How to Become Your Horse Show's Favorite Exhibitor: Tips from the In-Gate
By: Erica Rozek
We all know that horse showing is expensive. A couple years ago I figured out a way to fund my horse show habit...start working at the show!
The show manager at my local show series, who also happened to be my barn manager, was adding an additional competition ring and needed someone to run the in-gate. It’s a 2-day, 4 ring show, 8 weekends a year (11 if you include our other seasonal shows), at the Prince Georges Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD (yes, the same venue as the famous Capital Challenge Horse Show every fall). The show manager was adding a "beginner ring" so that there was a space to host walk/trot/crossrail classes for people just getting into the sport. In exchange for working, he offered to let me compete with my own horse on day 1 of the show. Perfect!
Since then I have worked more shows than I can count, not only in the beginner ring but in all rings at our shows and others in the area. Based on my experience working on the ‘staff’ end of horse showing, I thought I would sharer some tips on becoming every horse show’s favorite exhibitor:
- Don’t be afraid to go first. Finding someone to volunteer to kick off an over fences class is the hardest spot to fill. Go first! Lay down your best trip and set the standard for the class. Unless you are the first class of the day, the judge has likely been watching trips for hours and you are far from being the first one they have seen!
- Be prepared. Know your course before you are ‘on deck’. Know what tack is legal for your class. Read the prize list so you know the rules and eligibility requirements for what you have entered.
- Be on time to the ring. Everyone wants to know when they are going to go. Unless it's the first class of the day, as an in-gate pro I can only estimate based on the number of jump trips and under saddle classes on the prize list. If everyone is 2 minutes late to the ring, that just extends the day and pushes everyone that much further back.
- Know your horse or pony’s show name. I can’t count the number of times I have had a parent come up and say “my daughter’s trainer said to tell you Snickers is on his way’. I look at my paper work and don’t see a Snickers listed. It’s because apparently, Snickers is Serendipity’s Moon Magic. Please keep in mind that we don’t know your horse's barn name.
- Communicate with your gate people. If there is a height option for your division let us know ahead of time which height you plan to jump so we can plan when to move the jumps. If you aren’t planning to stay for the hack, let us know so we don’t hold the class looking for you. If your horse pulled a shoe in the warm up ring, let us know. If you are a trainer and have clients in multiple rings let us know so we can help work out timing to avoid holds.
- If your horse’s name or your name is challenging to pronounce let us know the right way. We can radio the announcer with the answer and make it easier --and less embarrassing -- for everyone!
- Be flexible. Horse shows are the land of hurry up and wait. Sometimes we need to put someone in the order in front of you to avoid a hold later. Sometimes the staff needs a potty break. Stay flexible.
- Keep in mind the judge is human. Sometimes they miss things. Sometimes they see things we don’t see on the rail. Most of the time they are the only ones who watch every trip of every class. If you are unhappy with the results of a class, remember to talk to the steward first if you want to talk to the judge.
- Your horse/pony is not your personal couch. Please don’t just sit on their backs at the in gate. Hop down, let them get a drink of water, rest in the shade, or take them back to your stall/trailer for a snack.
- Don't Block your Number: If you, or your child, wears pigtails and bows make sure they don’t block your back number. The judge can’t pin you if they can’t see who you are!
- Clean up your trash. I don’t love having to clean up half-full coffee cups, Gatorade, and water bottles at the end of a long day.
- Have fun! We love to see you succeed. We love to see you smile when you come out of the ring. Keep in mind that we do this for fun.
- Please share! If the barn mom in your barn makes the best cookies, brownies, potato salad etc for your tailgate, we definitely won’t turn down a serving! ☺
About the Author: Erica is an adult amateur living in Virginia. When not working as a tour guide in Washington DC educating students from around the country, you can find her at the barn with her OTTB's Monty and Dillon. Dillon is the 4th Thoroughbred her family has had the pleasure to own. Be sure to follow Erica and the boys on Instagram at @ericamwc04!