Like you said, all judges are different but a few regular things to do.
1. Use a conservative color pad, preferably white, and I mean SNOWY white :). They also tend to prefer pads that are fitted to the saddle rather than square pads.
2. Make sure you and your horse are impeccable in turnout. Conservative colors, clean, neat, hair in a hairnet if needed. Horse neatly braided and clean; practice braiding if you need to prior to the show. Tack should be very clean, don't forget the bit..shine it up and yes, even clean the pads in your irons. Your boots should glisten..have someone handy with a towel to do a quick buff on your boots and your horse if necessary.
3. For flat classes try not to pass other horses and be careful of your ring etiquette. If you need to pass, call it out. Don't crowd the horse in front of you. Even without a red ribbon in the tail type warning the horse might kick if you get too close and it also distracts the other horse...use good sportsmanship. Try not to pass if you can as you will lose the judge's eye due to blocking the path of sight. Don't try and get revenge on someone if they cut you off. Getting proverbial road rage in the ring isn't a way to impress the judge :)
4. For fence classes :). You need to keep a steady pace, I am assuming hunters here. Do a nice round hunter circle at the start and finish..caveat here. If the first fence is at the "top" of the ring, where you enter, do a hunter circle to establish your pace but make it pretty. Of the first fence is at the opposite end of the ring from where you enter you don't need to do a hunter circle. Pick up a nice balanced canter about halfway down the side of the ring, either from the walk or trot however your horse is more balanced, and get your pace. Use the entire ring in your round. Go deep into your corners and take your time; again, assuming hunter round. Do a simple change of lead in the corner if necessary (if your horse doesn't do flying lead changes)..never approach a new line on the wrong lead. Some trainers will say not to break stride even to get on the correct lead but in my experience the judge would rather see a balanced break in stride and a simple change than a horse going into a line on the wrong lead or in a cross canter. Listen to your trainer on this one though. Don't cluck or talk to your horse if you can avoid it or if you do, do it very quietly and not in front of the judge.
Get to the show early enough so you aren't rushed in your prep time or warm-up time. Find out where your courses are posted so you can figure out how the course is ordered. Most hunter classes are simple. Normally the run is an inside line to an outside line to an inside line to an outside line. Obviously this can vary by course designer but a hunter course isn't supposed to have complicated turns until you get into the much higher levels of equitation or hunter. The warm-up ring can get hectic if there are several people jumping but just remember to pass left shoulder to left shoulder (when meeting) and stay to the inside track if you are going slower than another horse going in the same direction. Watch your jumping in the warm-up ring..call out the jumps as you approach. Be mindful of where you are going. People may not hear or simply will stay in the way so you need to be balanced and ready to turn from the jump if your landing path isn't clear.
As I always hear...breathe and smile even if your horse is being a complete noodle :) No matter your placing, as long as you are happy with your horse and your riding, you did well and remember, this is your first show..use it as a baseline on which you can build for future shows.
Last edited by tlkng1; 02-24-2012 at 06:31 PM.