There are many reasons why you may like to try in-hand showing with your horse or pony. It is a great experience for them whatever their age, for example if they’re inexperienced under saddle; in-hand showing is useful to maintain showground exposure if the horse is not being competed under saddle for a veterinary reason; and while clearly being a fun way to try a new horsey experience, in-hand showing is also a great way for a non-riding handler to enjoy the family horse or pony.
Like most equestrian competitions, most of us will want to be competitive in the show-ring, so it is worth putting in the homework to make your travelling and entry costs and other investments worthwhile!
(Photo credit to Michaela Huntington).
Luckily there are in-hand showing classes for many breeds and types of equine, from formal classes run under the auspices of the British Show Horse Association (BSHA), the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) and the British Skewbald and Piebald Association (BSPA), to fun classes at your local unaffiliated horse show. You will find a range of young and breeding horse classes, show hunter, show hack and riding horse classes, many native breed options, as well as miniature and veteran divisions and even fancy dress.
Here’s what the judges may be looking for, in an in-hand show horse or pony:
- Nice self-carriage and a forward going action. The horse or pony should be willing to walk - the handler mustn’t be dragging him! - and the equine should ideally carry itself well, as if he were under saddle. (The judges will take into account the type of class, of course.)
- A cohesive pairing of human and horse. The handler, even if they’re a non-horsey family member, should practise their own walk (on both sides of the horse). The hand nearest the horse should hold the lead-rein firmly but not restrictively, while loose or flappy rein ends should be held tidily. Think of quietly pushing the horse forward encouragingly, rather than pulling them forward. Stay at the shoulder!
- A non-spooky horse or pony. The show-ring environment is fraught with spooks - flapping tents, loose ponies, scary flower arrangements and the like - so practise de-spooking at home by leading the horse or pony through small spaces (e.g. plastic barrels or jumping blocks); utilising pieces of astro-turf to ride or lead over; tying flappy coats to the arena fence, and placing potted flower arrangements in the arena. Pat and praise the horse or pony when he goes forward quietly.
- Relaxed standing. A fidgeting horse or pony is annoying for both judge and handler. Biting and chewing the lead rein is a no-no. This is generally achieved through practise at home; anxiety feed supplements can also help the horse to relax. (Above photo credited to Michelle Spooner).
- A straight, forward-going trot. You will probably be asked to trot up the horse or pony, which again you will have practised - don’t restrict the animal’s head, and practise walking and trotting the horse or pony in straight lines, away from the guidance of the arena fence. Initially using a ‘channel’ of ground poles to trot through may help. Practise an understated verbal command, e.g. ‘Tr-ot!’
- A smart appearance. The handler generally wears tidy, light-coloured trousers with jopdhpur-type boots, a shirt and tie, and coat or waistcoat. Gloves and helmet are advised. Watch some classes first or search online for what to wear for the class you have in mind.
- For the horse, choose a smart bridle, ideally together with a ‘Newmarket’ chain, and/or leather lead-rein. If you’re entering riding pony, hack or riding horse classes, you will see more coloured or ‘fancy’ browbands; a plain browband is more commonly seen in hunter pony, sports horse and hunter classes. Something like our Plain Hunter Bridle is always popular - it has a plain browband and the traditional, wider noseband that judges favour on a heavier equine head. If you like a fancier browband, try the Heritage Show Bridle with its gorgeous plaited browband and wide hunter-style noseband.
A similar product if your horse’s head is a little finer than a hunter is the Show Stitch Heritage Hunter Bridle, with a slimmer noseband featuring discreet stitching, and a plaited browband.
If your show horse is very fine, for example an Arab, you may prefer the Equicraft Rolled Leather Bridle to show off the horse or pony’s head - we also have a lovely new Plaited In Hand Bridle (left), with a plaited browband and plain, narrow noseband.