First Horse Show as a Spectator? Here’s What To Wear & What To Do

The Complete Horse's "How To Do Horse Shows" Insider's Guide

beautiful image of a gray horse show jumping with his tail flying

Equestrian shows are thrilling events that showcase the power, skill, and beauty of both horses and riders. Attending your first horse show as a spectator can be such an exciting experience, and understanding the appropriate attire and etiquette will really help you to fully enjoy the event. In this guide, we'll explore the ins and outs of being a great horse show spectator.

Understandign the Atmosphere: A Day At The Horse Show

Before diving into the specifics of attire and guidelines, let's briefly discuss what to expect at a typical equestrian show. These events are not only about competition but also about celebrating the equestrian community. Horse shows of course feature a variety of disciplines, including dressage, show jumping, and hunter classes, each showcasing the unique talents of both horse and rider.  As a spectator, you'll witness the elegant movements of the horses, the precision of the riders, and the camaraderie among competitors. To fully enjoy the experience, it's essential to embrace the traditional aspects of horse show culture, starting with appropriate attire.

Appropriate Attire

Whether you're attending a local schooling show or a prestigious international competition, dressing appropriately is a sign of respect for the riders, horses, and fellow spectators, and also serves a host of practical benefits.
 Here's a general guide to help you choose the right attire for a day at the horse show:

  • Comfortable & Stylish:
    • Women: Opt for comfortable yet stylish clothing suitable for the weather and the event.  A nice blouse with slacks or a skirt is a popular choice. Choose a blouse that isn’t billowy, as wind catching these may cause a horse to spook, which could impact the performance of these athletes or, much worse, create a safety issue and lead to injury.
    • Men: Comfortable pants or jeans (unless it’s a more formal kind of show) with button down or polo shirt with or without a jacket is great.
    • Parents: Choose casual but put-together outfits. Jeans or casual pants with a neat top are ideal. Remember, you might be sitting on bleachers or walking around, so wear comfy horse-savvy shoes (described below)
  • Hats and Sunglasses:
    • Women: A wide-brimmed hat not only adds a touch of elegance but also protects you from the sun. Be sure the hat fits well and is secured so it won’t be in danger of blowing off and spooking a horse. If you are going to be anywhere near the horses themselves, be sure your hat allows for peripheral vision as a general safety measure.  Sunglasses are a must for sunny days, and of course don’t forget the sunscreen!
    • Parents: A baseball cap or a stylish sun hat works well for both men and women and kids. Sunglasses are essential for eye protection, as of course is sunscreen
  • Footwear:  Believe it or not, this is a very important topic… Read about my hilarious and magnificent goof about footwear at a horse show knowing that while the recommendations and language here is really strong about footwear, I know nobody is perfect (and wish I had taken my own advice)
    • Women: Walking-appropriate or low-heeled shoes are advisable for comfort. Steer clear of high heels, as you might need to navigate uneven terrain or if at a polo match, you may need to totter out with old traditions in your shoes to stomp the divots.
    • Parents: Comfortable sneakers or casual shoes are suitable for a day spent walking around the show grounds.  Happy feet, happy tummies and sunscreen are the key for a fun day.
TCH HARD & Wise RULE OF THUMB About Shoes & Horses: 

Flip-Flops and their sandal-y brothers and sisters are a hard no-no. If you are going to be within 1 mile of a horse, just don’t wear them. Full stop.  (I’m not even saying please or pretty-please… If you had seen the injuries we have, you’d understand why. It’s pretty gruesome!) 

Open-toe shoes are a hard no-no if you are going to be within 100 meters of a horse (unless of course you’re in a box with feathery hats and fruity drinks… then I say go for it - YOLO!

If you are going to walk through a barn or put your hands on a horse, wear sneaker level shoes at minimum, but boots of some sort make us happiest.

  • Weather-Appropriate Layers:
    Check the weather forecast and dress accordingly. Bring a light jacket or sweater for cooler evenings or unexpected temperature drops.
  • Accessorize Tastefully:
    Keep accessories minimal and tasteful. A simple necklace, earrings, or a wristwatch can add a touch of sophistication without being overly flashy.

Even if it sounds a bit persnickety, sticking to these clothing guidelines, will help you feel both comfortable, confident and appropriate as you enjoy the equestrian spectacle before you.

Practical Guidelines for Spectators

Now that you're dressed appropriately, let's have a look through some practical guidelines to ensure you have an enjoyable experience at the horse show!  You’ll hear the word respect tossed around a lot in guidelines like this and in stables and on ranches.  Know that respect in the horse world isn’t just about general manners - it generally is an indicator that there are serious safety reasons knitted into things that may not necessarily be apparent, so please don't take it deeply to heart.

  • Respect the Ring:
  • Stay outside designated riding areas and respect barriers. It's essential to provide riders with the space they need to perform safely without worrying about you. 
Silence is Golden:
  • Keep your noise to a minimum during performances. Turn off your phone or switch it to silent mode to avoid distractions.  Having a loud phone convo with your hard-of-hearing aunt Ada or bestie who is running through an airport is best taken distantly away from the ring and horse areas altogether. Being around horses is an exercise in being aware of things in your surroundings as a matter of pure enjoyment, and a genuine matter of safety.  If you’re happily yapping on the phone, you’re missing one-of-a-kind beauty, and if in a very rare (but not never) occurrence that horse gets loose, you won’t catch the warning bells to get out of the way.
Ask Before Approaching Horses:

I don’t know how the King’s Guard does it.  Big hearted inspired tourists who see those amazing guards on their black horses in London seem too enthralled to read signs, and have made for viral sensations when they grab reins, touch and snuggle with the horses and reap unfortunate consequences.  Riders love that their horses create a stir and nine times out of ten, they love to share a little connection with their horses (if the horse is trusted to mind their manners, and if the horse and rider team aren’t in the zone for competition, or at their jobs, like a mounted police horse)  

  • If you want to pet or take pictures with a horse, always ask the owner or handler first, and allow them to show you where and how to approach and stand safely.  Understand that if they say no, there are likely reasons that aren’t apparent, so don’t take it personally.  Horses are 1200 pound animals, and safety is a top priority for everyone.
TCH HARD & Wise RULE OF THUMB About Approaching Horses

Friends,  never walk up to a horse from behind. Ever. Horses cannot see directly behind them, and it is a dangerous defense zone. If you must cross behind a horse, be sure there is a minimum of 5 meters between you and the horse (You will learn any distant exceptions to this with a few years of hands on experience <3 at which point you will surely be offering the same advice) 

Be Mindful of Seating:
  • Comeon... you've been to concerts 😉 If the event has designated seating, be mindful of others. Avoid saving seats for large groups or placing belongings on adjacent seats if the area is crowded.
Follow Photography Rules:
  • Photography is usually allowed, but be sure to follow the event's rules. Avoid using flash, as it can startle horses, and stay in designated photography areas.  If you are a pro photographer, filmmaker or content guru, it would be smart to have a spotter keeping an eye on horses and things while you're happily buried in your camera.
Cheer "em On (mostly...) :
  • This is a great time to take your cues from the crowd... Of course you should feel free to cheer for impressive performances with gusto... but avoid loud or sudden noises that may spook the horses.
Stay Informed :
  • All horse shows will have programmes of some sort - although given the nature of horses and numbers of entries, the schedules for these things  aren't alway tight, so you'll have to roll with it a bit.  There is almost always great food and coffee around, so enjoy your wander from ring to ring to catch great riders or classes.
Kids in Focus :
  • Perhaps the best part of going to a horse show or equine event is sharing the remarkable magic with your children!  Keeping track of your children so they don’t wanter into dangerous zones and helping them to understand that their voices and big movements have an effect on these magnificent animals will keep everyone safe and help them to be participants in the event itself in a uniquely spellbinding way.  The impact horses have on children can be truly amazing, especially if they understand how to focus on what matters to the horses themselves.  

Friendly Reminder: Leave Fido At Home

While our furry friends bring joy to our lives, a horse show is not the ideal place for them. The presence of dogs can be stressful for horses and potentially dangerous for both animals. Horses, being prey animals, can be spooked by unfamiliar animals, leading to potentially dangerous behavior.

However much we love them, dogs may not be comfortable around the large crowds, loud noises, and confined spaces often found at horse shows.and they may be frightened by the horses themselves. Even the most well-behaved dogs can become uncharacteristically reactive  in such environments. So for the safety and well-being of everyone involved, it's best to leave your canine companions at home. (Many shows, in fact, simply prohibit dogs altogether, so be sure to plan ahead!)

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