If your child (probably a daughter, for reasons that are debated by everyone from philosophers to psychologists, but maybe a son) has decided that horses are her passion, sooner or later she’s likely to want to try showing.
Your child is probably already taking lessons in horseback riding. Maybe he or she is already at a barn with a trainer. But if at this point you’re saying, “What barn? What trainer?” then you’ve got a first step to take: finding the right people and environment to prepare your young rider for the show ring.
The first thing your son or daughter will need to do is learn the basics of riding. It’s not necessary for your child to learn to ride at a barn that also shows horses, but it is a good idea if showing is her ultimate goal. So how do you go about finding a trainer?
A little research is in order. Check your phone book for riding centers, also called barns, farms, or training centers, in your area. Call to find out if the barn offers lessons for beginners, and if they train horses and riders to show. Visit the ones that say yes.
You can also visit tack shops and riding supply centers in your area and ask for their suggestions. Another possibility is to check for the breed associations in your area. You can get this information from USA Equestrian (formerly the American Horse Shows Association), which has information on several breeds, their associations and competitions, and various disciplines of riding. For Arabians, contact the International Arabian Horse Association. They cal tell you about Arabian training centers near you.
You can look for horse shows in your area, and visit a show. Walk around the stall areas and ask for information on riding and training. You’ll also get a first-hand look at what happens at shows.
Once you have some candidates, don’t hesitate to interview them. Each trainer has his or her own style, area of expertise and philosophy. Ask questions not only about the ribbons and championships that the trainer’s horses and riders have won, but also about the policies at the barn and the trainer’s philosophy.
Some parents want their children to be on the most competitive mount possible. Others want riding to be a hands-on experience, where children learn to care for horses and develop special relationships both equine and human. Think about your goals, and ask the trainer the appropriate questions.
Some barns focus more on training the horse, turning out what is known as a pushbutton horse. Other barns concentrate on the child’s riding skills as much as the horse’s performance skills. Some barns encourage maximum involvement between your child and her horse, while others do not.
Some trainers are better with young children, some with older teens. The style of riding matters, too; trainers have areas in which they are strongest, for example in English vs. Western riding, or in English Pleasure or Show Hack vs. Hunter Please.
Although you may not know all the questions to ask at first, the basic areas to focus on are the trainer’s philosophy about training and showing, the policies for lessons and shows, and the financial arrangements. You may want to ask what shows the barn has gone to in the past few seasons and how many children of what ages show in what disciplines. If your child is interested in competition beyond the local level, be sure to find out if the barn’s riders compete at the regional and national level.
You can ask to watch a lesson to get an idea of the trainer’s style, and ask for references. Don’t automatically rule out a trainer who doesn’t let parents watch lessons, as some do have that policy.
Once you have found a barn and a trainer, your child can start lessons. While your daughter or son learns to ride, you can start learning the fine points of being a horse show parent.
This article was excerpted from The In-Gate: A Complete Guide for Novice Horse Show Parents by Ange Dickson Finn.