In December, only weeks after the last shows of the calendar year in Virginia, I'm already thinking about the next year. This is not so easy, considering the regional omnibuses don't come out until much later, sometimes not until just a few weeks before the first shows.
The reason I jump the gun is that planning a season for myself is one thing, but planning for my students is another. I try really hard not to show when my students are showing, especially if I have multiple horses in my lineup. Plus, with the various tracks needed to qualify for the various championships we attempt to attend, planning well in advance is crucial.
My first step is to get as complete a picture of my area's horse show calendar as possible. The USDF website  is a great resource for this - I can search by region and by calendar year, and they have the next year posted usually by the current year summer. I write down all the local shows, plus a couple of our annual favorites that we're willing to schlep to, and arrange them by date.
My next destination is the USEF website  to look at which shows are qualifiers for any of the national championships I or my students want to attend. I designate those shows with an asterisk on my master list; even if I don't attend any of them, I still want to know which ones are possibilities.
That gives me a pretty good first-glance picture of what's available for us. When I combine that list with a little of what I know about each show, I can start putting a season together:
- April 7-8, VADA/Nova Spring, Morven Park. Morven Park is close to us, with good footing and good stabling. This show is a qualifier for the various USEF championships, but I will have done two qualifiers in Florida, and I'll have only been home about a week, so this one's for my students.
- May 5-6, CDCTA Spring, Morven Park. This is a TERRIFIC show put on by my favorite GMO, and the weather is usually nicer than the April show, so I push my students for this one.
- May 19-20, PVDA Spring, Morven Park. Another nice local show, two weeks after the CDCTA one, so if my gang wanted to show hard, this is a nice option without having to do back-to-back weekends.
- May 24-27, Memorial Day CDI, NJ Horse Park. This one's a question mark for me. It's a nice show, and a USEF qualifier, but I might not need it (Midge only needs two qualifying shows, with the option of dropping a third), and it would, obviously, be a longer schlep. At the same time, Michael would be there for coaching, and it'd be nice to have eyes on the ground. This is not the kind of show I'd encourage my clients to attend - CDI judging, even in the national classes, tends to be stiffer. I'll keep it on the calendar just to remind me that it's an option.
Which brings us to June, where things get sticky. There's three local shows back-to-back: Morven Park June 8-10, a show at the new-ish Doswell venue June 16-17, and the PVDA Ride for Life June 23-24. Logic would say to pick the Morven and the R4L, with a weekend off between. But R4L is always VERY hot, and I've heard good things about the Doswell grounds. And the Morven show is the East Coast Selection Trial for the World Young Horse Championships in Verden, Germany, which gives the place a "big show" feel that might intimidate some. When I had my annual Horse Show Planning Party (more on that later), I polled my students, and no one had strong opinions either way, so I put all of them on the calendar, and I figure we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
- July 5-8, Region 15 Arabian Show. I have three students on full or part Arabians, and I told them that if they all qualified for the regional show, I'd go. How fun!
- July 13-15, Dressage at Lexington. This is one of my absolute favorite shows, and it's an important one, because our year-end regional-type Championships (more on this later, too) are in Lexington, and the Championship classes are almost always indoors. This can freak some horses out, so we always go to the Lexington summer show to get those horses in the rings there as much as possible. This is one show where I'll break my rule on showing myself when my students show, because I just love Lexington so much.
More trouble in August. There's usually a show at Morven Park the first weekend in August, but there's some questions about whether or not it will happen, and with no Omnibus yet, we may not know for a while. Then there's a show the following weekend run by my friends at CDCTA, but the venue is a question. And the weekend after that is a CDI in New York, which is also the same weekend as my 10-year high school reunion, which I'd love to attend. And the weekend after THAT is the Young and Developing Horse Championships in Illinois. They're all on the schedule, and they're far enough out that I've got lots of time to sort out the mess.
September is a bummer - the CDI I plan on for Ella and Midge is the same weekend as the last show at Morven Park. Phooey. They're both on the calendar, but assuming Ella and Midge are ready to go to the Big Show, my posse will be on their own that weekend.
And last but not least, the BLM Championships in October in Lexington. Here in Region 1 we have two year-end regional-level championships, the USDF Region 1 Finals and the BLM (that's Bengt Ljunquist Memorial, for those not in the know) Championships. The two alternate venues between Lexington, Va., and either Allentown, N.J., and Williamston, N.C., every year; we attend whichever one is in Lexington.
Once I've got all that sorted out, I email it out to all of my students and then plan a big pizza party. We eat, drink and make merry, then go through not only the calendar, but also a handy document I call "Horse Showing 101," which talks about what membership options are out there, which you need to qualify for what, and so on. It's really helpful for my first-timers, but it's also handy, I think, for even some of my experienced show riders to be reminded of what they need to get done.
And then we sit around and wait for the Omnibus to come out, and get the show (arf arf arf) on the road!