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Original Mane 'n Tail | Animal Care - Grooming for Show Day

Grooming for Show Day

Grooming for Show Day

Grooming for show dayMake your horse stand out with this former US Equestrian Team groom’s time-tested techniques.

Adapted from an article in Practical Horseman by Laurie Pitts

To me, trying to revive the classic American look and attention to detail, not only in the hunters — where stricter rules still require some conformity — but in other divisions as well, might help bring a revival of our international successes, while producing many more happy horses in our country at all levels. Horses love the grooming techniques my peers and I have been using since the ’70s. Learning to use them on your horse will provide valuable bonding time, while improving your ability to evaluate his health and well-being.

It’s Simple!
You don’t need fancy equipment or products to create this clean, elegant look. Between shows, horses only need thorough grooming once or twice a week, which should take no more than 30 minutes. During the winter, I do minimal grooming on my young hunter breeding show horses. It takes only a week of more intensive grooming in the spring to get them looking fabulous again — because they’re in such excellent health. Here’s what you need.

Everyday Grooming Kit:

  • Flexible, round, black curry comb
  • Grooming mitt (rubber, pimpled)
  • Dandy or stiff brush (natural bristles only — synthetic
    bristles don’t lift the dirt off of the coat as well, and
    create more static electricity)
  • Soft body brush — can be the round, short-bristled
    type with a leather backing or the regular longerbristled
    type with a nylon or wooden backing (natural
    bristles only)
  • Rub rags — hand-towel-sized terry cloth towels
  • Large, plastic wide-toothed comb
  • Mane brush (I prefer the traditional English water brush,
    which has short, dense bristles. If you can’t fi nd that, a
    rice root brush — with extra-stiff bristles — will do.)
  • Ace bandage to wrap a pulled or braided tail
  • Sponge (natural sponges are easier to rinse)
  • Sweat scraper
  • Hoof pick
  • Hoof conditioner

Ringside Grooming Kit:

  • Hoof dressing
  • Hoof pick
  • Rub rag
  • Fly spray

Grooming for Show Day - Jumper
Carolyn Desfor of Desfor Farms
Winter Equestrian Festival
Grand Prix National Champion

“My favorite product is Mane ‘n Tail Detangler! I love a horse with a long, full, shiny tail. Lately, there has been a trend to use faux tails when showing. A faux tail can be difficult to work with. I don’t believe in them! When I’m showing in hunter or equitation classes, I use Mane ‘n Tail Detangler on my horses’ tails to guarantee that they are beautiful, flowing and camera-ready. While other products leave the tail dry and brittle, causing the hair to break, Mane ‘n Tail Detangler conditions the hair, making it easy to comb through, leaving it tangle-free, shiny and thick, with no breakage. My braiders love the product, as well, because it doesn’t leave hair slippery or too sticky. Best of all, no faux tails!”

Different Strokes
Maximizing coat shine is all about smoothing down the hairs as much as possible in the direction of natural growth. The closer attention you pay to these patterns, the more shine your grooming will create.

Curry comb: Use with vigorous, circular motions all over his body, avoiding the face and lower legs. Loosen dirt on these more sensitive areas with a grooming mitt, in a scrubbing motion.

Stiff/dandy brush: Use short strokes in the direction of hair growth, applying as much pressure as your horse comfortably tolerates. End each brush stroke with a brief flick up and away from the coat to whisk the dirt off the body.

Body brush: Use longer strokes to smooth the hairs down. Pay close attention to areas where the natural hair growth changes direction, such as the “wheat-ear” pattern over the flank.

If your horse is particularly dusty, carry a damp sponge in your free hand during the body-brush grooming step. After each stroke with the brush, slightly dampen the ends of the bristles by running the brush across the sponge. This will help to remove the dust from the coat and the brush.

Rub rag: Many people conclude a grooming with a quick “going-over” with the rub rag. I spend at least three to five minutes rubbing each side, more time than with any of my other grooming tools. Apply quite a bit of pressure with each stroke of the rag, always following the direction of the hair growth. Your horse will love it!

Clean, damp sponge: Wipe over his eyes, muzzle, insides of ears and under his dock — always finishing with the dock. If you need to untangle his tail, spread the hairs on your thigh and, with a wide-toothed comb, start at the ends and work up.

The classic American look is a very clean outline, with no “fuzzy edges.” You’d be amazed how dramatically a horse’s appearance is changed by trimming a few areas on the body. Using a Size 10 clipper blade, trim under his jawline, along the backs of his lower legs, his fetlocks and his coronet bands. Use this blade, too, to trim his bridle path and remove long hairs from his throatlatch area. Use the finer Size 30 or 40 blades on his muzzle, eye whiskers, and insides and edges of his ears. Your horse may need a twitch to trim his ears, because he must be absolutely still for you to do the edges without making gouges.
Grooming for Show Day
Denny Chapman of Dark Horse Aside Farm
Owner/Operator Wild West Entertainment

“Detangler ‘n Shine is one of my favorite Mane ‘n Tail products! I use it faithfully before performing and competing to get my horses looking their finest! I usually rub a bit on my hands and work it through the mane and tail with my fingers first to get out the knots. It isn’t slippery, greasy or too heavy, so I get the volume that is required. Once it is worked through the hair sufficiently, I use a soft bristle brush starting from the bottom of the mane and the tail, working up toward the root to finish the look. The result… a stunning mane and a tail that is long, flowing, shiny and full!”

Mane and Tail Care
At home, the most you need to do to your horse’s tail before a ride is shake out the shavings. If it’s absolutely necessary to tidy a tangled tail, say before a lesson or clinic, use a detangling product on it. Allow it to dry before carefully combing with a plastic, wide-toothed comb.

The classic American tail is long and natural-looking — not banged or enhanced with a fake tail attachment. It’s OK to trim the longest hairs, but I never shorten them by more than an inch at a time. Ask a friend to put an arm under the top of your horse’s tail to simulate its natural carriage, while you trim the hairs at the bottom.

If you plan to braid for shows, pull your horse’s mane to a length of three to four inches. If you don’t plan to to six inches — so that it will lie down more easily.


  • A medium to thin mane can be trimmed with scissors instead of by pulling. To avoid the look of a cut mane, back-comb a small section of hair as if you were going to pull it, and then, with the scissors held vertically, cut the longest strands.
  • Even the most unruly mane can be trained to lie flat on the right side of the neck. Braid the mane down and leave the braids in for several days. Then wet the mane daily with a water brush or braid spray, brushing it across from the left side to gather the smaller hairs, then brushing it down flat on the right side.

Ready to Show
“Clean” is always the name of the game. The day before a horse show, I bathe my horses in a simple equine shampoo. To remove really stubborn leg stains, run the Size 10 clipper blades down the leg in the direction of the with a good scrubbing. After your horse dries, preserve all of your hard work by covering him with a sheet — or if the temperatures are higher, a fly sheet or light scrim — over-night and in the trailer on the way to the show.

Finishing Touches
Just before you go to the ring, complete the picture with these final touches:

  • Brush hoof dressing over your horse’s hooves. (This may need to be touched up again at the in-gate.)
  • Smooth his coat one last time with a rub rag. It goes without saying that your tack and equipment should be as clean, elegant and polished as your nicely groomed horse.

About Laurie Pitts
In the 1970s and ’80s, Laurie Pitts worked for some of the top professionals in the country, including Joan Boyce, Frances Rowe, Rodney Jenkins, Joe Fargis and Conrad Homfeld. She traveled with the US Equestrian Team to the 1978 World Championships in Aachen, Germany, and the 1978 World Championships in Aachen, Germany, and the first World Cup in 1979 in Sweden.

Read more:
Simple step-by-step guide
Grooming tips and techniques
Selecting the right shampoo
Basic bathing tips: Shampooing
Basic bathing tips: Rinsing
Keep Your Gray Horse Gleaming
Braiding Basics
Horse Hoof Care Tips
Equine Massage Therapy
Winter Horse Grooming Tips
Grooming for Show Day

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