Today I’m going to tackle the sensitive topic of Showmanship. This is the art of showing the horse to it’s best advantage, and the horse itself is merely a prop. This is one of my favorite classes and has been for many years ~ it takes long hours of practice and an incredible amount of work and concentration to perfect, but the reward for taking that time will be blue ribbons for sure!
Showmanship can either be exhibited Western or English, with correct appointments. Western horses are exhibited in show halters (no matter the breed), and English horses are shown in bridles or, in some cases, show halters. A Paint or Quarter horse shown Western-style can have his mane banded, horses shown Hunter-seat English should be braided, at least the mane. Handlers of Western horses will wear colorful suits with striking Western-type vests or jackets along with their boots and hat; Hunter-seat English exhibitors will wear their riding habit, complete with breeches or jodphurs, coat, boots and helmet; those showing Saddleseat English horses must be outfitted in their saddlesuits, jod boots and hat.
Although judged on the handler as opposed to the horse, it is imperative that the horse be clean and impeccably groomed. That said, the most important factors a judge will be looking for in a Showmanship class are attentiveness and what we call “crispness”. The handler’s movements should be sharp, quick and precise. Her horse MUST be responsive and at the ready when asked for a pattern (I’ll get to that in a minute) -- he must not disobey nor be too lazy or too hyped. Eye contact needs to be held with the judge at all times, though not necessarily will the JUDGE have his eyes on the handler, and never should the horse come between the handler and her watching the judge. If the judge is to the handler’s left, she should be at her horse’s right toward his shoulder but facing the horse at an angle. When the judge moves to the handler’s right, she must immediately switch sides and position herself in the mirror image of her previous stance.
Two judging “systems” are used when being evaluated: The half and the quarter. With the half system, not used much today, the handler will move to the opposite side of the horse as the judge passes behind the horse. The quarter system further divides the horse and dictates that the handler should move once the judge walks beyond the horse’s shoulder.
Judges most always ask for a pattern in Showmanship classes, sometimes referred to as “Equitation on the ground”. Included is walking to and/or away from the judge, pivoting on the hind, backing and turning. Whenever the handler leads her horse away from the judge, she should look over her shoulder, toward the horse, to be sure she’s traveling straight. Acknowledgment of the judge is paramount! The handler will use the same techniques outlined previously for setting up or squaring Halter horses, but it must be done as quickly as possible. The longer it takes a Showmanship handler to set her horse up, the more points she’ll lose.
At home before ever leaving for the showgrounds (should I even need to stress this anymore?), the potential pattern moves should be practiced until they are so ingrained into horse and handler they become automatic. Once arriving on the showgrounds it’s a good idea if you’re competing in Showmanship to look for a posted pattern, and if there is none to be found, inquire with the show office to find out what will be expected in the Showmanship class(es). Then memorize the pattern and practice, practice, practice!
That age old saying, “practice makes perfect” might not be absolute, but being well versed in what is going to be asked in the class is a whole lot better than wondering. Another excellent reason to memorize the pattern and pay little heed to what and how the exhibitors in front of you do their pattern is because sometimes the first one in the ring will run through the pattern incorrectly, and many times the rest of the class follows suit! If you’re paying close attention to detail (and every Showmanship handler should be detail oriented), you can walk off with a blue ribbon just by doing the pattern right if everyone else is off course, even if you didn’t give the most sterling of performances.
Hopefully this guide has been helpful to you, may it bring you confidence and luck in your show ring endeavors. See you in the ring!!!