The countdown is officially on, t-minus 2 days and counting until the 2015 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair kicks off in Toronto on November 6. For many equestrians, this event is like Christmas in November, a one-stop shop for everything the heart desires — from shopping, to top level competition, great food, and so much more. Many have been endlessly waiting for this time of year, others have been endlessly competiting to earn themselves, or their horses, a spot to compete in the Ricoh or horse palace. For spectators, this is a chance to get all the shiny sparkly horsey things you’ve been dreaming about all year long … all in one convenient place.

Whether you are planning to be at the Royal for one day, or the whole week, we’ve got some tips to help you survive, and get the most out of your experience.

1. Plan your Route (and no we don’t mean your driving route. Though with Toronto construction that’s also a smart plan). The vendor maps are published on the Royal site in advance, take advantage and map out all your favorite spots before you hit the show floor. It will not only help you find them faster but will help you prioritize. Some booths get very busy (especially on weekends), so plan to hit them first before they get to crowded or sell out of that must have item you’ve been dying to get.
2. Have a budget (and some wiggle room). It’s really (and we mean really) easy to blow your budget on that shiny new pair of boots, that new winter blanket, or must have glittery bridle. When you plan your route, plan your shopping list too, and prioritize the must have items you need to get. Also, don’t be afraid to shop around, there are a range of tack shops that likely carry your favorite brands — keep an eye out for who has the better prices.
3. Be friendly. Most people at the Royal, especially the small booth vendors are actually really nice people, chat with them if you have a chance … you may learn some pretty neat things or make some new connections. It can also get really crowded on the vendor floor sometimes, and while nobody loves crowds or that person that stops in the middle of the lane blocking traffic, being nasty about it won’t help either. Put on a happy face and think of that blingy browband you’ve been craving to get you through the dark thoughts and then just move along.
4. Leave time for food. The line ups can be long, especially for some of the more popular food booths (mmm … potato rosti), so if you are trying to grab a bite before the horse show starts … budget time accordingly.
5. Be attentive. This is especially important when your wandering around the horse palace. Its fine to wander the aisles and look at the horses, but pay attention to riders (and their horses) that are coming and going up and down the aisles and the ramps. For some horses, the Royal is a high stress environment, and their riders and owners are doing their best to keep them calm, so be respectful and give them some space.
6. Do plan to go with friends. Everything is better with friends, whether they share your horsey passion or not. If you visit with horse friends, you can share your shopping joy and the thrills of the horse shows, from showjumping to dressage. If you go with your non-horse friends (especially if they are true city folk) you can laugh at the strange questions they ask you and the look on their faces when they get their first true smell of real livestock (mmm … that good old cow patty smell).

And if all else fails, just go and have some fun in the one place where city meets country all your farm / horse girl needs (from shopping to competition to food) can be met in one (warm, indoor) location.

Happy Royal Season!

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