How to groom a horse for a show

This article was co-authored by Christine Amber. Christine Amber runs a horsemanship equestrian services business in California, where she trains both riders and horses. Christine has over 30 years of horse training experience and is certified by the American Riding Instructors Certification Program, Certified Horsemanship Association, and the American Association for Horsemanship Safety.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 20 testimonials and 83% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

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Grooming is very beneficial for horses, not only because it cleans their coat and it adds beauty to their appearance, but also because can promote healthy emotional bonding and trust between the horse and the person. Grooming a horse encourages healthy blood circulation and helps to release natural oils into the coat that help protect him from natural elements such as wind and rain. Grooming stable horses should be done on a regular basis to keep a horse’s coat and skin healthy. However, horses that live more naturally, as in a large pasture, groom themselves by rubbing on trees or fences and rolling. Believe it or not, dirt and mud are part of your horse’s natural grooming regimen! Grooming also gives you the chance to check over your horse’s body to make sure that your horse is healthy and has no external wounds, particularly on parts of the body that will be touched by tack.

This article was co-authored by Christine Amber. Christine Amber runs a horsemanship equestrian services business in California, where she trains both riders and horses. Christine has over 30 years of horse training experience and is certified by the American Riding Instructors Certification Program, Certified Horsemanship Association, and the American Association for Horsemanship Safety.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 20 testimonials and 83% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

This article has been viewed 346,116 times.

Grooming is very beneficial for horses, not only because it cleans their coat and it adds beauty to their appearance, but also because can promote healthy emotional bonding and trust between the horse and the person. Grooming a horse encourages healthy blood circulation and helps to release natural oils into the coat that help protect him from natural elements such as wind and rain. Grooming stable horses should be done on a regular basis to keep a horse’s coat and skin healthy. However, horses that live more naturally, as in a large pasture, groom themselves by rubbing on trees or fences and rolling. Believe it or not, dirt and mud are part of your horse’s natural grooming regimen! Grooming also gives you the chance to check over your horse’s body to make sure that your horse is healthy and has no external wounds, particularly on parts of the body that will be touched by tack.

How to groom a horse for a show

When you’re preparing for a competition , it’s time to up your horse-grooming game! You’re not only judged for your horsemanship skills and your horse’s abilities, but also on your appearance. Grooming your horse is an important activity, both when you’re preparing for a show and at any time — it helps your horse feel better as well as look better. Learn all you need to know to groom your horse for competition in this detailed guide.

The Importance of Grooming

Grooming is a great bonding experience for both of you. It’s an excellent way to spend time with your horse while taking care of him or her. Think of it as a regular spa day for your horse.

Regular grooming helps to keep your horse in top shape and provides an early warning if your horse has any issues requiring medical care. Grooming removes dirt, loose hair, and sweat from your horse’s hooves, coat, mane, and tail. It also increases your horse’s circulation and oil production in the skin, resulting in a shiny coat and a healthy horse.

When To Groom

Grooming your horse before riding is an essential tip for horse care. Horses can get sore and irritated when ridden without being properly groomed, as dirt and sweat can accumulate under their saddle, causing discomfort and even sores. And don’t forget proper hoof care , which is also critical for your horse. You’ll want to be sure to remove any stones, caked mud, sticks, or other small objects with a pick, then brush the hooves and do a visual inspection to make sure the hooves and shoes are in good condition.

It’s a good idea to groom before and after you ride your horse. This helps to keep him or her clean and ensure no irritations are developing. Even if you’re short on time, don’t skimp on the pre-ride grooming from tip to tail before you saddle up your horse . Also, make sure to pick the hooves after you ride, as hoof care is so critical.

Grooming for Horse Shows

Your horse should get special treatment before a competition. A week or a few days before the show is an excellent time for body clipping and mane pulling . You can easily do these activities in advance when you have more time so it’s a positive experience for you and your horse.

Bathe your horse a day or two before the show. Do any touch-up clipping needed on the muzzle, ears, and bridle path. If your discipline calls for braiding the tail, you can do that the day before if your horse will leave it in. Otherwise, wait until the morning of your show. If you have time on the day of your show, you can save the remaining grooming and do it then. But if you know you won’t have time, complete it the day before and do a touch-up on the day of the competition.

How To Groom a Horse

Grooming is such an important activity that you want to be sure not to miss anything. Here are the steps to groom your horse correctly any time you ride.

1. Curry Your Horse

Start by brushing your horse with a soft curry comb to loosen any caked mud and debris from his coat. Brush in a circular motion over the entire body, taking care around the bony areas of his legs, shoulders, and hips. While you do this, look for any wounds or skin lesions.

2. Brush Your Horse

Use a stiff brush to get rid of the coarser dirt the curry comb missed. Start on one side and move around the horse to whisk out the dirt from its coat. Make sure to brush your entire horse and check for any irritations or wounds while you do it.

3. Use a Soft Brush

After you brush your horse with a stiff brush, you’ll next use a soft brush or finishing brush. These brushes have shorter and softer bristles that are great for increasing the shine in your horse’s coat. They can also be used on your horse’s face if you don’t have a special brush for that. Use gentle, sweeping strokes, brushing around the face, ears, throat, and entire body. Your horse’s coat should look nice and glossy after this step. You can apply a grooming spray if you like; just avoid the saddle area, as it can make the hair slippery and cause your saddle to shift.

4. Clean Your Horse’s Hooves

Pick and brush the hooves, and make sure there are no sticks or stones lodged. While you do this, check the state of the hooves and shoes to make sure they are in good shape. Look for any injuries, cracks in the hoof walls, and signs of thrush.

5. Comb Out the Mane and Tail

When you comb out your horse’s mane, make sure you’re gentle. You can use showsheen or a detangler in the tail to make brushing easier (but avoid the mane since it will make braiding difficult.) Start at the bottom of the strands and brush downward in sections until you can comb the entire mane from top to bottom. When you do this, pull the tail gently over to you while standing on one side. And be careful in case your horse kicks!

If you pulled the mane already, simply run a comb through your horse’s mane and tail. When you’re preparing for competition, it’s also a good idea to use a grooming spray to leave it clean and shiny.

6. Clean the Muzzle, Eyes, Ears, and Dock Area

Use a damp soft cloth or sponge to wipe around your horse’s muzzle and eyes, checking for any signs of redness, swelling, or excessive tearing. Slowly check the ears for any dirt or lodged seed heads, as some horses can be fussy about having their ears handled. Then, use the cloth to wipe around the tail head and dock. Before you enter the arena, run a clean rag over your horse’s face to remove any sweat or dirt.

Best Horse-Grooming Tools

There are a lot of different horse-grooming tools you may want to use with your horse, but these are the tools you will need at a minimum:

  • Sponge or soft cloth
  • Rub rag (old barn towel)
  • Stiff brush or dandy brush

Grooming Your Horse for Competition

You may be thinking, “Isn’t this similar to how I regularly groom my horse?” The answer is yes. When preparing for competition, you’ll want to give your horse a bath, take some extra care, and add some additional finishing touches. But the majority of the grooming you’ll do in preparation for competition is the same as what you should do every time you ride your horse.

In the May 2005 issue of Horse & Rider magazine, we gave you an all-inclusive show-day checklist to help you get organized and ward off those pre-show jitters. We included a comprehensive list of grooming supplies you'll need to keep your horse looking his best on show day. Now that you have all your grooming tools, follow these tips from the pros to make your horse shine in the show ring:

How to groom a horse for a show

Show-day shine starts at home, not at the show. Use these pros

Mane and Tail
On the morning of your show, apply Mane 'n Tail shampoo and conditioner to your horse's mane and tail. After his mane and tail are wet, use a comb, rather than a brush, to prevent hair breakage. Then braid his tail and put it in a tube sock to keep it clean. Right before your class, apply a spray-on coat conditioner for extra shine and brush his tail vigorously.

Matt Mills, Matt Mills Reining Horses, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Face and Ears
The day before your show, clip your horse's nose, eyes, ears, chin and bridle path. On show day, check and trim any stray hairs and thoroughly bathe him. (Enhance your horse's light or white coat and/or markings with a product like Quic Silver shampoo.) Then wipe baby oil over his ear, nose and eye areas to add shine. Just before entering the arena, run a clean rag over his face to remove any dirt or sweat.
Andrea Fappani, Fappani Performance Horses, Temecula, Calif.

Hair Coat
A beautiful coat starts at home, not at a show. Excellent nutrition and regular deworming make for a healthy coat. After every workout, bathe him with Healing Tree Private Reserve Tea Tree shampoo, then apply a leave-on rinse: 2 tablespoons each of Healing Tree Private Reserve Tea Tree conditioner and Vetrolin liniment mixed into a half-gallon bucket of warm water. At shows, repeat this process, adding a silicone-based finishing product, such as Cowboy Magic Detangler & Shine for extra shine.
Mary Jane Brown, Diamond B Training, Newberg, Ore.

Feet and Legs
One week before a show, bathe your horse with an equine shampoo. Then clip his legs–this lead time will allow any clipper irritation to heal. On the morning of your show, use a sanding block on each hoof to create an even surface. Then use black SuperShine Hoof Polish, even on light hooves–it really makes white markings stand out. After the polish dries, apply Hoof Polish Enhancer, a clear lacquer that seals the color.
Rusty Green, Rusty Green Quarter Horses, Richmond, Ind.

White Markings
A week before showing, wash your horse's white legs and large white markings with Pro Steps Brilliance shampoo. Three days before a show, clip the white markings on his legs and face as close to the skin as possible. One day before a show, bathe him; the morning of a show, bathe him again to ensure he's perfectly clean. While he's still damp, apply Pro Stepps finishing spray on his legs and body. (Avoid applying this product to your horse's face–it could irritate his eyes.) Wait until he's completely dry and then apply baby powder–the kind with cornstarch–on his legs to enhance whiteness. Apply polo wraps from his knees to his coronet bands and don't remove them until you reach the in-gate.
Mike Hachtel, Esouela Ranch, Helenville, Wisc.

Pets are very common these days, as they make for good companions. However, most people have either dogs or cats, because they are easy to maintain and don’t require much grooming compared to other animals, like horses.

Nevertheless, horses make for excellent pets, but they are extremely expensive, especially the good breeds. If you are amongst those lucky people who are able to afford a horse for a pet, you should be aware of how to properly groom it as well, particularly if you intend to take it to various horse shows.

Things Required:

– A complete grooming kit with body brushes, soft brushes, cloths, hoof pick, comb, and rubber curry
– Show Sheen or similar shine and detangling products
– Braiding elastics, waxed thread and carpet needle
– Hoof polish
– Baby oil or highlighter
– Baby powder or corn starch
– Hoof Picks
– Halter
– Lead Ropes
– Medium-bristled Horse Brush
– Soft-bristled Horse Brush

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Instructions

Secure the horse

No matter how tamed your horse is, it is recommended that you secure it near you before starting the grooming process. In order to do so, use a single tie and secure your horse to a post. However, the tie should be loose enough that the horse doesn’t panic and hurt itself.

Start brushing

After securing the horse, start brushing it. If the skin of your pet is sensitive, you should be using a softer brush. Start off with the legs and slowly move onto the other parts of the horse’s body. When you come to the face, be extra careful, since it is very sensitive. You can also try spraying your horse’s body to make it shine and sparkle in the sunlight.

Braid the mane

In order to make the judges notice your horse’s neck, braid the mane and secure it with the help of pins. A well groomed mane can really enhance the appearance of your horse.

Clean the hooves

Remove dirt from the hooves of your horse. Once you are done, polish the hooves carefully and leave them shining for the best results.

Give the final touches

Depending on the colour of your horse, give the final touches. For example, dust white powder on the legs of your horse, if they are white in colour. In the end, take a step back and carefully look at your horse from every angle to make sure you didnt miss out anything.

How to groom a horse for a show

Grooming your horse is essential to help monitor your horse’s health, checking for any signs of injury or change in their general condition. By brushing your horse before saddling them to ride, you are also making sure that there is no dried sweat or mud on their coat which would cause rubbing and discomfort. Whether you own your horse or visit a riding yard for lessons, a grooming kit should contain all the essentials you need to ensure your horse is sound, with a clean coat and healthy mane and tail. If you’re riding at a horse show, both you and your horse need to look and feel the part so it’s essential to know how to groom a horse for a show.

With many classes taking turnout into consideration for which pairing to place, you want your horse to really shine and look their best. We’ve rounded up a few of our favourite grooming supplies to help you best groom your horse for a show.

Washing Your Horse

We have a selection of horse shampoo including Carr & Day & Martin Colour Shampoo naturally enhances your horse’s coat in colours for Chestnut, Palomino, Grey, Black and Bay horses and ponies. If you have a particularly mucky pony, the Carr & Day & Martin Stain Removing Shampoo helps to remove manure, field and stable stains with a special purple formula which brightens and cleans a coat in no time at all.

How to groom a horse for a showHow to groom a horse for a show How to groom a horse for a show

The Carr & Day & Martin Canter Coat Shine Conditioner Spray is perfect for to help protect against new stains before your class. Simply spray this onto a wet or dry coat, then wipe away with a brush to keep them clean and glossy.

Grooming Your Horse

Grooming Kit

If you’re needing to start a grooming kit, a grooming set will include a range of brushes and tools for grooming your horse or pony. This Bentley Originals Grooming Set contains a mane and tale brush, dandy brush, sweat scraper, hoof oil brush, body brush, curry comb, cactus mitt and flick brush to ensure your horse will be perfectly clean and polished for any competition. The stylish and handy carry bag means you can carry this easily with you on show day for any last minute touches before entering the show ring.

How to groom a horse for a show

Especially useful is you horse is shedding their winter coat, a curry comb is usually made from plastic so that it can be easily washed and can clean away mud easily. Loosening hair from a woolly coat can become itchy for your horse but if you’re out and about you may also want them to look sleek rather than hairy! This Stablekit Dual Grooming Glove has a curry comb on one side and a brush on the other to help make brushing quick and easy.

How to groom a horse for a show

Hoof Pick

This is an absolute grooming kit essential, using a hoof pick means clearing out your horse’s feet and you can check that their frog is healthy. Be sure to remove any small stones or pieces of grit which can become lodged in their hooves and become painful.

How to groom a horse for a show

Hoof Oil

Using likes of Gold Label Hoof Oil Express give the hooves an attractive sheen and contains nourishing vitamins to help strengthen the hoof wall. This hoof oil even comes in a handy spray can, making it ideal for a quick spruce up before entering the show ring. Especially useful for your grooming kit if you’re going for a riding lesson or attending a riding competition and want your horse to look their best.

How to groom a horse for a show

Plaiting

If you’re going to a riding competition, unless your horse or pony is a mountain and moorland breed or has a hogged mane, most people plait their horse for a very smart turnout. Our Stablekit Plaiting Aid helps you to easily brush and segment your horse’s mane into easy to plait sections and the Stablekit Silicone Plaiting Bands are strong and flexible silicone making them easy to use and secure for wearing all day at a competition.

How to groom a horse for a show How to groom a horse for a show

Your horse will be clean and smart for any riding competition for dressage, show-jumping, eventing, showing and more with our range of grooming supplies. Ultimately show day is all about having fun and the preparation for a competition is necessary and enjoyable time spent with your horse or pony. Should you need any competition riding clothing, horse rugs or tack for a special event, be sure to browse the complete collection in our Equestrian section and good luck.

Learning how to properly groom your horse is crucial for proper horse maintenance as well as promoting a bonding relationship between the rider and horse. It is important to groom your horse regularly and thoroughly to promote a healthy and durable coat. These instructions include the basic steps necessary to groom your horse and are meant to serve as a checklist for each time you groom your horse.

Supplies (pictured above)
You will need a lead rope, curry comb, hard (stiff) brush, soft brush, mane and tail brush, hoofpick, cloth/washcloth, and fly spray.

Step 1: Use a Lead Rope to Secure Your Horse

Before beginning to groom your horse, you must properly secure the horse using a quick release knot. After making sure the horse is secured, you can then begin to groom your horse.

Step 2: Use the Curry Comb to Loosen Excess Dirt and Mud

Begin using the rubber curry comb in small (about the size of your palm) circular motions to loosen excess dirt and mud. Start at the neck and work your way down each side of the horse. Avoid using the curry comb on the face, spine, and legs of your horse as these areas are sensitive.

*Metal curry combs are available but do not use them. They are harsh and can injure the horse.

Step 3: Use a Hard/stiff Brush to Remove Dirt and Mud

Start at the neck of the horse and work your way towards the rear of the horse with the hard/stiff brush. Use short, brisk strokes to remove the excess dirt and mud that was loosened with the curry comb. Avoid using the hard brush on sensitive areas of the horse including the face, ears, and legs as this can cause discomfort and irritation to the horse.

Step 4: Use a Soft Brush to Remove Any Remaining Dust and to Groom Sensitive Areas

Use the soft brush to remove the last layer of dust from your horse’s body. Also, use this brush to groom sensitive areas such as the face and legs. Gently brush the face with a soft brush (smaller soft brushes can be purchased to aid in brushing the face). Next, brush the horse’s entire body with this brush, beginning at the head and working back towards the rump on both sides of the horse.

Step 5: Use a Sponge or Washcloth to Clean Your Horse’s Face

Gently clean around your horse’s eyes and nose with a wet/damp sponge or washcloth. A different sponge or washcloth can be used to clean around the dock area (around the tail) of the horse. It is important to note that if you will be grooming multiple horses, make sure you do not use the same sponge/washcloth. Each horse should have his or her own sponge/washcloth to prevent spreading germs or infection.

*You can also use a separate sponge or cloth to clean the dock area of the horse. Do NOT use the same sponge on the face and the dock.

Step 6: Use a Wide-tooth Comb or Mane and Tail Brush to Brush Out the Mane and Tail

Warning: When performing this step, DO NOT STAND DIRECTLY BEHIND the horse!

First, run your fingers through your horse’s mane and tail to work through any large knots. Take a fist-full of the horse’s mane in one hand and use the other to gently comb through it. When combing out the tail, stand to the side of the horse (NOT DIRECTLY BEHIND the horse) and try to keep a hand or arm touching
the horse so that they know that you are there.

*If needed, detangling spray for horses is available and can be used to aid in detangling a particularly knotted mane or tail. These sprays also make the horse’s mane and tail shine and can be used for special occasions.

*Some professional groomers do not use combs in their horse’s hair because the comb sometimes pulls hair out.

Step 7: Use a Hoofpick to Clean Your Horse’s Hooves

First, you must lift your horse’s hoof. Most horses will lift their hooves after you run your hand down the back of their legs. If your horse does not lift it’s hoof then you can GENTLY squeeze the tendon on the back of the leg. It is important to not squeeze this tendon too hard as it can lead to lameness. After lifting the hoof, use the hoofpick to scrape from the heel of the hoof towards the toe to remove any rocks, dirt, mud, or other foreign objects from your horse’s hoof. Be very careful to avoid scraping the frog of
the hoof with the hoofpick. The frog is a very sensitive V-shaped area of the hoof and if scraped could lead to lameness.

*It is very important that you clean your horse’s hooves out before and after riding to prevent injury.

Step 8: Use Fly Spray When Necessary to Protect Your Horse

During the months of the year when flies are present, spraying your horse with fly spray (formulated for horses) at the end of your grooming session can help protect him or her from these pesky insects. Avoid spraying the horse in the face with fly spray and follow the instructions on the bottle for proper use.

*To give your horse’s coat extra shine, you can spray your horse with ShowSheen.

*In the picture above, it looks like the fly spray is directed at the horse’s face, but he actually just turned his head so that he could watch me spray the rest of his body.

First impression: It’s that moment when a judge gets his initial look at you and your horse when you walk into the show pen. A positive one can help set the tone for the rest of your performance. One simple way to do that is to make sure your horse looks his best.

How to groom a horse for a show

An oil-based shine product can help highlight the black points on your horse’s head and face. We also banded this gelding’s forelock, which made for a tidy, polished look.

How? With a little time and elbow grease, some inexpensive grooming products, and these nine tips.

The Prep
Tip #1: Start with a clean horse. Bathe your horse’s body, then shampoo and condition his mane and tail. Not only will his coat look its best, but you’ll also help minimize wear and tear on your clippers. (There’s nothing like a dirty horse to wreck a set of clipper blades!) Let him dry completely.

Tip #2:
Clip your horse’s legs. Clipped legs provide a clean, crisp look. They’re also easier to keep clean than hairy legs. We use #10 blades on low white socks, for a close, clean clip. (Note: To be safe, clip your horse’s legs about a week before your show. That way, the hair can grow back slightly, minimizing any sign of clipper tracks.)

If your horse has high white stockings, use #7 or #8 blades (the lower the number, the coarser the blades). Such blades provide a slightly longer cut that still looks tidy, but is less likely to cause razor burn or irritation, especially if you use protective leg boots. (Note: If you’re not good at clipping, longer-cut blades are more forgiving than closer-cut ones, because they’re less likely to leave tracks.)

Also use #7 or #8 blades to clip around your horse’s coronary bands, as well as his fetlocks and pasterns, to provide a crisp, clean look.

Tip #3: Clip your horse’s face and ears. Use #40 (surgical) blades to clip your horse’s ears, muzzle, eyebrows, and bridle path. Switch to a #10 blade to clip the long hairs under his jaw. Once you’ve clipped his ears, apply some rubbing alcohol to a moistened towel and wipe them out. Doing so provides a more hygienic ear environment, as well as a polished look.

Tip #4: Smooth his hooves. Using 250-grit sandpaper, lightly go over your horse’s hooves to smooth out ridges. Follow up by buffing with 400-grit sandpaper, to create a smooth, even surface. (Note: Some people consider sanding a horse’s hooves to be unhealthy. Perhaps if you sand off too much surface that could be the case. But if you’re just smoothing it out, you’re unlikely to damage the hoof wall.)

How to groom a horse for a show

LEFT: Use #10 blades on low white socks. RIGHT: Apply a detangler when brushing your horse’s mane and tail, working from the bottom up.

Tip #5: Polish his hooves. If within the rules of your breed or sport group, apply a hoof-shine product to your horse’s hooves, for a clean, polished look. (I’d suggest wearing gloves, as this can be messy!) Using the dauber, start with a line along the coronary band. Continue applying even horizontal lines, until you reach the toe. (You may want to practice once or twice at home before doing this at a show.) Remove the polish after you’ve finished showing, using a product designed for this purpose.

Tip #6: Oil your horse’s face. Use an oil-based shine product on a towel or rag to highlight the black points around your horse’s muzzle, eyes, and inside his ears. (Note: Tinted shine products are available. Be sure to check with your breed association before using one, as some associations forbid them.) Don’t over-do—less can be best. Your goal is to highlight, not saturate!

Tip #7: Shine and smooth your horse’s mane. Apply a small amount of shine/detangling product to your fingers, and run them through your horse’s mane, to smooth down the hairs. Then brush or comb his mane, working from the bottom (the ends) to the roots. (Note: Avoid brushing or combing a wet mane or tail, which can result in stretching and pulling out hairs. Instead, allow the hair to air dry after you’ve washed and conditioned it. And always apply detangler before you brush.)

Tip #8: Shine and smooth his tail. Repeat #7 on your horse’s tail. We keep our horses’ tails braided when we’re not showing. That way, we don’t have to brush them every day and can minimize hair breakage. You can also use a tail bag or a sock to protect the tail hairs. However, you have to check the tail daily—if the bag or sock starts looking dirty and frayed, and/or starts coming undone, it’s been on too long and may cause more damage than it prevents.

Tip #9: Apply shine to his body. Use an oil-based coat-shine spray to give extra sheen to your horse’s coat, just before you show. (If you’re showing in a super dusty facility, opt for a dust-repellant coat-shine product, instead.) And now you’re ready to go—and win!