Horse Show Presentation
By Dr Louise Cosgrove
Whether you’re just getting into horses or a seasoned pro,preparing for a show needs time and organisation. It’s not something to think about the night before the event. It takes a good deal of planning and preparat1on to get your hairy shag pile looking like a lean, mean, showing machine.
A good thing to work out early is your competition schedule. This can take a good week or two to work out which events and classes you want to do. You need to consider which classes you and your horse are eligible to compete in.
Some events require you to ’qualify’ to compete, so attending other events may give you points to compete in these.
Take into account your horse’s good or bad habits when deciding which events to attend. If your horse is a terrible traveller or stops eating when they’re away from home, maybe travelling to an event 10 hours away is not a good idea. You may also need to leave the day before to allow your horse to settle before the event, for example.
It all depends on what discipline you participate in as to what you need to do to prepare for
competition. This article covers the main points for any discipline and what to think about before you hit the arena or ring.
1. Body Condition and Fitness
You need to start thinking about preparation at least one to two months before the season to make sure your horse has a good body condition score and fitness level.
You also need to make sure your horse’s hooves are being cared for as sometimes these can take time to get right. The other thing to make sure is your horse is up to date with their worming and vaccinations as shows are a perfect place to pick up Strangles or Herpes virus. Dental care is also important as your horse can resent the bit or toss their head if they have sharp enamel points present. Not to mention – they can’t absorb the nutrients you’re feeding them if they can’t chew properly.
Getting your horse’s body condition and fitness levels right are very important – whatever discipline you’re involved in, as the outside glow comes from inside as well! No amount of elbow grease, make-up or grooming equipment will hide the lack of fitness or body condition your horse may or may not have.
The best place to start out with is 20 to 30 minutes of flat work daily. Get you horse used to listening to your aids again. Start out with circles and trotting poles to build up the rump muscles, and get them supple and round. Work on some basic schooling exercises, such as serpentines and figure-eights, to get them back into shape.
After a week or so, start building up your riding time so, at the end of the month, your schooling sessions are around 45 minutes. Regardless of your discipline, flat work is key for any discipline in the horse world.
Even if you only have a month before the show and your horse is otherwise healthy, you can do a lot to get their coat gleaming. You can feed supplements to promote a healthy glow and coat. The best ones have omega 3 and 6 oils in them.
Most supplements are formulated to add fat to the horse’s diet, which can help promote a sleek, shiny and healthy coat.
Vigorous daily grooming of your horse helps enhance shine too. Try not to shampoo him too often, as that’ll only strip away the natural
shine you’re trying to encourage. If your horse is spending hours outside during the day, invest in
a lightweight day rug. This will help shield their coat from the sun, which helps prevent dark horses from bleaching to the colour of burnt toast. At night, your horse can wear a warmer rug. A daysheet made of non-abrasive material, such as nylon, will not only protect their coat, but also help the hair to lie flat.
As a side note, when you’re removing your horse’s rug, always pull it off towards the back of the horse to make sure the coat stays flat. Pulling it to the front of the horse makes the coat stand up.
So, that is diet and exercise covered… Now to the fun stuff – making your horse pretty! About two weeks before your event, you need to start focusing on your horse’s tail. A long, beautiful, flowing tail adds to the glamour of your horse. If your horse has a poor quality tail, don’t despair – there are false tails you can purchase.
However, some disciplines, such as dressage, do not like fake tails, so don’t buy a cheap one – it needs to look real. Mother nature is always the best and cheapest, so try to work with what you have. If you do have to go the fake option, get your horse used to the weight of it, as there’s nothing worse than putting a false tail in on the day of your event and your horse taking a dislike to the tail because they think something is following them! (Often funny for spectators though or other competitors whom it has happened to!)
Going el naturale? Start by washing the tail with a good shampoo to enrich the tail’s colour. Purple- or blue-coloured shampoos are best for silver, white or flaxen tails as they will remove yellow stains well, but remember to rinse the tail, or you may have a purple or green tinge to your horse’s tail! Now, condition the tail and pay extra attention to the top where horses tend to develop ‘dandruff’ and short tufts of hair that stick out. Allow the tail to dry and then apply a detangler. Using your fingers, run them through the tail, and remove any knots or dreadlocks that may be present, being careful not to pull any hair out. Then, use a tail comb and finish the job. Braid the tail and place in a tail bag. This will protect the tail from any more stains or rubbing. Repeat this process every three or four days to promote more hair growth and add shine to the tail.
4. Final Presentation
Next, focus on your tack, and make sure your bridle and saddle are clean and, if needed, you have conditioned the leather, so it’s gleaming. Now is also time to make sure you have the right outfit for the event, including your helmet. Make sure your helmet meets the national standards for your discipline. If you’re planning on putting make-up on your horse, don’t leave it until the day of the show. Have a test run, so you’re prepared and remember to wear gloves as some make-up stains for days!
Now is also the time to clip your horse’s socks and feathers if you’re going to. However, if you’re not confident, do not attempt this or give yourself plenty of time for the hair to grow if you accidentally hack away at it. Never attempt a full body clip if the show is two weeks out and you haven’t prepared your horse. Instead, get an experienced groomer to do it. Your horse will not forgive you if they go out with a bad hair month!
Likewise, with manes, if you’re going to pull or cut your horse’s mane, make sure you give yourself plenty of time for the mane to grow back if you go wrong. There are plenty of tools out there nowadays that allow you to thin your horse’s mane, rather than using a comb and ’pulling’ the mane as most horses don’t appreciate their mane being yanked out.
Most disciplines like the mane to be about 10cm long from the top of the neck. A line that parallels that first thick muscle beneath the crest of the neck is ideal. Manes can be a bit longer for braiding in English disciplines.
Four to five days out from the show is a good time to focus on any white socks your horse may have. If you decide to clip them at this time, don’t clip too short and leave pink skin showing. Use a longer clipper blade (#10 is ideal) and clip against the growth of the hair, making sure it’s even.
If you have clippers, it’s ideal to clip their fluffy ears out, their whiskers around their nose and muzzle, and their bridle path. For a close shave in the ears and around the muzzle, you can use a #30 blade, but for feathers and bridle path, stick to a #10 as it will hide a bad job.
If you don’t have clippers, you can whiten the socks a few days out with any of your coloured whitening shampoos and use a razor for those unsightly muzzle whiskers. The other option for white socks is to use chalk to make them extra white, but do that the day of the show.
If shampooing the socks, apply the product and allow to sit for a few minutes once you have scrubbed it in, then wash thoroughly. It’s also advised to apply stable wraps to prevent the nearest mud, puddle or dirt to be found and applied to these nice white socks days before the show!
The afternoon before the event is the perfect time to wash your horse for the last time. There are a large number of shampoos out there for horses. Choosing one for the colour of your horse can enhance their colour if you want, or some people just use human shampoos. As long as you’re not bathing them daily, this is not a problem.
The afternoon before the event is the perfect time to wash your horse for the last time. During the bathing session, make sure you saturate the mane, removing dirt and debris.
During the bathing session, make sure you saturate the mane, removing dirt and debris lodged at the roots. Before your horse dries completely, spray or wipe on a coat polish. This will repel dust and help the hair lie flat. Just be careful using it in the saddle area, as some of these products contain silicone and make anything that touches it incredibly slippery.
And, keep it out of the mane, or you’ll never be able to grip the hair for braiding or banding. Finally, put your horse to bed in a day sheet to ensure that your time shampooing wasn’t in vain. Nothing spells mental anguish like going to fetch your allegedly spotless horse and discovering he napped in the dirtiest spot in his stable.
Now, move onto the tail and check you don’t need to trim it. You don’t want the tail dragging on the ground. Depending on your discipline, some people leave their tails natural, or cut (bang) them. Braiding your tail the night before is always a great idea if you’re planning on doing this, but have a tail bag at the ready.
Also look at their hooves and, if you’re going to blacken them, make sure you do this on concrete, so your nice black hooves don’t become full of
dirt – and remember to wear gloves! Often the best thing to use is boot polish. The ’blac-it’ products dry hooves out, so be cautious with these products. Dressage disciplines like to keep the hooves and tails natural with just a shine to them.
Now, you can band or braid the mane and forelock. In either case, use a gel or sticky braiding agent to force the hair into cooperating. Then, as you braid, keep downward tension on the hair. Never pull the section of hair toward you as you work as that will cause your finished product to stick out and away from your horse’s neck – the exact opposite of the look you’re going for!
Once you’ve finished making your masterpiece and your rosettes are to die for, pull a stretchy hood over your horse’s head and neck. That’ll keep dirt and bedding out of the mane, and thwart your rascal’s attempts to sabotage all of your hard work
5. Show Day
Make sure you have all of your paperwork prepared for the morning also. You may need entry forms, movement reports, health checks, vaccination records, feed and water for your horse and yourself, and a program for times and classes. Also, make sure what you’re wearing is ready and packed for you and your horse.
The day has arrived – it’s game day! Depending on how far you have to travel depends on whether your horse has time for breakfast or not. A light snack is always helpful though. This not only prevents ulcers from forming, but also keeps your steed happy! Once you get to the grounds, allow your horse to settle in for an hour before you start blinging them up. They need time to adjust to their surroundings.
Now is the time to apply make-up (if you’re using it) to your horse’s muzzle, eyes and socks. Check the rosettes are still presentable and their tail is spiffy. Always wear gloves when applying make-up and be careful if using make-up to not get it on your riding jacket if your horse rubs up against you. If you’re doing rump patterns, do these now.
Make sure your horse’s nostrils are clean. Allow your horse to have a little more to eat before your class. There is nothing worse than trying to perform on an empty stomach. Remember to grab a bite for yourself also!
Give yourself and your horse 45 minutes before your class to warm up. If you suffer from nerves, chewing gum sometimes calms you, but don’t enter the arena or ring with it. Slow down your mind and your body, and focus on the basics.
Don’t go into the arena a nervous wreck. Both you and your horse will not have a good experience. Relax and try your best. Showing isn’t a life-or- death situation, but one that should be enjoyable,
as well as a fun learning experience.