The Show Parent's Survival Guide!

N Dip Equine Studies, SANEF Level 1

Having been to countless shows with pupils, friends and otherwise, I have had a chance to observe riders and their parents and the influence that their personalities and interactions have on the eventual success or failure of the outing. Parents often do not know how to help their children do their best at shows and also often do not know where to start or what to do when things go wrong! In this article I will try to help parents understand what their children may be going through at shows and how to best help them do their best and enjoy the day! (I have focused on shows in the Gauteng area; however, your local Show Body will be able to assist you with shows in your area!)

Your child has been begging you to go to a show for weeks and months; her instructor says she should go… NOW WHAT! Most parents are thrown into turmoil at the mention of shows, and most have no idea where to begin or what needs to be done. Often they stand on the sideline, watching their children perform with no idea of where they themselves fit into this hectic picture. After a bad class, they are often left holding the reins, their child sobbing or ranting and the experience can be very traumatic!

There are three main types of shows that are available to the younger rider, depending on the level of competition and the objectives they are trying to achieve.

1. Training Shows:

Training shows are exactly that – a chance to familiarize yourself with the sport and help your horse learn his job without the added stress of competing for points or a place on the school team! They are usually privately organized by the yards concerned and often rules such as dress are relaxed slightly to give kids the chance to compete and see if they enjoy a particular discipline before investing in expensive equipment and clothes. Often a rider will be allowed to finish, even though they have made mistakes that would otherwise eliminate them in ‘normal’ shows. Training shows can also be very useful in between more competitive shows to practice elements that need work or to keep the horse sharp or just introduce enjoyment to the sport without the pressure of performance. Young horses and inexperienced riders benefit greatly from training shows. There is no need for the horse or rider to be registered with any Show Body and there are often ‘fun’ classes incorporated into these shows that are not found elsewhere. To find out about training shows in your area, visit your local tack store, where Riding Schools will advertise. (A training show entry form will often say something like ‘An Open Training Show’ or something to that effect.) Training shows are also a great way for a rider to try new disciplines and see which ones they might be interested in pursuing.

2. SANESA Shows:

There has long been debate about serious riders not being able to get credit for the hard work they were putting into their horse-sport at their schools. Riders wanted to get recognition for their achievements in the arena and schools wanted to embrace the riding community and the pupils who were doing so well. Thus, the ESL (Equestrian School’s League) was born. Riders now had the chance to ride competitively for their schools and schools had the opportunity of competing with each other under the banner of an official organisation. School’s League took off. After the initial birthing pains, a new need arose for riders who were competing officially for points under the THS banner to not only ride for their schools, but earning valuable grading points as well. THS and SANEF were approached by schools and parents who wished to have an equestrian schools league that operates within recognized and approved structures. SANESA (South African National Equestrian Schools) was recently established to service this need. Recently, the original body (ESL) and SANESA have decided to join forces and create one body under which shows will run. They are also finalizing the rulebook and a temporary committee has been elected. Equestrian Sport at school level will only go from strength to strength. Riders and horses need not be registered with THS, but those that are may earn points on their grading at the appropriate level. School’s league is a fantastic opportunity to get involved in shows. For more information, visit their website ( or approach the school to find out if they have registered and get involved in the School Team. Something to know about these shows is that in my experience, the stress of riding for their schools and in front of their friends can be immense, and it may take a few shows to get the nerves under control!

3. THS Shows:

From their website:

“The Horse Society (THS) is the governing body of competitive Equestrian Sport in its region for the disciplines of Dressage, Driving, Equitation, Eventing, Showing, Showjumping and Vaulting.
Previously known as the Transvaal Horse Society, THS was founded in 1946. Approximately 25 years ago THS moved its offices from Milner Park to Kyalami Equestrian Park, situated at 1 Dahlia Road, Kyalami, Midrand, in the heart of the Equestrian community.
THS falls under the South African National Equestrian Federation (SANEF), which formulates the rules and codes of practice for competitors and officials. SANEF, in turn, falls under the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), which governs the sport internationally.
THS is run by an elected Executive Committee. Each discipline is run in turn by an elected Discipline Committee. Committee members and officials are all volunteers who work freely for the benefit of the sport. The THS administration (comprising the THS office and Kyalami Equestrian Park) is under the management of the THS General Manager.
THS is a non-profit making voluntary association which exists for the benefit of its members and seeks to serve the equestrian community. Nevertheless, THS is a substantial undertaking, which requires effort and commitment for all concerned to ensure its continued success and growth.
Competitors are divided into three categories Pony Riders, Juniors and Adults. At present there are approximately 2,900 members and approximately 2,600 horses registered for competition.
Equestrian sport is one of the few where men and women compete on equal footing without any discrimination.
THS and its affiliated bodies run competitions to cater for all levels from the less experienced competitors to international competitors. Shows are held throughout the year in its various THS regions, which are run by trained judges and officials who give up their time on a voluntary basis.

The THS vision is:
- To improve and maintain standards in all disciplines, while encouraging riders at all levels to enjoy fair competition in safe and attractive surroundings, both at Kyalami Equestrian Park and the venues of the THS Affiliated Bodies.
- To raise Kyalami Equestrian Park to an international standard.
- To promote and develop equestrian sport in all communities, providing assistance through the Equestrian Training Scheme to disadvantaged equestrians.
- To promote and hold top class competitions.

Contact THS at (011)702-1657 or visit us at Kyalami Equestrian Park, 1 Dahlia Road, Kyalami, South Africa

E mail address:”

THS shows provide the opportunity for horses to gain points on a grading system and climb the ladder to top levels in South Africa. These shows are well run, standards are high and great care should be taken to adhere to the rules of the various disciplines.

Riders have the option to register themselves as ‘Entry Level’ riders, which means that they are able to gain a taste of the disciplines at a lower level without having to register their horses and they do not gain points. This is a very good start because riders can ease themselves into the atmosphere of an official show without the pressure of having to earn points.

Once you and your child have decided which shows he/she will be participating in, as well as the disciplines you would like to try, it is time to enter!

Once entries have been made and the show date approaches, there are a few things you can do to ensure that your child is well prepared for the big day.

 Make sure that you have a copy of the rules of the discipline and go over the most important points with your child to make sure they know what is expected.
 If there are tests to be practiced, the instructor will often provide these, but parents can always help by ensuring that their children have learned them properly.
 You will need to liase with the instructor or yard to arrange transport to and from the show for the horses.
 Timetables and Schedules are usually provided in advance. Check your child’s number, riding times, arenas and entry details and make a note of them to take with on the day.
 The instructor should be able to advise on any equipment needed to prepare the horse or for the rider. Liase with him/her and make a list of things you will need.

With practise, show prep becomes easier, and roles become defined. The more prepared you, the parent are prior to the show, the more relaxed the day will be, which will help your child feel more secure.

On the big day, nerves will be running high, so try to remain as relaxed as possible. Your child will be reading your attitude and manner and if you start to panic, so will they. Approach any problem calmly and reasonably and always be a good example for your child.

In the US, 75% of athletes drop out of their chosen sport by the age of 13. The reason? It is no longer fun! If you, the parent, only remember one thing, this should be it. Focus on the fun, not the outcome! You should be placing emphasis on effort, rather than the results. When your child comes out of the ring, if you say ‘Did you win?’ you are placing emphasis on performance. Rather ask ‘Did you have fun?’ That teaches your child that he/she is there to have fun and enjoy their sport. Keep your sense of humour – if you are relaxed and smiling, your child will too. If you feel your child did not put in their usual effort, you could ask them something like ‘Are you feeling ok? You normally try so hard. Is there something I can do to help you?’ rather than tell them they are not trying.

I have found that parents and coaches will often pick the rider’s performance to pieces before the poor child has even had a chance to dismount. Give them some space, let them dismount and unwind and then talk about what happened when they are ready. If your child missed the finish, they know they did – and they probably will never do it again. There is no need to keep asking them why they did that – they know it was wrong and are sufficiently embarrassed! Don’t nitpick. Some days it goes well, and some days it does not. Teach your child to see failure as a challenge – something that should tell them what needs work on at home. Ask them what they think they could have done differently and let them figure out the answer for themselves. Show them by your attitude that you still love them and are proud of them regardless of whether they win or lose!

Children model their own experiences and attitudes after their parents. Badmouthing other competitors or judges does not teach children to love their sport. It teaches them to foul the sport when things don’t go their way – drag them down to your level to justify your own shortcomings! Gossip and storytelling has no place next to the show ring. Emphasize the importance of learning, hard work, self-discipline and commitment. Show interest in your child and ask questions, but also recognize that sometimes your child will need some space. If your child demands to give up half way through and go home, insist that they finish. That teaches them to stay committed and to push through.

Another issue I often encounter at a show is that the parent will take over the coaching from the instructor. What often happens is that the parent says one thing and the instructor another. Leave the instruction and motivation to the instructor. That is what they are there for. When there are too many ‘teachers’, it only confuses the child. When mom says one thing but the coach says another, who are they supposed to listen to? It becomes confusing and riders panic.

For those parents who ride or rode competitively, be very careful not to tell your child that you would have done it a different way or tell them about the 1st place you got in a class just like that one when they come in after a bad ride. You are building a pedestal for your child that they can never hope to climb and they will rather quit than be a loser in your eyes.

Children are all different. Some are naturals at shows and never get nervous and enjoy themselves no matter what. Others struggle to handle the pressure and never do well at shows despite doing very well at home. The key is to talk to your child – ask them what you can do to help them. One rider surprised her mom by saying ‘Please don’t come to watch, rather stay away.’ That child always did very well on her own and when her parents were not there she excelled. If her mother was there, the pressure of performing in front of her was too much, and inevitably, things went poorly. Your child will tell you what they need from you if you allow them.

If your child is involved in unacceptable behavior at a show, do not tolerate it and know when it may be time to take a break from shows until you feel your child is ready. If your child blames the horse, think creatively and tell them that ponies have bad days too just like people and maybe what he needs is a hug and some carrots!

Becoming a great showman takes time and the more shows riders attend, the better they get. With support and encouragement, your child will have the oppertunity to partake in something they will love and enjoy. If your child struggles at shows but really wants to take part, it may be worth your while to take them to a sports psychologist, who can help them make their experience a much more pleasent one.

I trust this article puts parents a bit more at ease and makes their role seem more defined. The most important piece of advise I have for parents is this: Never do or say anything that will make your child think less of themselves or of you!

Enjoy your showing!

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