Grooming to gear up for show season
Grooming is vitally important for overall success in competitions and employing certain practices can increase the likelihood of being favored by judges.


As show season gets underway, riders of every caliber will find out if their off-season training adequately prepared their trusty steeds for the trials of competition. This time of year can be stressful for first-time and veteran competitors alike, as riders do all they can to put their best hoof forward.

However, for all the all intense off-season workouts a horse and rider may undergo to improve their skills, a vital part of overall show-time preparedness lies in the grooming. An immaculately trained horse will not win a judge’s favor if its appearance does not match its abilities. Pre-show grooming is an important aspect of a horse event, one that can give a rider a slight advantage in a close competition.

Show-grooming is a multistage affair that involves using different strategies at various points leading up to the day of the event. Below is a list of various strategies riders of all disciplines can use to ensure their horse looks its absolute best when it enters the ring.

One to two months before competition

“If a full clip is necessary, it would be best to do it around one week before the show date.”

Most riders know that it is important they make the time to groom their horses on a daily basis. This activity allows riders to do a variety of useful things: it provides an opportunity to check for cuts, soreness and any other abnormalities, contributes to the human-animal bond experience and finally, keep coats, mane and tail in great condition all year to make day-of show prep that much easier. In a video provided by the United States Equestrian Federation, Max Corcoran, an international professional groomer of more than 14 years, offers a variety of simple grooming techniques owners and trainers can use as part of routine care.

If the mane and tail are tangled and frazzled, they can be particularly challenging to correct in the days before a show. Therefore, it’s important to keep them looking their best at all times. Using a detangling agent when brushing these areas can be very effective in preventing knots. You can also brush the dock of the horse’s tail to stimulate hair growth and spread the hair’s natural oils throughout its length. The tail should not be shampooed too frequently, however, as this will strip the oils from the hair.

HorseChannel.com recommends that horses who are turned out for long periods throughout the day wear a lightweight lounge covering during their time in the sun. This will protect their coat from fading, a common problem for black or other dark colored horses.

As noted by Max Corcoran, much of the beauty of a horse’s coat comes from the inside out, meaning nutrition plays a key role in the facilitation of a healthy coat, mane and tail. Keep your equine on a nutrient-rich diet in the weeks leading up to an event. Supplements like Finish Line’s Total Control feature ingredients that actively promote healthy hair and skin such as biotin, methionine and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.

One week before competition

If a full clip is necessary, it is best to do it around one week before the show date. Thorough clipping of the entire body dulls the coat’s natural sheen as the the hairs grow back incrementally. 

Now is also the time to begin gathering all the materials you will need for the competition. Horse & Rider provided a comprehensive checklist of the items a competitor in virtually any discipline may need to pack for their event, including all the necessary grooming supplies.

One to two days before competition

There are a number of things you should do within the 48-hour window before your competition begins.

Any white sections of hair on your horse should be whitened during this time. If these portions are dirty or muddled, it could affect how a judge rates your overall performance. Use whitening shampoo to thoroughly clean every white area, including any socks or patches. Let the shampoo settle for around five minutes before washing it off. For socks in particular, it is recommended you apply standing wraps to prevent them from getting dirty before the event.

The mane and tail will also need attention. If necessary, wash these sections of hair with a shampoo containing oils to prevent the hair from appearing flat or dry. Finish Line’s Herbal Shampoo has tea tree oil and thyme in it to promote health hair, skin and oil distribution. After applying a detangling agent, you can shorten and thin mane and tail to a suitable length. Horse Channel recommends using a knife with a clipper blade edge to quickly and efficiently remove hair without discomforting the horse.

When braiding the mane, part it in a straight line parallel to the first thick band of muscle underneath the crest. Braiding the mane and tail a few days before competition can keep the hair from getting tangled. Even if you choose not to keep it braided during the event, the hair will have an aesthetically pleasing wave. Use a gel or braiding agent to force the hair into cooperating and use downward tension when braiding – do not pull the hair towards you as this will cause the hair to stick out and away from the neck rather than lying flat against the neck. If you decide to band the mane, go through the banding process and cut off any excess hair once you finish, rather than before. In both cases, put a stretchy hood over the horse’s head and neck after styling to prevent them from getting bedding into the hair or scratching your work away on a post. You should also place the tail in a long sock to keep it from tangling or getting caught on anything.

Examine the hairs along the fetlocks, face, bridle path, muzzle, ears and throat closely to determine if they should be trimmed again. A good clipping can add definition to your horse to make it look even more fit. However, you should be careful to not cut its whiskers too short; these long hairs serve to orient the horse and cutting could negatively affect their performance. Additionally, Verena Affolter, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at University of California – Davis, told The Horse.com that owners should be wary of cutting hairs in the ear too short as well.

“In my opinion,it’s not a good grooming practice to cut the hair really short in the ear,” Affolter said. “Again, it’s okay to shorten it, but these hairs have an important purpose. They protect the ear from mosquitoes that can get in there and bite the horse. It’s a lot more difficult for insects to get in there when there’s more hair.”

The evening before the show, give your horse a bath. Take caution in the use of shine-enhancing products, especially near the saddle area, as they may cause the saddle to slip. Put an overnight sleeping sheet over the horse so it stays clean throughout the night and will not need a second bath in the morning.

The day of competition

The big day has finally arrived, and all your grooming preparations can finally be shown off. But, there are a few last-minute things you need to do between waking up and hitting the show ring.

Complete one final grooming session beginning with the use of a curry comb across the horse’s entire body to brush away any dust or loose hair. Pay particular attention to the white areas of the skin and reapply coat polish or mist if needed. Depending on the discipline,  you may want to apply polish to the horse’s hooves, using a coat of black polish on black hooves and clear polish for hooves of any other color. Otherwise, use hoof oil rather than polish to add extra shine. Make any last-minute adjustments to the braids or bandings and add polish to the mane and tail. In warm weather, apply a quick mist of fly spray before entering the ring to make sure your horse is focused on you and not shooing insects.

Finally, take a break and take in how beautiful your horse looks. Appreciate all the hard work you put in over the preceding months and weeks and take to the ring with confidence knowing your horse looks like a true champion.



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