The Ultimate Guide to County Shows
by Becky Parker
County shows are an integral part of rural life and a real opportunity for the wider agricultural community to come together and showcase their talents, produce and passion for what they do. County shows are where children can become inspired, townies can gain a greater appreciation for where their food and clothes come from and young farmers can have a jolly good get together!
For the equine world, county shows provide something for all levels and a huge variety of disciplines. For the amateur rider, just qualifying for a county show is a big deal and something they will work towards and see as a highlight of the season. For professional/competitive riders county shows are the all-important qualifiers for their bigger classes at HOYS/RI (Horse Of The Year Show/Royal International) and an equally vital part of the season. For spectators, county shows are a fabulous family day out and an amazing chance to see an incredibly diverse display of what that area has to offer.
What to expect
From an equine perspective, you would be hard pushed to find a greater mismatch of equine and rider age/ability and type. This is the kind of place where John Whittaker can be jumping in a ring next to Harriet and Bob the Cob from over yonder hill, a simple much loved happy hacker on his yearly outing. It is precisely this diversity that gives county shows their special charm.
In the equine sector, depending on the individual show, you can expect to see some or all of these classes;
- Breed Specific Flat and In Hand Showing
- Working Hunter classes
- Scurry Driving
- Hunt Relays
- Mounted Games
- Heavy horse displays
The variety in the non-equine sector is hard to comprehend but here is our best attempt to show the huge diversity on offer with one humongous list;
- Pig, Cattle, Sheep, Goat and Chicken showing classes
- Sheep Shearing
- Farrier competitions
- Fairground rides
- Food & Drink market
- Local artisan product shopping
- Freestyle Motocross stunt displays
- Hound Parades
- Dog agility
- Terrier racing
- Falconry displays
- Demo classes from local colleges
- Farm machinery reps showing the latest products
- Cookery demos
- Young Farmer tug-o-war competitions
How to prepare as a Groom/Rider
As a Groom or Rider County shows with their slightly more relaxed event management practices, unique carnival-like atmosphere and eclectic range of farmyard participants can provide a whole new challenge in terms of preparation. Here we will look at how best to prepare physically, mentally, emotionally 🙂 (just joking, well sort of) and well, practically for the experience…
TIP 1: Where possible try to acclimatize your horse to all the mad situations he is likely to encounter e.g farmyard animals, random noises, screaming children, barking dogs
TIP 2: Ensure your horse had a good “stand” and will stand still for various periods of time. For showing this is an important part of demonstrating manners and also makes up a large percentage of your time in the actual ring. Show jumpers – I’m sure you all have this covered, waiting around outside a class is simply standard!
TIP 3: This is a special one for the Grey and Coloured owners. Start pre-washing early! Summer is a dammable time where you feel compelled out of kindness to let the mud monsters out naked. When it comes to the week before the show their very skin seems to have turned brown! A few days out from the show get to work on those stains and invest in a summer sheet, thick fly rug or better yet one of those ridiculous looking but very practical jump suits. Several days of elbow grease with a brush not sponge work wonders on stubborn stains.
TIP 1: Prepare for all weathers. Don’t let the recent hot weather fool you, this is British summer time and it is not uncommon for 1 day to see all 4 seasons, especially at a county show!
TIP 2: Pack a well kitted out show bag for those last minute finishing touches. Prepare for potentially muddy warm ups, or alternatively, dripping sweaty horses. We would recommend packing a damp sponge or cloth, chalk, hoof oil, baby oil, wet wipes, spare vary sizes of spurs, bands, a brush and an energy bar and water for the rider and yourself!
TIP 3: Prepare Stud Holes at home! All county showgrounds are in a field, usually not a particularly flat one either, the season of skinned knuckles is upon us – oh joys! As we have mentioned more than once, there is a lot going on at County showgrounds so save yourself at least some of the battle by getting your horses stud holes cleaned out and “tapped” at home. If you’re not a fan of blanks, stuffing them with baby oil soaked cotton wool is another neat trick to save time, stress, bruises and “knuckle skin” pre class. Read expert tips on using studs here.
TIP 1: Have a plan! Know exactly when your class is and work back from there allowing generous time for everything from the warm-up, to the journey, to getting yards done and the horse plaited in the morning. The No1 cause of stress on show days is, without doubt, running late!
TIP 2: Dress Appropriately – Unless you are going in the ring yourself wear something that is smart enough to reflect professionally on yourself and your employer but comfortable enough for running around in all day. Most importantly, wear sensible footwear. You will likely be hiking miles round the showground and you will likely get stood on more than once by hyped up horses.
TIP 3: Whether you are Rider or Groom focus on your horse and their performance solely until after their class. Block out the sounds, say Hi to people you know but don’t let this distract or worry you. As a Rider, County shows being local events can be a great chance to catch up but also add extra pressure from so many people you know watching. Try to factor in a little quiet time before your class whether this is in the lorry while you dress, whilst tacking up or during your horses walk warm up. Allow yourself 5 minutes to run through what you need to do in the ring and take a few deep calming breaths.
How to prepare as a spectator
There are just a few vital ingredients to a successful day out at a County Show, their order of importance is a subjective matter, free for debate…
- A pre-capped amount of money you are allowed to spend
- An empty belly ready for the scrummy local produce
- A sense of humour for the renegade farmyard animals and main ring displays
- A designated driver for when you accidentally wander into the Cider/Ale/Pimms tent!
Above all else what a County Show is really about is having FUN. They are such a great celebration of Agricultural and Rural Life and an important part of what summer means to all of us from that world. As an Equine community, they are something we should wholeheartedly support as a fantastic positive representation of the diversity within the equine community those who aren’t part of it often fail to see.
You could go for that reason or if you’re like me, you could just go for the funky rare breed chickens and the beer tent! 🙂
See a handy list of 156 shows across 86 counties in the UK here.