Sporting Behavior

Not everyone who lives in the Horse Capital of the World is an equine expert. Here are a few tips on spectator etiquette at horse shows.

Thousands of equine athletes (and their humans) from all over the world come to Marion County to strut their stuff this month. Horses in the Sun (HITS) has ongoing multiple hunter/jumper shows, the Florida Horse Park hosts its inaugural Florida Horse Park Winter Classic and the second annual AdventHealth Grandview Invitational Draft Horse Show. Majestic Oaks Ocala will be hosting their Winter Horse Trials. Being a spectator at these local horse shows will give you an up close and personal view of the hard work and artistry involved with riding and showing well.

If you’re new to the horse show world, there are nuances that will help make your attendance a pleasure for all involved. Unlike human athletes, who are familiar with items like umbrellas, baby strollers and fold-out chairs, horses are not and can be easily spooked when such items are hurriedly opened. Because horses are a prey species, their first instinct is to run from danger—fast. So it’s good to keep that in mind when treading near these beautiful creatures.

Opening Moves

Find out about seating ahead of time. Some venues have bleachers; some allow you to bring chairs or set up for tailgating. If you do use a fold-out chair or table, wait until the horses are out of the ring or walking away from you before pushing items open or closed. The same theory applies to using umbrellas or even fold-out strollers. They might look harmless to you, but can seem threatening to a horse. Try to limit your use of these items to after a horse has left the ring.

Applause, Applause

If you’re watching a jump class, hunter or jumper style, wait until the end of the round to clap. Many of these horses do wear earmuffs to block sound, but any loud noise might startle the team while they are moving through the course. Once they’re through the jump course and heading toward the exit, it’s all right to clap and show your appreciation. Similarly, after dressage tests, once the horse and rider have lined up in front of the judge and the rider has given a final salute, clapping is encouraged.

Ground Rules

Show grounds will be teeming with horse and rider pairs and people leading horses around the rings, barns and show grounds. Always ask permission to touch a horse, and keep an eye out for the tail ribbons that denote certain types of horses or behavior. A red ribbon signals a kicker; yellow is often used for stallions; and green represents an inexperienced (and possibly unpredictable) horse.

Make Way

If a horse should get loose and/or unseat a rider, an announcer will usually come onto the PA system and say, “Horse loose on the course!” This should serve as a signal for you to stop moving and keep an eye out for the unrestrained horse. If you do cross paths with the horse, it’s not advisable to try and catch or block it. A loose horse is going to be frightened and will be moving erratically, in order to get away from any perceived danger. Good intentions aside, let its handlers deal with the issue and simply try to stay out of the way.

Top Gear

Since you’ll be outdoors for these events, you will want to take weather into account. Dress in layers and bring a jacket or sweater, in case the weather turns cool. You’ll generally do well in boots or well-constructed closed-toe shoes, which are much better for trekking through the dirt and grass you are sure to encounter at many venues, particularly if you’re following a cross-country event and need to walk part of the course.

Creature Comforts

If the venue allows, having a cooler stocked with cold or hot drinks and snacks will allow you to nosh during the day. Packing a seat cushion will have you sitting pretty when visiting venues with unforgiving bleacher seats. Do your homework and find out what you can bring before you head out. That way you can thoroughly enjoy your day out…horsing around.

For more information on area horse shows, check out our online calendar at

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