Showing Turnout and Etiquette

Showing Tips for You and Your Horse

Showing Turnout and Etiquette: Tips for Success

Showing turnout and etiquette tips so you and your horse don’t lose your cool

There are many different types of showing classes, from in-hand to working hunter. It can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to requirements for the rider, etiquette and the turnout of the horse. There can be different requirements for some classes, whereas others can be quite similar. It’s your responsibility to be aware of the class stipulations as poor planning can make the difference when it comes to a judge’s marking.

To help you out, here we take a look at a selection of tips for showing success, including etiquette, tack, rider wear and plaiting.


Whether you’re competing in a class, in a warm-up arena or back at home, it’s courteous to have good showing etiquette. This can be as simple as passing other horses and their rider’s left shoulder to left shoulder in the warm-up. Here are some other points to consider:

  • Timing is important. Make sure you arrive at the arena before your class, without hanging around for too long as this could make your horse impatient or the opposite, completely switch off. Don’t be late! Trotting towards the arena with gusto will not only heat your horse, but it causes a danger to other riders, horses, and spectators – including ticking the judge off before you’ve even made a start.
  • Prepare your horse for standing still – a lot! This can be practised at home, when out and about, and especially when mounting. No judge favours an impatient poorly trained horse. A bright-eyed awake horse will also help draw in the judge, so don’t let your horse nod off. Standing square, looking awake and interested and not fidgeting shows a well-mannered horse.
  • On the topic of well-mannered horses, your horse should be familiar with standing next to and not being threatened by other horses, especially when standing in a line-up or when riding around the arena. While it’s ok to ride past another horse, do so with consideration. Riding over and covering another up is unfair so don’t overshadow in the arena and ultimately lose yourself marks for inconsiderate riding.
  • Smile! don’t forget to smile, be courteous and stand up tall. Walk by the horse’s shoulder (if leading), use quiet voice cues and keep yourself together. If your horse misbehaves, correct it calmly and don’t use your voice – a standoff in the middle of an arena is of course a big no go.
  • Rosettes – make sure your horse is familiar with having a rosette on his or her bridle, or a sash over his head. Practice this at home otherwise presentation and the lap of honour may be quite the ride!
  • Don’t stand, walk or run (if leading) too close to the horse in front. If you’re the rider in front of someone who is too close behind, circle away or try and pick up your pace a little to create some distance.
  • Don’t overbend your horse when riding. A nice loose pace with a slightly higher head carriage is better than one that is tight, tense and hollow. Don’t fight with your horse, try and look as harmonious as possible.


Tack is important for several reasons including your safety and of course your overall turnout. Here are some points to consider when choosing tack and preparing for your class:

  • Make sure your tack is clean, supple, the correct colour, and in good condition. Buckles should all be in the keepers, reins should be untangled, in good condition, and not too long or short. Clean saddle pads should be the right size for the saddle and the same colour. Girths should be clean and match in colour.
  • Consider the noseband and browband for the shape of your horse’s head and the class you’ve entered. Typically, a show cob wears a broad and flat noseband with a plain browband. A child’s showing pony may wear a decorated browband with an equally as simple bridle.
  • Fitting of the tack is also important, check out this guide to find out more about fitting know-how.
  • A plain simple Cavesson bridle with a snaffle bit should be used in novice classes. A double bridle is used in higher ranking showing classes, including the working hunter.
  • Colour: black and brown, or Havana is acceptable.
  • Checking your tack for wear and tear goes beyond how your and your horse’s turnout satisfies the judge, it’s of the utmost importance for safety. Replace where threads are worn or broken and check the stability and thickness in the leather of your grith straps. Excessively warn straps are prone to snapping. If any items of the bridle are broken, it is recommended you buy another complete bridle as new against old can not look aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
  • The horse should not wear boots, wraps or overreach boots, of any kind, front or back. It may be tempting to warm up in a pair, however, be mindful that this can increase sweat around the legs and can affect your horse’s turnout. White plain boots are permitted for the jumping phase of working hunter classes.
  • Bitless bridles and running gags are not permitted.
  • In-hand bridles can be used for those horses that are under four and not being ridden.
Showing Working hunter class horse and rider
A young rider during a working hunter class. The rider shows preparation as is clearly showing intent for where she is riding next.

Plaiting for showing

Not all horses and ponies need plaiting when going to a show. Native breeds are left without due to the length and thickness of the main and to complement the breed, including a long thick tail and well-set feathers. Here are some pointers to consider when plaiting for a show:

  • Preparation is key to plaiting, make sure you have all the necessary pieces of equipment to hand, a grooming belt is ideal so you won’t have to keep getting up and down for items.
  • The traditional odd number of plaits down the mane with the forelock plait making the number event is a good rule of thumb but not always possible. Dampen the mane with a sponge and use a spray and/or serum/gel, which can help keep the main under control when plaiting up, and when they are in position.  Start at the poll and section the mane into even pieces using straight parting lines. Start tightly at the top, and continue to the very end of the hair before adding the band.
  • Don’t use a freshly washed mane, or one that has been sprayed with a conditioner. A slightly dirty mane is better for grip.
  • A mixture of bands and sewing can be used when plaiting up. Use the band to secure the plait and a needle and thread for rolling the plait and securing it in place. Use a band and thread that’s the same colour as the mane, or as close to it.
  • If your horse doesn’t have a lot of top line, plaits can be placed slightly higher up on the neck to create an illusion of a fuller neck. Equally, a horse with a cresty neck can have the plaits sitting down on the neck to minimise any additional height that can highlight an overweight horse.
Arabian horse being ridden
Plaits can complement the shape of the horse’s neck when set properly. Note the throat last not in its keeper, it draws the eye to the discrepancy and away from the rest of the presentation.

Rider clothing for showing

Ultimately, showing gear can vary depending on the type of class, age or rider and breed of horse or pony. When particular clothing is required, it is normally specified on the event timetable and/or registration forms. Sparkle and bright colours should be avoided on horse and rider.

Adults: Stock, stock pin, shirt and a broach from the British Horse Society membership is permitted. Depending on the class outfits vary considerably. Make sure you familiarise yourself with what is required and get organised with this early on. Canary or beige jodhpurs are required in working hunter classes, with a traditional hat and long black boots. Jewellery is not permitted. County shows permit men to wear Bowler hats and women black hunting caps with ribbon tabs inside. Gloves and a showing cane are permitted. Silk top hats are also used for British Show Horse Association (BSHA) classes. For a comprehensive list of clothing required for BSHA classes see the 2022 rule book.

Children, and under 16: Typically a navy show jacket is the go-to for children, however, a tweed jacket is also commonplace when showing native breeds. A shirt, tie, and cream or beige jodhpurs make up the remaining outfit with a well-polished pair of jodhpur boots and clips. A stock can be used with a stock pin and a pair of gloves to finish the look. Canary coloured jodhpurs are welcomed in native breed classes and sit nicely with a tweed jacket. Boots should compliment the colour of the outfit and the horse’s tack.


Other points:

  • A traditional velvet riding hat is required, which is often navy or brown, jockey skull caps should be avoided, these include those with covers and a peak.
  • Any hat must pass current standards, for more information visit British Trade Association – Safety and your head
  • Hair, in any case, when long should be kept back in a bun and secured with a net. It should be neat and placed under the bottom of the hat.
  • A body protector is compulsory in the pony working for hunter classes due to the jumping section of the show. Although it isn’t for horses, it is recommended for safety. All body protectors too must comply with current safety standards.

Ultimately, it’s yours and your horse’s time to shine! Enjoy the time with your horse and the experience showing has to offer. It’s a great starting point when your horse is young or new to competition, it can help build a positive relationship and can be very rewarding in the long run as you both progress through the levels.

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Author: Suzanne Ashton Founder, Everything Horse Ba Hons Marketing Management email:

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