Leadline horse shows are equestrian competitions intended for young riders to learn about horse riding as well as horse showing. In leadline, the child, usually age 7 or under, rides on top of the pony, while an adult holds the leadline and shows the horse in hand.

Leadline is an excellent way to introduce young horse lovers to equestrian sports. Leadline shows are held for children as young as two years old.

Rules and Judging

Judging in leadline varies greatly across the governing organizations. In many competitions, all of the participants are awarded first place and receive some sort of ribbon or prize. Many of the children are just learning about horses and proper equitation, and are thus awarded upon the basis of participation.

The young riders in leadline show their horses in a walk, and sometimes a trot. The adult holds a lead line that is at least six feet in length in order to illustrate the rider does some ability to control the horse. These competitions judge the temperament and grooming of the horse, as well as the rider’s sense of equitation.

Proper equitation is first and foremost about body position. The child should sit astride the horse, with feet in the stirrups. Heels should be down in the stirrups. The child should sit up straight and look forward. The hands should be on the reins and not on the saddle horn, or other parts of the saddle in English style saddle. It is important that the child has a grasp of how to use the reins to direct the horse.

Additionally, the attitude of the child plays a factor in leadline judging. The rider should appear to be having fun and should not look frightened or off-balance. The more the rider is directing the horse, and not the adult holding the leadline, the better the child will do in the judging. For example, if the rider can command the horse to go, to trot and to stop, it will reflect better than if the horse is directed by the line.

Judges will often ask the participants questions about their horses. Children should have a basic knowledge about the pony they ride. Common questions include the breed of the horse, or even just the color.



The accepted apparel for more leadline horse shows is dependent on the style of equitation. In a western pleasure show, western pleasure attire is the accepted choice. Western pleasure attire for girls includes chaps, a nice blouse or collared shirt, a jacket or best, gloves and western boots. Boys wear nice, crisp jeans, a western shirt with a tied scarf and western boots. Most leadline competitions require children to wear helmets, rather than western hats.

English style attire is in the form of hunt seat. Breeches in a neutral color such as tan or gray are accepted. Tall, English riding boots are work, as well as a dark jacket to match. White shirts are worn underneath the jacket. Sometimes, in more informal competitions, the jacket is omitted. A helmet is always worn for safety.

Leadline Ponies

The horses used for leadline showing are ponies. Ponies are small horses classified by height. Ponies come in a variety of breeds. They have thicker manes, shorter legs, wider cores and thick necks. They look a bit like compacted horses. A pony does not imply a young horse, as some believe. A foal is the word used for a young horse that is still growing while a pony implies a full-grown horse that is small.

Ponies are especially good for children. They are not only appropriately sized, but often have a very nice temperament. Ponies stand less than 14.2 hh. Ponies commonly used for riding include the Connemara, Australian and Welsh ponies. Well-trained ponies are generally patient and kind. When placing a small child on a horse, it is always important to know that the horse is generally well-behaved and is not likely to buck off the child. Ponies are classified according to size in pony showing. Some ponies are 12.2 hands or under, which is an excellent size for a young child learning to ride.

Tack and Equipment

Even leadline competitions that are scored simply for participation include grooming and tack as an important element. For children hoping to begin a long horse-showing career in leadline, the perfect opportunity to learn about proper grooming and horse care is at a young age.

Horses should be well groom, with neatly combed, and sometimes braided, manes and tails. The coats should be shiny and clean and the hooves trimmed and polished.

Tack includes a bit and reins. Typically, accepted tack is in accordance with the style of the ride. Western shows use western tack while English shows use English tack. The leadline is an essential component to leadline showing. Children’s saddles are used. Oftentimes, the saddles are smaller versions of adult saddles, with higher stirrups. Some people use the aid of a saddle grip to help small children maintain balance. Western saddles have a saddle horn that a child can hold if necessary. Some English leadline saddles have been adapted to include a small handle for the child.

The main purpose of leadline horse showing is fun. Children can learn about horsemanship, riding and grooming at a young age. Many leadliners move on to increased skill classes. Leadline competitions are family events. A parent, or even a sibling aged 16 or older can hold the line for the rider. In families where children compete at different levels, leadline is a great way for the youngest children to participate.

Many children have a fascination with horses, but not all have the opportunity to ride a horse until later in life. Leadline allows children to develop relationships with horses. A good relationship with horse and rider is the keystone to any equestrian discipline. Developing the skills early on will lead to great success later in life. Leadline also helps develop self-confidence in young children. In most competitions, all participants receive an award of some variety. These awards can foster self-esteem and confidence that are necessary for any well-rounded individual.

Veterinary Surgeon, London at Blue Cross UK | + posts

A London based Veterinary surgeon, Sanja is also an avid writer and pet advocate.