Snow melting in the pasture? Check.

The melody of ice melting off the roof eaves – drip drip drip? Check.

Air full of the smell of mud and the sound of birds? Check.

Every equestrian in the world knows what that means. It's time for horse show season.

That blend of riding and competing against other horses and riders is both familiar and addictive. Nearly every rider feels it at one point or another. There's something about testing your riding skills against those of other riders. And there's something about seeing how your measures up to the competition. A few blue ribbons on the horse stall can make any rider feel good about themselves.

But riding competitively isn't just about winning. It's also about the social interaction, the community of horses and riders all gathering in one place for the same reason. It's the friends that you make amongst fellow equestrians and horses, the faces that you see on the show circuit year after year. Even for those who feel intensely competitive, there's something pleasant about being surrounded by so many horse lovers. In the inevitable conversations, you almost can't help but pick up a few pointers.

So as you head out to the horse shows this year, what should keep in mind?

It's a good idea to be clear with yourself – and your horse – about what your goals are. Do you need blue ribbons and trophies? Nothing wrong with that, but don't go to the show brimming with gossip. Go with focus and intent.

Do you want to feel the joy of showing off in front of an audience? Hear the applause, the whispers in the crowd of people who wish they do what you just did? Remember that pleasing a crowd and pleasing judges don't always go hand in hand.

Or are you thinking of the shows as more of a chance to keep developing your equestrian skills – and keeping your horse involved and active?

Most riders fall somewhere in between all those options. But setting a goal is what allows you to develop a practice regimen that will get you to those goals. Dress rehearsal, for example, is a pretty big piece of the "showing off" aspect. If that's what you need, invite friends and fellow barn rats over and have them observe you.

Ask for feedback – from your teacher, your coach, your riding buddies. Even if they're not professional judges, their thoughts and responses can help you figure out where you need more work. And it never hurts to ride under critical watchful eyes – that's what judges are!

And remember to give your horse a "dress rehearsal," too. Trailer them up and take them to an unfamiliar location – a nearby farm or riding center. Unload them and do just what you'd do at a show. This helps move your horse in the direction of "show mode." They'll be more likely to perform well if they know what's expected of them.

But the bottom line? Don't forget to have fun!