Skip to main content

How to Plan an On-Farm Show for Your Riding Students

Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.

Our farm shows normally go from leadline classes all the way to walk, trot, canter, and jumping.

Our farm shows normally go from leadline classes all the way to walk, trot, canter, and jumping.

Why Plan a Show for Your Lesson Program?

With all the schooling horse shows that are available for kids, you might be wondering whether or not organizing a show for your students on your farm would be beneficial. I believe the answer is a resounding yes!

Benefits of an On-Farm Show

A first-time showing experience can be scary for new riders. Don't they know what to expect? Their regular horse may act different away from home. By hosting a farm show, you eliminate the unfamiliarity part that makes it scary the first few times. Here are some of the benefits:

  • We encourage students to sign up by putting it to them that they will be in the same riding ring they always ride in, and the competitors will be other students they recognize or know from the barn.
  • Since you are planning the show, you can control every element of it to make sure that it is as laid back and low pressure as possible.
  • You can make sure that all of the students get as much warm up and encouragement as possible. If your student struggles with something, in particular, you can step in and coach them through it. As long as you help all of the riders if need be, it is still fair.
  • You can write the class list to accommodate the students who enter.
  • You know your students and what level that they ride at, so you should have a generalized idea of what sort of classes you would want to have in your show.
  • You can control the size of the classes to make sure that they are within reason and that your students will feel safe. If you need to split a division to make the ring less crowded you can do so.
  • Anything you come up with that you think would make the show run more smoothly you can do. It's your farm show, so normal horse show rules and standards don't necessarily have to apply. Though, keep in mind that if your students are considering showing off the farm in the future the more you can make it like a "real" show the better.
  • When we plan our shows, we do our best to keep it laid back but as true to life as a "real "show would be as possible.

Step 1: Consider Your Horse Numbers

Before you make your class list, consider the number of lesson horses you have to use, and if you have any students that will be riding their own horses in the show.

Once you know how many horses you are working with, you will have a better idea of if you will have to divide up any divisions to keep the class size small and safe.

Step 2: Get Your Students Excited

Next, you want to start getting your students excited about the prospect of an on-farm show for them to participate in. I have found my students like having something to work towards and most are enthusiastic about giving it a try since it is in their normal environment.

I have not experienced any trouble with parents being reluctant to want their child to participate. I do not require full show attire for the farm shows so the cost is low, and I describe it to them as a goal for their child to work towards and a good learning experience. Most parents are excited at the prospect that you think their child is ready to do something like a farm show.

As far as dress for our farm shows, we require them to where their riding pants and boots, and a shirt with a collar tucked in. That's it! If they are taking lessons, then should already have these things so there won't be an added expense for gear to deter them from wanting to sign up.

At our farm shows, the entry fee is $40 per child. That covers all the classes in the division, use of the farm's lesson horse, and coaching throughout. It is obviously a lot less money than if we hauled the horses off the property for a show, and they don't need official show clothes either, so that is one less expense for the families.

Riding in a show in the same ring they do their lessons in is quite a comfort to many new riders.

Riding in a show in the same ring they do their lessons in is quite a comfort to many new riders.

Step 3: Pick a Date and a Closing Date

Once you have everyone excited about the prospect of the farm show coming up, set a date for it and a closing date as well—meaning a date that will be the last day that you will accept entries on. I usually make the closing date a week before the show.

You can come up with a really simple entry form with the child's name, and I usually have them list their top three horse preferences.

When everyone is sharing the horses, it can be hard to get everyone on their number one choice but we try our hardest to at least make sure that even if it isn't their favorite, that they are comfortable with that horse. Also, I try my hardest to make sure they ride that horse at their lesson before the show. Which tends to be a nice confidence boost.

Step 4: Make a Tentative Class List

I start planning before the entry forms even start to come in. I always have an idea in mind of what classes I'm going to want to run, so I make a class list up (a tentative one, of course). You can always change it if your entries don't match your list quite right. Here is an example of what one of our typical farm show class lists would look like:

Dun-Pikin Farm Fall Farm Show: Class List

Leadline Divison

  • Leadline
  • Leadline Pattern

Walk Divison

Scroll to Continue
  • Walk
  • Walk Pattern
  • Walk Equitation

Walk/Trot Division

  • Walk/Trot Equitation
  • Walk/Trot Pattern
  • Walk/Trot Command


  • Walk/Trot/Canter Equitation
  • Walk/Trot/Canter Over fences
  • Walk/Trot/Canter Command

Once I have the division and class list down, I start planning the horse, rider combinations, and class assignments. I pretend that all of the students are going to sign up. This way, before the entry forms start coming in, I will already have an idea of whether or not I need to run any division twice so the ring won't be too crowded.

By starting early, you will have an idea of whether you will have to divide divisions to make it work as far as the horses go, since you can only have one kid on a horse at a time! So basically, the instructor knows who the kids normally ride, and who they will ask to ride. So what we do is use this information to make a rough draft of the class list with horse and rider assignments. Then, once the entry forms come in, you can do any tweaking you need to do. Whether it be to change horse assignments or divide a division so that the ring isn't too crowded.

My more advanced riders help keep it running smoothly in the earlier part of the day, then they have their turn!

My more advanced riders help keep it running smoothly in the earlier part of the day, then they have their turn!

Step 5: Order the Awards

Ordering awards. We give out ribbons places one through six. We go through Hodges Badge Company—they are easy to work with and reliable about getting you your ribbons on time. They will even do last minute shipments if you don't get your order done in time.

Step 6: Recruit Volunteers

This is super important! At a regular horse show, everyone comes with a horse, their tack, their support system (trainer, show parent), and everyone takes care of themselves.

When you host a farm show, that is not the case. You need to have a plan of how you are going to do tack changes and make sure that you can find the riders you need when the time comes for their class.

We have a markerboard where we write all the classes, horse assignments. We also label all the saddles and bridles with numbers so that when it is time to do tack changes, anyone can look up on the board and know what needs to be on what horse. Instead of having volunteers that are running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to help, but not knowing how to.

You Need These Volunteers to Run the Show Smoothly

  1. Someone in the barn in charge of getting the horses tacked up and ready for classes and to do tack changes in between. This could be adult volunteers or even teenage students. (Due to the fact that the kids are sharing horses I don't have them involved with the grooming and tacking on show day. It just takes too long and slows down an already slow process of having a horse show where all the kids share the horses.)
  2. Someone to check the kids in and give them their numbers. Depending on how you do payments, this person may also collect entry fees and document them.
  3. You will need someone to be in charge of having the kids organized and ready for the next class, that way, you can efficiently do the tack change and stick the new rider on and go. Using your lesson horses for a show is already an unavoidably slower way of doing it, so any way you can to make it more efficient you should do it!
  4. You need a judge (we don't hire professional judges for these shows). Most knowledgeable, local horse people you find would be honored to ask to participate. Most have never even wanted payment so, at the least a thank you card and a gift card would be a nice gesture.
  5. You will need an announcer to announce the results (The person who checks in the riders should make a sheet and fill in the number next to the rider name for the announcer to use.)
  6. Someone to hand out ribbons is always helpful too.
  7. Depending on your farm, you may need signage or a person to direct parking.
  8. It helps to designate a place for people to take photos of their child. That way, they aren't stopping in the gateway or holding up progress. Remember, we all know the kids and parent's want pictures, but it needs to be efficient since others are waiting to ride those same horses.

Step 7: Consider Seating and Food

Your student's families are going to be asking where they should go to watch, you need to designate a seating area and tell everyone in advance to bring chairs. Unless you somehow plan on being able to provide them.

Do you want to sell food? If you don't want to that's fine. Just make sure you let your customers know if you won't be so they can be prepared if they want to, to bring food or at least drinks with them.

Step 8: Consider Your Rain Policy

Most horse shows are rain or shine events. That being said, this is supposed to be a good first-time show experience. It won't be fun in the pouring rain, not for anyone. So you may want to have a rain date listed on your entry form, so everyone knows in advance what the policy is going to be.

Students of all ages are enthusiastic to participate in our farm shows!

Students of all ages are enthusiastic to participate in our farm shows!

What Makes Farm Shows So Great?

It depends on who you ask! The kids would probably say the ribbons. The parents would probably say the positive experience and reasonable price.

For me, I think the best part about the farm shows is that not only does the judge give the students verbal feedback as they get their ribbon, but we also send them home with comment cards. Giving them feedback on what they did well, as well as constructive criticism of what they need to work on. We encourage them to bring the comment cards to the lesson and discuss them with their instructor.

We have three farm shows a year and we encourage them to compare comment cards through the year to see the progress they have made.

Make It Into a Show Series

If you try a farm show and get positive feedback and want to do it again in the future, another fun thing is to do it as a trophy series. So they still get their ribbons at each show, but points are accumulated for an overall score throughout the show year, and then we award Trophies at the end of the series.

We normally do a little awards party with light snacks and cake and ice cream, and then hand out the trophies to the overall winners. We also have participation awards for anyone who competed in all three shows!

It Has Been a Positive Addition to My Program

The annual show series has been a positive addition to my program and all of my students look forward to it each year. I think giving them goals to work toward in their lessons, gives them even more incentive to improve.

It also provides a sort of camaraderie having all your clients there supporting each other. Doing the farm shows makes showing affordable for some who may otherwise not be able to afford it, as well as providing a fun, confidence-building experience for your students.

Getting their first ribbon is a big deal, and your students will be talking about the show for weeks and looking forward to the next one!

Fun at our show series awards banquet!

Fun at our show series awards banquet!


Ellison Hartley (author) from Maryland, USA on March 04, 2019:

Thank you! I'm glad you liked it!

MayaBurnage on March 04, 2019:

really cool article

Related Articles