How to Groom a Horse for a Show

Grooming a horse for a show is an important part of presenting your horse to the judge. Remember, first impressions count!


  1. 1
    Keep your horse well-groomed at home. Not only does it prevent against infections and sores, but also improves the health and appearance of the coat and skin. Daily currying and brushing, picking out and conditioning hooves, and occasional baths help keep your horse in top form. It is a good time to check them over for and cuts/bruises, get their coat shiny and soft and gets their blood moving, bond with your favorite critter, and it's also good exercise for you.
  2. 2
    Remember the key to a healthy, shiny coat is through a well-balanced diet. Some people also put corn oil or flax seed oils in the horse's feed three weeks before the show to add shine to the horse's coat. Corn oil or rice bran also helps horses gain a little weight.
  3. 3
    The day before the show, give your horse a bath with warm or tepid water, or regular temperature water if it's above 65 degrees outside.
  4. 4
    Scrub a moisturizing shampoo deep into the coat with a rubber currycomb, lifting out the scurf (dead skin) and dirt. It is best to divide the horse into quarters, and then scrub and rinse each qua moving on to the next.
  5. 5
    Wash out the feet, between the legs, and any ‘hidden’ body parts that may not usually get washed.
  6. 6
    Wash any white markings with a brightening shampoo, and get every stain out.
  7. 7
    Gently shampoo the mane and tail with a shampoo meant for that purpose. Make sure you rinse out every bubble, to prevent the skin from itching.
  8. 8
    Finger through the tail and apply a generous amount of conditioner. Do not condition the mane if you plan to band or braid. Leave it in for the next step…
  9. 9
    Apply a conditioner to the body hair, but not to the saddle area if you are riding. Rinse well.
  10. 10
    Rinse out the mane and tail.
  11. 11
    Apply a leave-in detangler to the tail (and mane, only if you are leaving it natural).
  12. 12
    Apply a good dose of hair polish to every part of the coat (except the saddle area). Hair polish is not ShowSeen. It is a leave-in, one-time, strong acting polish that adds a layer of lasting shine and dirt protection to the coat. It is not sticky, and does not wear out easily. (An example is Ultra’s Hair Polish.) If you cannot get hair polish, a product like Show Sheen is an acceptable substitute.
  13. 13
    When your horse’s tail is just dry trim it to the correct length for your discipline. Have someone hold the dock at the angle that your horse carries it in motion, because a tail always looks shorter when it is moving.
  14. 14
    Cut the bottom straight across at the appropriate length: just above the fetlocks for dressage, and mid-cannon height for jumpers and hunters. Arabians, saddle seat, park and most breed class horses are left with a natural tail.
  15. 15
    Clip the long, straggly hairs on the sides of the dock to form smoother lines when the tail is raised. Look on the sides of the dock, and you will see two half moons where the hair does not grow. For clipping, you only need to enlarge those half moons and cut off the straggly hair. Do not cut too much. It is better to cut too little and still have a tail left to work with! Do not clip the tail if you are going to braid.
  16. 16
    Trim the mane to the correct length for banding or braiding. Currently, the fad is to trim a Western horse’s mane to about three inches long, but some are breaking the trend and riding with it long and lush. Reiners, leave the mane natural. For braiding, trim it to around four inches long. In Arabian classes, leave the mane natural, but clip a bridle path about a third of the way down the neck. It is also frowned upon in the show ring if you just cut the mane. You should always pull it so that it looks natural.
  17. 17
    With a pair of sharp, well-oiled clippers, clip your horse’s muzzle, bridle path, eye area and ears as close as you can. Clip the long hair on his legs and throat, as well. Some breeds are not shown clipped, so check with your rule book for details about your breed. If you plan to do a full body clip on your horse, you should do that 2-4 days before show day, so that any of your mistakes can grow out. Just don't do it too far away from the show, or your horse will look a little straggly.
  18. 18
    When your horse has dried, cover him with a sheet to protect your work, and paint his hooves with a conditioner. That will help form a nice surface for the hoof polish to go on.
  19. 19
    When you arrive at the show band or braid your horse’s mane. You should do that the day before if you know that your classes are in the beginning of the show, or get their early, with enough time to braid without being rushed. Just make sure you cover the mane so that the horse doesn't rub it out.
  20. 20
    For banding, take a small section of hair, about half to three-quarters of an inch wide, and wrap a band tightly around it, close to the crest. Do not snug it too tightly, or you will break hairs, cause discomfort to your horse, and have a mane that sticks up straight. You can use mane mousse to control stray hairs and keep your work neat.
  21. 21
    If you are braiding, take a small section of hair, about an inch wide, and hold the rest of the mane back with a big hair clip. Braid it tightly. About halfway through the braid, start braiding in a length of yarn (about the length from your elbow to your thumb) with the two ends hanging down. Finish off the braid with a rubber band. Flip the braid under itself and pull the loose ends of the yarn through.
  22. 22
    If you are showing in saddle seat or park classes, braid a thin, colored ribbon into your horse’s forelock, and another one into the first lock of hair. Match the ribbon to your bridle and clothes.
  23. 23
    After doing the mane, braid the tail if you are showing in hunter or jumper classes. Starting at the very top of the dock, braid the side hairs in a tight, delicate french braid down the tailbone. Just before the tailbone ends, stop adding hair sections and continue in a regular (not french) braid until you come to the end of the hair you are holding. Tie it off with a band, and then sew the thin braid into a pinwheel at the bottom of the french braid.
  24. 24
    Brush out the tail, and apply a spray detangler if you did not braid. Touch up the bottom with scissors if there are straggly hairs.
  25. 25
    To add a thick appearance to the tail, hold it out and lightly spray it with a coloring spray (like Shapely’s Show Touch-Up). Make sure the color is as close to the tail’s original color as possible, and do not spray too thickly. When done properly, this really makes a thin tail look lush.
  26. 26
    Spray a shining spray (like Absorbine Show Sheen or Ultra’s Finishing Spray) onto the tail once the color spray dries to add a show-ring shine.
  27. 27
    Go over your horse’s face, muzzle, ears, bridle path and legs again, to get all the stubble that may have grown during the night.
  28. 28
    Wipe off the face with a damp cloth.
  29. 29
    Brush the horse with a soft body brush to lift off all the fine dirt. Follow with a soft cloth dampened with a solution of half water, half rubbing alcohol. The water gets out the fine dust and the alcohol speeds the drying time. When the horse is dry, spray on a good coat of shining spray, but not in the saddle area. To apply it to the face, spray some on a piece of chamois and rub in gently.
  30. 30
    Touch-up any white markings with a color spray, chalk or cornstarch. Dust off any extra.
  31. 31
    Wipe off the hooves and sand the surface smooth with sandpaper. Do not sand too much – just enough to make the surface a little smoother. Think of it like buffing your nails.
  32. 32
    Wipe off any hoof dust and apply at least two coats of high-quality hoof polish (Absorbine’s Super Shine, Ultra’s Hoof Polish, etc.). Use black on black hooves, and clear on any other colors. If you don’t feel comfortable with using black, just use clear. It looks good on any horse!
  33. 33
    Spray the hooves with a hoof polish enhancer (Ultra Hoof Polish Enhancer, or a shining hair spray) to add extra shine.
  34. 34
    Slide a pair of pantyhose over your horse’s legs to protect them from dust. Not while you’re warming up, of course.
  35. 35
    Get all your tack on, and get yourself changed, and right before you go in the ring, you need to do a few more things.
  36. 36
    Wipe off the coat with a slightly damp piece of chamois to collect all the dust.
  37. 37
    Apply a generous amount of highlighter (Silverado Face Glo, World Champion Shine On, Ultra Highlighter, etc.) to the muzzle, eye area, ears and bridle path. Baby oil works well too.
  38. 38
    Apply a thin coat of fly spray, and re-apply the shining spray.
  39. 39
    Brush out the tail.
  40. 40
    Touch up any white markings and the tail with another coat of color spray.
  41. 41
    Dust off the hooves, and re-apply the enhancer.
  42. 42
    Smooth down the bands or braids with a little mousse to control the frizzies.
  43. 43
    Now enter the ring with confidence, for you own the best-groomed horse on the grounds!

Community Q&A

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  • How do I shave a horse?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Take electric clippers and gently place against the horse, and then move the clippers without taking the clippers off the horse's body.
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  • Make sure if you put a ribbon in the horse's tail the ribbon is the right colour. Red is for a horse that kicks, white means your horse is for sale, yellow means it's a stallion and bright pink means I'm a moody mare.
    8 Helpful?  0
  • Beginner or seasoned showman - everyone makes mistakes. Never body clip a horse right before a show. It’s best to do it about two weeks ahead, so if you make a mistake, the hair has some time to fill in and it will not be a disaster!
    6 Helpful?  0
  • Use a spray detangler to brush out your horse's mane and tail to add a smooth shine and, its easier to brush!
    5 Helpful?  0
  • If your horse is wary of the sound of spray bottles (like showsheen) try spraying the product onto a clean body brush or piece of chamois, this way the horse will not realize you are putting anything on him.
    3 Helpful?  0
  • Adding two or three coats of Show Sheen to the tail is a good idea to help shine the hairs.
    4 Helpful?  1
  • Betadine surgical scrub works extremely well to clean a gray horse, paint horse, or socks and any other white part of a horse. Even if a horse has color, the scrub will not affect it. Just scrub the white area(s) until you can see the pink skin.
    2 Helpful?  0
  • Put on a sleazy horse hood overnight to train the mane and keep clean.
    2 Helpful?  0
  • Hand pick a few hairs at a time on the tail before show, it fluffs out the tail and makes it look bigger.
    2 Helpful?  1


  • Do not put show sheen on the saddle area or your saddle/you could slide off.
    5 Helpful?  0
  • Wear a helmet whenever you are around or on a horse. It is understandable that you may want to ride in the ring without one, especially in a Western class, but remember that horses are big, powerful, dangerous animals with a mind of their own, and if something were to happen suddenly, even a horse proclaimed dead-broke might react violently.
    • This could potentially kill you or someone else. Always be cautious, and always wear a helmet, even on the ground.
    0 Helpful?  0

Things You'll NeedEdit

  • Rubber currycomb
  • Finishing brush
  • Highlighter
  • Hoof Polish
  • Shampoo
  • Detangler
  • Conditioner
  • Hoof Polish Enhancer
  • Hair Polish
  • MTG
  • Scissors
  • Shining Spray
  • Color Spray
  • Baby powder for white socks
  • Grooming Sponge
  • Soft Body Brush
  • Dandy Brush
  • Body Brush
  • Plastic Comb
  • Mane Tamer
  • Hoof Pick with brush
  • Fly Repellant
  • Clippers
  • Detangler

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