden so much during the week. The only concern you need is making sure his electrolyte balance is cared for and he’s eating at the right time of day and not all day (as many show horses are!) Also, what type of classes he is in will help decide. Halter classes don’t exert a lot of energy but jumping classes do. If they were all jumping classes, then I would recommend cutting back, just for the sake of his legs and feet and muscle recovery. But 14 in a nice blend of halter, flat and over-fence classes on a well-conditioned horse is not too much over a course of two days.

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