The Guide to a Successful Virtual Horse Show

The Guide to a Successful Virtual Horse Show

Quarantine blues got you down? The Associazione Italiana Quarter Horse explains benefits of a virtual horse show and how to activate your community by hosting one of your own.

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By Ashley Baller, AQHA International 

If you’ve ever tried your hand (or hoof) in the show ring, it’s likely that you’re familiar with what keeps exhibitors coming back for more – the camaraderie experienced atop an American Quarter Horse, the excitement of a successful go and the sense of accomplishment after a long day of competition. There are also very relatable and less glamorous aspects of showing – early mornings, long drives, extensive packing and preparation, “fancy” outfits, and not to mention, cost. Between lodging and travel expenses, a horse show can add up. What if we told you there’s a way to experience showing perks with almost zero cost and without leaving your home arena? Amid travel restrictions caused by the global pandemic, AQHA’s affiliate in Italy, Associazione Italiana Quarter Horse,  developed a model to achieve exactly this through a virtual horse show format. 

The inspiration to create a virtual horse show was sparked by feedback from Italian AQHA members. Italian members were hungry for knowledge, experience, normalcy and something to look forward to. In other words, AIQH decided that the “Show Must Go On”  to keep its membership learning, active and social with their American Quarter Horse community during quarantine. They began by publishing a series of virtual educational clinics, videos, and live question and answer sessions hosted by American and Italian professional trainers. Members were incredibly excited and engaged with the content, so much so that AIQH decided something had to happen next. Queue the creation of the virtual horse show.  

woman showing a sorrel horsePaola Donarini, Camilla Doneda and Federica Sammarco, avid horse show enthusiasts and organizers of the virtual horse show in Italy, walked us through the steps to host a successful virtual show. Paola and her family’s AQHA involvement dates to 1977 when her father-in-law founded AIQH, which at the time, they were the only importers of American Quarter Horses in Italy. Paola is now an AQHA Professional Horsewoman, judge, trainer, breeder and was the coach of the Italian Youth World Cup team. 

Camilla shows in all-around events, has ridden for the Youth World Cup team three times and is currently studying animal osteopathy. She says, “AQHA motivates me to achieve my goals and some of my greatest role models are American trainers.” 

woman with blue ribbon next to bay horseFederica was inspired by the American Quarter Horse at a young age, shows in all-around events and was also a participant in the Youth World Cup. She aspires to manage shows professionally. “AIQH and AQHA gave me the opportunity to conquer my dreams. I’m passionate about AQHA and enjoy the opportunity to get in touch with people around the world,” Federica says. 

Now, let’s learn the steps to hosting and organizing a virtual horse show. 

  1. Organize a group of at least three individuals to help. 
    • One person to hire judges, one to manage the video submissions and score sheets, and another to manage the marketing, promotion and posting of online content. 
  2. Determine which classes you are going to host. Pattern classes are the most functional since patterns can be judged by individual maneuver scores. AIQH recommends avoiding rail classes, such as western pleasure and hunter under saddle, for this reason. 
  3. Contract judges and obtain patterns. Translate the pattern into the native language of the country in which you are hosting the show.  
  4. Establish the number of shows you will host in your show series. Ensure that they are scheduled with adequate time between each.
  5. Determine a timeframe for exhibitors to submit videos and give the judges an allotted amount of time to provide feedback and placings. 
    • Schedule enough time between shows for people to prepare, plan and record.
    • Set a rule for the number of times a member can practice the pattern before submitting the video.
  6. Market your show.
    • Create a Facebook page to manage video submissions and use the page to provide show updates, results and post the videos of the top performers.
  7. Gather prizes.
    • AIQH recommends using virtual ribbons for placings. These can be found online or can be created by your team if you’re feeling crafty.
    • High-point prizes can also be provided in the form of buckles, T-shirts, caps, vests or polo wraps.
    • Make it fun by giving a prize for the video with the most likes.
  8. Send a survey after the virtual event.  
    • Find out what your participants enjoyed and what they recommend to improve the next virtual show series.

After learning the steps to organizing a virtual show, we asked Federica, Camilla and Paola about their experience. 

What did you enjoy most about managing a virtual horse show?

Federica says, “It was exciting to have the chance to work so closely with professional judges. It was such a unique opportunity. We were also shocked by the amount of participation. It ended up being a lot more work than we imagined it to be with almost 450 videos submitted total and 550 score sheets.”  

What recommendations do you have for virtual horse show managers?

“If you want your series to maintain an educational feel, we recommend that you stick with the same judge for each discipline throughout the series. If the judge provides feedback and comments in addition to placings, the riders can then track their improvement. This gave it a very personal feel,” says Paola.  

woman showing sorrel horse over polesWhat feedback did you receive from your members? 

Camilla says, “People enjoyed having something to work toward and look forward to. Horseback riding is an individual sport, so we were able to achieve a level of normalcy through the virtual shows. With all the uncertainty, our members knew for sure that they could count on something fun to participate in with their horse.”

Not only does a virtual horse show help keep you in tip-top showing shape, but it opens the door of opportunity for those who aren’t typically able to compete due to cost, geographical limitations or lack of transportation. AIQH is gearing up for its next virtual horse show this winter. Whether you plan to host a virtual show or participate in one, we hope it helps you kick the quarantine blues. All you need to participate is a horse and a video recorder, and you have everything you need to test your skills against riders of all experience levels, and at a portion of the cost. 

About AQHA International

The AQHA International Department functions to serve and support international members and affiliate organizations through the implementation of innovative programs and services which accommodate a diverse set of needs in order to enhance the value of maintaining AQHA membership globally. To learn more, visit