Show prep for the long term


Use correct tack and grooming to enhance your horse’s best features

Showing is definitely the glamorous side of equestrian sport, focusing on beauty, type, conformation, rideability and presentation. Adding in all the little extras and knowing how to make the best of your horse’s conformation and looks is often the difference between earning a placed rosette and winning a championship. Keeping your show horse at a good foundation level ensures minimal fuss and hassle in the run-up to a show.

General care

Ideally, for any horse who is going to compete in showing classes, the general care needs to be up to par. It is far easier to polish up a horse with everything already in place than it is to take a horse with a tatty mane and tail and make him look all sleek and neatly plaited. Feet should be in good condition with a healthy moisture level maintained.

Body condition must be maintained, possibly with a little topping up closer to the show. Show horses should be well covered and muscled, not fat! It is difficult to take your eyes off a clean horse who gleams with good health – and keeping the judge’s eye on you is exactly what you want.

Gloss factor

Tips to keep your horse in show condition:

  • Health, health, health! A healthy horse is the best starting point.
  • Schedule a weekly wash and condition for manes and tails. Mane and tail sprays may be used to keep them smooth in between washings.
  • Wash sweat off the coat every day.
  • Protect dark horses from the sun with daysheets or UV sprays.
  • A weak aqueous oil solution can be sponged on daily or weekly to condition the coat and promote shine. You will have to wash it off as dust sticks to it.
  • For grey horses, ensure regular washing to prevent staining of hair. Whitening products are available.

long2Combs and scissors

Manes should be maintained, pulled or trimmed depending on the thickness and length desired for plaiting. A mane with no short rubbed bits along the crest is a pleasure to plait and present.

Regardless of tails being pulled or plaited, they need to be maintained so the hair is in good condition, a suitable length and silky. Pulled tails require regular tweaking to keep them looking great. They must be kept well conditioned to prevent rubbing and itching. Closer to the show, they require daily bandaging for a few hours a day to lay the tail properly flat. Please do not leave tail bandages on overnight – it can have horrific results.

Trimming and pulling

  • Ears – trim as close to the show as possible, but not the day before if your horse is head shy, as it can make bridling difficult.
  • Whiskers – trim as close to the show as possible, preferably the morning of, as they regrow so quickly. Youngsters can get stressed due to the different feel without whiskers. It may help to gradually shorten them over a few days to allow for adjustment.
  • Eyelashes – leave well alone to protect the eyes from bumps.
  • Beards, coronary bands and fetlocks should be kept neatly trimmed.
  • Ergots and chestnuts can be kept neat by your farrier.
Don’t wash your horse on the day of the show

Don’t wash your horse on the day of the show

Showing don’ts

  • Don’t condition the mane and tail if plaiting. It makes the hair difficult to work with.
  • Don’t bathe your horse on the day of the show unless you are prepared to lay the coat flat by putting on sheets to keep it flat while your horse dries off.
  • Don’t shoe your horse the day of or just before a big show, in case he gets pricked or goes footsore.
  • Don’t put the double bridle or pelham on at the last minute. School your horse in it a few times to make sure all is okay.
  • Don’t use brand new, stiff tack without oiling and getting it comfortable on your horse.

Enhance what you have

Showing is about presenting your horse in the best possible light – which will require you to be aware of his weaknesses as well as his strong points. Even champions have flaws, but a good handler will draw the eye to the best features to keep it off the weaker features as long as possible. Here are some turnout tips to assist:

  • Pull or plait and bang the tail to best highlight your horse’s hindleg strength and development.
  • Use quarter markers, shark’s teeth and flashes to do the same. It is best to learn how to do custom freehand quarter markers to best suit the shape, angle and size of your horse’s hindquarter. Make sure that they are straight and even when viewed from behind and compared side to side. You can make your horse look lopsided with skew ones.
  • Choose tack that enhances your horse’s features. A fine-boned hack may not look good in a flat noseband or broad browband.
  • You can hood plaits where the topline is slightly weaker, or plait tighter on a cresty horse.
  • Feet can be well trimmed and polished. Trim the coronary band hair so that it is parallel to the ground if your horse’s feet aren’t 100% straight.

On the day

Show prep can be harrowing, particularly when competition nerves are involved. Planning ahead of time can take some of the stress out of the day. Plaiting can take anything from 30 minutes to over an hour depending on how fast you are, so give yourself enough time to get it right without feeling pressured. After the tail is plaited or if it’s pulled, put on a damp tail bandage and keep resetting it to avoid it slipping and getting too tight as it dries. Remember to take it off before you go into the ring.
Depending on how you work your show horse in, you may want to ride and then do a final clean-up with all the little finishing touches (this sequence is up to personal preference). Complete quarter markers, shark’s teeth and flashes. This can take anything from 15 to 30 minutes depending on how accomplished you are and how well your horse stands. Touch up hoof polish to cover any chips, and oil up the face, ears, under the tail and, if desired, run slightly oily fingers through the tail to finish it off.

Remember, the idea is not to try to fool the judge – a good one will see beyond any ‘tricks of the trade’. You want to keep his eye on you long enough to keep him thinking about your horse. The rest is up to schooling, hard work and good luck on the day.

Text: Mandy Schröder. Photography: DressageSA, eastern light photography, Sari ONeal, jakelv7500

The full article appeared in the January 2015 issue of HQ Magazines. For great subscription offers visitCoolmags.