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Equestrian Miss Manners II: Talking to Show Management

We’ve all been to a show or two that was just simply poorly run. The schedule changed at the last minute; rings are held for forever; ride times are way off… the list of mistakes can go on and on. When you’re a competitor in this situation, it’s hard not to get pissed off, and let show management hear your displeasure. Trust me, I’m right there with you! It’s not only incredibly frustrating when you and your horse are ready to show, but management isn’t… and worst of all, it can really impact your performance, that you’ve worked so hard to perfect.

But I also spent time on the other side of the fence, so to speak, as part of show management. And I promise you, they’re not doing it on purpose. Management doesn’t want the show to be poorly run, and the office staff isn’t happy to hear your bitching. So here are a few tips to let your opinion be known, but to stay calm, cool and collected so that you can still put in your best performance.

#1 Wait for the Right Moment

If you are riding your horse and shit hits the fan, don’t lose your temper at that exact moment. Not only are you going to look like a crazed maniac in front of everyone else standing at the ring, but your horse is going to notice your change in attitude.
Instead, walk away, take a few deep breaths and finish your ride first. After all, that’s what you came to do!

#2 Be Honest and Clear About the Problem

When I’m pissed, I’m not always logical. Sometimes I blame things on others that they really had nothing to do with. So before you make a complaint, take the time to think it through in your head… or better yet, discuss it logically with a barnmate or friend. Spouting profanities at show management isn’t going to get you anywhere; I promise they’ll just tune you out.
But if you present a clear, concise and reasonable complaint, show management will not only hear you, they’ll respect you.

#3 Walk A Mile in Their Shoes

Adding a little empathy to your complaint always softens the blow. Take a moment to think about what show management is dealing with, and try to be relatively sympathetic. Yes, you’re the customer, but if you can see them working hard, or you notice that they’re really overwhelmed, just mentioning those simple facts will help ensure that you’re heard. After all, you’re both here to show, aren’t you?

#4 Go Through The Proper Channels

It’s never appropriate to complain directly to a judge. Always speak with show management, the show steward or the ring master; don’t approach the judge directly. And if you go to a show with a trainer, express your displeasure with them first. Chances are they feel the same, but a complaint from a well-known and respected trainer is always going to carry more weight than the same thing said by Jane Smith.

#5 Let it Go or Get Going

Finally, after the problem has been addressed, you have two options, and only two options. You either let it go and move on, or you leave and don’t come back. It’s really, really hard for me to drop an issue sometimes, but you’re only hurting yourself if you continue to stew about it for hours or days on end. And if it really, really ticked you off, don’t go back! Refusing to patron a specific show or management company speaks for itself. Plus, in the end, you’ll be happier if sh*t is really that messed up.
What tips do you have for handling a tough situation with show management? 


Fly On Over is an equestrian lifestyle blog devoted to connecting horse lovers around the world. By providing equestrians with practical tips and tricks related to horse ownership, discussing training techniques for horse and rider, as well as covering industry news.

16 thoughts to “Equestrian Miss Manners II: Talking to Show Management”

  1. I would like to add, BE POLITE!! Your issue is MUCH more likely to get resolved if you’re polite and friendly about it instead of being a raging bitch. “Please” “Thank You” and “Excuse Me” go a LONG way!

  2. Part of the reason that I don’t want to be in Hunter Land anymore is the way the local circuit shows were run while I lived in Austin. You would wait HOURS (literally, HOURS) from one class to the next, because so-and-so trainer had another kid going at the same time in another ring, or we were waiting for so-and-so rider, or they rescheduled a class last minute, or so-and-so rider needs more warm-up time. I get it: sh*t happens, and I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. But there are some things, like consistently pinning a horse highly that is L-A-M-E over a horse that is a better mover and not lame that I just can’t get behind. In fact, right before I moved to NJ, my old barn went to a show on this local circuit, had yet another bad experience, and is no longer attending that circuit. Obvious favoritism in judging/unfair judging, poorly managed shows and rude show staff are some of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to showing. I try to be as understanding and patient as possible because horses are unpredictable and sh*t happens, but some things I just can’t ignore.

    Rant over.

    1. Oh, and another thing: the warm-up rings at these local shows made you fear for your life. I get that they are hard to manage and police, but cramming 20+ horses into a teeny tiny ring causes chaos and is super dangerous.

  3. I am always polite to show management, I always let them know if shit happens (like when Ramone remodeled the stall). and I’m always nice to back gate people even when things aren’t going my way and you know what they are always nice back and try to accommodate me and sometimes make special exceptions because they remember that I am a pretty reasonable person. I think people who explode at other people generally have problems they nee to deal with.

  4. Sometimes even the best laid plans don’t always work…. Best advice is if you can’t handling showing/management pick a different sport! Unfortunately this will always be a bit of a tough game, regardless of level.

  5. I’ve never had to deal with poor show management, but I have dealt with a few things that happened on show grounds that were under the control of management but were not controlled. For example, one of the MT’s I went to last year had giant dogs running around loose and little kids driving 4-wheelers and golf carts. Most of the time the kids were respectful of my horse, but it was still a major distraction and a potential disaster if the child got careless (I’m talking like 9 year-olds here). And don’t get me started on the dogs – I don’t care how well trained they are, I don’t appreciate loose canines around my horse. You never know what could happen. Anyways, my trainer already made a decision this year that she isn’t going back there (primarily because of the poor footing that they don’t maintain well) and since she’s my ride, neither will I. I’m the type of person to let things go and try to work around them unless it present a clear danger to me or my horse.

  6. Horse shows are hard.. high stress and a lot of things that aren’t planned to happen, happen. I try to always be nice to the people at the back gate as they are mostly volunteers and/or have no say over what is going on. And since my trainer knows everyone, I try to be nice to all the show management too 🙂

    BUT it is SO hard when you are frustrated/stressed/hot/moody etc lol

  7. These are all great tips. Also if you have a legitimate complaint be sure to not give it to some volunteer. They usually have 0 control over anything and are just trying to help out. I’ve been on both sides of this one as well and waiting until you are calm to make a complaint makes a huge difference!

  8. I’ve got 2 for your list. #1. Thank the managers and volunteers at all shows, every time. Not only is it courteous, but when you do have an issue they will remember you as the friendly person and are more likely to try and help you out. #2. Know the Rules! Even schooling shows normally say in the premium that they’re following such-and-such guidelines for the show. This can help empower you in your conversation with managers, and empower them to address violations properly.

  9. We have only ONE show that is local, and I have simply given up on management. Rather than complain, I simply voice my opinion by not going. It’s frustrating to miss the one and only local show that we have (I have to travel at least an hour, but usually 2 – 3 for all other shows), but it is even MORE frustrating to attend. I don’t gripe or complain, I just don’t go …

  10. I agree, with all the previous commentators about being polite. But also, be honest, BUT probably post-show. Most show management are willing to listen, and attempt to make changes to the next show! They are usually horse-people too, don’t talk down to them. Just honestly share your POLITE opinion.

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