Here is the recipe for a gleaming show horse: start inside the horse with proper nutrition, add conditioning for physical fitness, stir in clean living quarters, and season with daily grooming. This recipe should be started at least thirty days before it is served at the horse show.
The final decorating, the icing on the cake, is last minute stuff. To be competitive in showmanship and horsemanship, a horse needs to be presented according to actual breed rules as well as conform to current styles. For stock-bred horses in western rail classes, that includes a short bridle path, a mane two to three inches long and separated into tassels with tiny rubber bands, and a thick, full tail. All white markings should be whistle clean, clipped, and even chalked to intensify the white.
As part of your daily riding regimen, take time to find out what your horse thinks about electric clippers. Some horses accept being clipped with little or no fuss while others react strongly to the idea that buzzing contraption is anywhere near them! If your horse is fearful of clippers, then you have a lot of training to do, not just show grooming.
If the horse accepts clipping, a few days before the show, give the horse a bath with shampoo, taking extra care to rinse until the water runs clear. A dirty hair coat will dull your clipper blades. Let the horse dry thoroughly. Don’t turn him out after a bath as the first thing he will do is lie down and roll and re-cover himself with a nice layer of dirt. Allow him to graze on a lead while he dries or tie him up somewhere safe. Don’t tie him in the stall as the bedding will stick to his wet legs.
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When the horse is dry, clip the extra hair off his legs. Always use a size 10 blade for legs. Starting at the hairline, clip against the hair growth and remove the excess from around the hairline, the ergot and up the back of the leg to the knees and hocks. Use the clippers with the hair to blend from unclipped to clipped. You don’t want a distinct line! Clip all white markings on the legs. On legs without white markings, you will notice a color change. To minimize it, after clipping, rub a little warmed (but not hot!) baby oil into the clipped hair. Brush daily and the color will soon return. Clipping legs a few days in advance gives the hair a chance to recover its natural color.
The day before the horse show, clip ears, muzzle, eyes, jaw and bridle path. Using a size 30 blade, clip a short bridle path, not quite as long as the horse’s ear, making just enough room for the headstall. Clip the long guard whiskers above and below the eyes, but never the eyelashes! Remove all the whiskers from the muzzle. Some horses are very good at hiding these whiskers so clip, do something else for a few minutes and check again-you will be surprised at the whiskers you missed! Clip the long hair that grows under the jaw. Slip the halter around the horse’s neck to get it out of the way, and then start at the curb chain groove and clip upwards to the throatlatch. Trim the jawbones on both sides as well as the hair in the softer area between them.
Still using the size 30 blade, carefully clip any white markings on the face. Follow the hair patterns and blend smoothly into the darker hair. Especially for showmanship, where the judge is looking directly into the horse’s face, you want those white markings to look really good! So blend, blend, blend!
Clean the horse’s ears with rubbing alcohol and a soft paper towel, or just a water-dampened rag. Don’t allow liquid to drip directly into the ear canal. A horse doesn’t want water in his ear anymore than you do. Now, using a 30 blade, start at the tip of the ear and work downward on the inside. Some horses have quite a bit of hair on the outside of the ear, so trim that hair too, but clip with the hair. Trim at the base of the ear and along the edges. The object is to have ears nearly naked on the inside, and trimmed at the base and the outside, but still looking as though they belong to the horse they’re on. This is where blending skills are valuable.
Now, working very carefully, take the forelock and twist it firmly. Trim the little hairs that sprout around the base. Go easy here, as you want to be cautious not to clip off a big old chunk of forelock!
Practice makes perfect with clipping. You need to practice the skill of clipping unwanted hair and whiskers while blending into hair that stays. It takes time, sharp blades, and a co-operative horse.
The current standard in the show ring for western showmanship and horsemanship is banded manes. The mane should be short, about two inches more or less depending on the shape of the horse’s neck. All the bands should be the same size. You will need a package of braid binders, a fine tooth comb and a damp towel. A step stool to stand on will help you get above the mane for better visibility. Start at the bridle path and dampen a few inches of mane with the towel. Placing your thumb at the end of the comb, separate a lock of hair about a half-inch wide. I use my thumbnail to measure with. Part the hair all the way to the skin, making the part straight across the neck. Use the comb to hold back the extra hair. Wrap a braid binder around the lock you have separated. You want these nice and tight, so several wraps will be necessary. As you wrap, pull the hair downward and when you are done wrapp! ing, pull the band flat by taking the hair at the bottom of the band, closest to the neck, and pulling it sideways. This keeps the banded hair from standing straight up.
A word of warning: bands come in different colors. If you are very good at banding techniques and all the bands will be perfectly uniform and the rubbers bands will be in a straight line along the neck, you may use white bands to accentuate a pretty neck. If you are just getting started, use a color that blends with the mane.
Placing a band in the forelock is optional.
We band our horses the day before the horse show. Purchase a stretchy hood to cover the banded mane. When the horse lies down during the night, he is guaranteed to roll right upside down, grinding bedding into all your hard work! A stretchy nylon/spandex hood will prevent most of that. In the summer, a lightweight sheet will also help keep your horse clean overnight.
At the horse show, before your first class, groom the horse thoroughly with curry comb and brush. If he is clean, well-fed and fit, he will shine up very nicely. Straighten any bands that have come loose or twisted out of alignment. Using white grooming chalk, corn starch or baby powder, brighten white markings. Brush off excess powder. Pick out the hooves, and then darken them with hoof oil or polish. I prefer hoof oil as polish is difficult to remove and tends to dry out the hooves if left on after the show.
Clean his ears again with a damp towel. Darken the insides with baby oil or highlighter.
Using the highlighter, grease up his muzzle. Highlighter is thick stuff, so to make it a little easier to apply I warm it up by rubbing a glob of it between the palms of my hands. Cover his entire muzzle, from the halter band down. Accent his eyes by applying highlighter around the eye sockets. Remember to blend, blend, blend. I prefer clear highlighter as the black is difficult to blend.
Make certain the tail is tangle free. I prefer Cowboy Magic Detangler and Shine for tails. It does indeed work like magic!
Finish with a mist of fly spray. When spraying anything on a show horse, be certain to stand back a bit and mist it over the horse. Spraying too close leaves ugly, sometimes greasy-looking spots.
Now take this lovely creature you have created from basic ingredients and go win!