Show Ring 101: Polished Horsemanship Part I

How do I give my horsemanship patterns a polished look that can win? What are the first things that catch your eye as a judge?

Story originally posted by: by Mark

That is a great question and I could go on and on for hours about what it takes to win. This is the first of a few articles where I talk about the basics of horsemanship. As a judge, I always find myself wanting to get up and help everyone in the class and give my opinions on how they could improve their scores. That is the trainer and coach in me and I realize that is not my place as a judge unless I am asked after the class or during a down-time at the show.

The very first thing I notice is your hat. I don’t personally care about how much silver you have on your saddle, or how much bling you have on your outfit. If your hat looks like it has been in a rain storm or you slept with it on, my first impression is going to be very low. First impressions are the most important, and as humans we all make first impressions especially being a judge. We are paid to do a good job and evaluations from the start are where it all begins.

You do not need to have a thousand dollar hat, but you do need to have it shaped correctly by a knowledgeable person that can clean and block your hat. I have a 100x myself that cost that much and have had it for over 10 years. You can buy a 25x or 50x and if taken care of, will look just fine and last a lifetime. But when it comes to hats, you get what you pay for. It will need maintenance from time to time to keep it looking good.

I live in Arizona, and I purchase most of my hats and clients hats from companies in Georgia, Texas, and California. I only allow about three people touch my hat when it comes to reshaping and cleaning. It must be kept out of the rain, it must be kept out of the horse trailer on hot days. When you are done at the end of each day, lightly brush it off and store it in your hat can making sure that the crown holder is adjusted properly where the brim does not sit on the bottom of the can. Do not set it down on the brim, always upside down on the crown, and never, ever set it on a bed. That is “bad luck”.

This is my first installment on the topic of Horsemanship competition and how to get to the level of competitiveness that you desire. Stay tuned for more great tips on how to constantly improve!


Mark Sheridan has spent a lifetime producing winning show horses and judging at the championship level. He conducts clinics, has written numerous articles and produced a DVD series on Perfect Lead Changes. Learn more at