Preparing for a Horse Show

Posted by Green Mountain Horse and Tack on 31st May 2022

If you’ve decided to participate in shows with your horse, you’re in for great time. If you’ve never participated in a horse show before, you’re in good hands; this article will tell you how to prepare yourself and your horse for a day in the ring, what expectations are regarding apparel and equipment and we’ll go over a solid checklist of things you’ll need at the show, so you don’t have a face-palm “Oh no, I forgot my….” moment.

The days before the show are busy ones. Proper grooming and inspection of your horse, gathering and preparing your equipment and preparing for the unexpected will go a long way to bring you home with the Blue Ribbon.

A day or two before you leave for the show, clip and wash your horse. Many horses like to roll after a bath, so you might return the horse to his stall rather than out to pasture. You may consider putting a clean horse sheet to help him stay warm as he dries. Pull the mane to the proper length for the show. For unrated and schooling shows, proper banding or braiding requirements are much looser, but for larger rated shows, riders are expected to braid (for English classes) or band (Western shows) the horse’s mane.

Grooming requirements differ between different classes, and you should know these differences so you can groom your horse appropriately.

Grooming for Western Rail Classes
In pleasure, equitation, horsemanship, riding and trail classes, horses are groomed meticulously. The details in grooming matter and you will get deductions for an incomplete grooming effort. Tails are long and thick; manes are pulled short and even and horse’s coats are fine.

For the higher end rated shows, manes are banded neatly. Remove extra hair from your horse’s legs and knees with clippers. Use the clippers to clip the head, underneath the throatlatch, and around the muzzle. Remove or trim long eyelashes and clip out the ears. Scrub all white spots for added brilliance. The bridle path should be trimmed back about one ear length and the mane should be pulled evenly to about four inches in length or just long enough to lay flat.

Scrub the hooves and apply hoof polish on the day of the show. If you band the mane, divide it into quarter-inch sections and secure them with braiding bands. Clean and wipe down the muzzle, nostrils, face and ears and apply a thin layer of baby oil to skin around the eye and muzzle area.

The tail of your horse should be long and full, with a straight cut at the end of the tail. The tail should be long enough to be even with the fetlocks. Horsehair tail extensions are a great option to lengthen the tail to the appropriate length but check the rule book of your showing discipline to make sure extensions are allowed in the class.

Serious competitors will own saddles, bridles and halters that are used exclusively for showing. These are often very ornate with presentations of many silver accents. Show bridles often feature ear loops instead of a browband and have no noseband. Under the saddle, the horse wears a Navajo blanket that is color coordinated with the rider’s outfit. No leg wear on the horse is permitted.

Grooming and Tack for Western Performance Classes
Working cow horses, reining, and cutting classes do not require the intense and elaborate grooming that rail classes do, but these horses are still presented at their absolute best. Clip and boot up the horse’s legs, brightening all white areas with some real elbow grease. Clip the head, underneath the throatlatch and around the muzzle. Remove or trim long eyelashes and shell out the ears.

Performance horses are shown with their natural manes – long, flowing manes are encouraged in these classes. Grooming of the bridal path is optional; if you do clip it, it should be at least six inches long, or about two ear lengths. Wipe clean the ears, face, nostrils and muzzle. The tail, like in western rail classes, should reach the fetlocks with a straight cut at the end. Scrub and polish the hooves the day of the show. Use a saddle specific to the discipline (working horse, reining and cutting) and protective leg wear is permitted; reining horses should be wearing sport medicine boots on the front legs and skid boots on the rear.

Grooming and Tack for Hunter Classes

Hunter horses should have a healthy, elegant, and traditional appearance. Closely clip the lets and the area around the hooves and apply hoof oil just before entering the class. The clippers should be used on the head, beneath the throatlatch, around the muzzle and the ears should be shelled out. Clip the bridle path to about two and a half inches and pull the mane to about four inches in length and styled on the right side of the neck. For higher end A rated shows, braid the mane into at least twenty-five hunter-style braids. For most of these events, the tail is left natural and flowing.

Tack for hunter classes is not extravagant, but conservative; use your regular close-contact or jumping saddle. The horse wears a fleece saddle pad under the saddle. Your tack should be as clean as possible; give your tack a deep cleaning; clean and condition the leather with leather care products that you have good experience in for cleaning your tack – we recommend Chamberlain Leather Care products for cleaning and conditioning your horse tack. Girths should be leather, and horses may wear a standing martingale in jumping classes. The bridles are understated – only modest raised stitching on the nosebands and browbands. No flash should be on these horses and no leg wear.

Grooming and Tack for Jumper Classes
Grooming for jumpers duplicates that for hunters with a few important differences. The mane should be unbraided and trimmed to about five inches in length. You can braid the mane, if desired, in the dressage style or with button braids. Leave the tail natural or with a straight cut at the end; it should hang at the cannon bone’s midsection.

English jumping saddles are used in these classes with a firth of any material or color. Saddle pads of any material, square or shaped to the saddle can be used. The bridle is to be the same color as the saddle, with a variety of nosebands including figure 8, dropped, flash or plain. Running and standing martingales are permitted. Belly guards will often be worn for protection if the horse is wearing caulks (traction studs on the shoes). A breastplate can be worn to eliminate saddle slippage and leg wear such as leather boots is recommended.

Grooming and Tack for Dressage Classes
Clip and bath your horse like the show hunter with a few exceptions. Ears should be trimmed but not completely shelled out – just tidy up the outer edges leaving enough hair inside the ears to prevent gnats from distracting the horse while in the class but do level off the protruding tufts. Pull the mane to about four inches and braid in the dressage style at least an inch apart. Longer manes should be left long with French braids. Trim the tail straight and parallel with the ground just above the fetlock and pull it at the dock. You should be using dressage tack in the class. White dressage pads are appropriate. Bridles for dressage are black, often with jeweled browbands and a plain noseband. No leg wear is permitted.

Rider Apparel for Shows

Like braiding and banding, schooling and local shows usually allow some slack, but for rated shows, the rules are the rules. This article will primarily address rated shows and you can modify them based on the rule books of the local shows.

English Rider Show Apparel
The show coat (also called a hunt coat) should be dark, usually navy, or black, though other dark colors are often seen in the ring. Show coats usually have a three-button front and two vents in the back. The sleeves should be long enough to cover your wrists when riding. Dressage riders wear a black jacket with a four-button front and a single vent in the back. Jumpers are on the casual side, often wearing polo shirts instead of jackets and show shirts.

The show shirt in English classes allow for some individual expression. Most are white, although stripes and soft patterns are seen as well. For men, cotton dress shirts with a button-down collar and a conservative tie are appropriate. Dressage riders wear a white show shirt, a white stock tie, white breeches and tall dress boots and white gloves.

English boots are always black and tall, snug against the calf and rising to the back of the knee. Hunter riders wear tall field boots that lace up at the top of the foot. Breeches are usual a beige or tan color.
Riders should wear a ASTM/SEI rated safety helmet with a chin strap. Learn more about safety helmets here. Jewelry should be minimized and modest, and hair should be neat and kept above the collar in a hairnet or under the helmet.

Western Rider Show Apparel
Western shows allow a bit more personalization so riders can complement their own individual style. At the smaller local shows, casual outfits of clean jeans, a long-sleeved western shirt, western boots, a belt, sometimes flashy with rhinestones or with a large western buckle, and a clean, freshly creased cowboy hat. Smooth leather or suede chaps, need to color match that of the rider’s outfit, and fit well, being long enough to drape across the boot and hide the heel. Jewelry can add some flash but should not be overdone.

At larger rated shows, the basics remain the same, but the investment in outfits will dramatically increase at these shows. Thousands of dollars are invested in custom western show shirts and chaps, and you will see some incredible outfits. Fashion trends, styles and themes will shift thorough the years in western show clothes.

This article has touched on the very basics of preparing your horse, your tack and your outfit for a horse show.  Certainly, you may find differences in these requirements and best practices among different geographical areas and show sponsors, but this should give you a very good start to understand what to expect in considering showing your horse.