HomeExpert AdviceHow to prepare your horse for a competition like a pro

How to prepare your horse for a competition like a pro

Posted in Management

Want to go to your next show looking the part? Ace showjumping groom Tom Monaghan shares his secrets so you can prepare your horse for competitions like a pro

When you go to a show, part of the fun is getting your horse looking his absolute best – there’s nothing quite like the sense of pride you get when you catch someone admiring him. However, if you don’t keep on top of things, getting him ready can feel like a huge task, from bathing and trimming to plaiting and polishing. It needn’t take ages, though – if you keep on top of coat care and trimming as part of your normal routine, you’ll only need to do the finishing touches just before the show.

Daily care

If you have a thorough daily grooming regime, not only will your horse look fabulous on a day-to-day basis, but his coat won’t need much extra work when it comes to getting ready for a special occasion. My daily grooming regime is outlined below and, while it sounds like a lot of effort to go to every day, it actually doesn’t take very long and with practice you can get it done in no time at all.  

Start by rubbing your horse down all over with a rubber curry comb to loosen the hair, scurf and dirt – it’s also a great way to remove dried sweat and mud. I actually prefer to use a grooming mitt that’s designed for dogs for this job, as it’s flexible and fits around all the contours of the horse’s body – you can even wrap it around your horse’s legs to give them a good rub down. I also find it really useful for horses who are a bit sensitive about being groomed, as they seem to tolerate it better. 

Top tip – While you’re rubbing your horse down, play close attention to his body and check for any changes, such as cuts, lumps, bumps or warm areas. When you’re doing his back, notice whether he reacts to the pressure – if he dips away a little he might have some soreness or tightness that needs attention.

Next, hot cloth your horse to lift out all the loose hair and dirt from the rub down. Get a bucket of hot water that’s as hot as your hands can bear. Add half a capful of antibacterial solution to the water to help lift the dirt. Dip in a small cloth, such as a tea towel, and wring it out thoroughly, then firmly rub it all over your horse’s body, regularly refreshing your cloth in the water. When you’ve finished hot clothing, allow his coat to dry.  

Once dry, brush your horse off with either a flick brush or a body brush and curry comb to remove the last of the loose hair and dust. Finally, using a rolled-up towel, rub the coat over to polish it. I avoid brushing my horse’s tails each day as it causes damage. I just pick out the bedding so they don’t look untidy, then wash and brush them the day before a show. Dampen a water brush and shake it out so it’s not too wet, then use it to lay your horse’s mane along with a comb.

Top tip – While a good grooming regime will help show off your horse’s coat to the full, the best-looking coats are created from within and this is something that grooming can’t replicate. If your horse has a balanced diet, he’ll have all the vitamins and minerals he needs to grow a healthy, glossy coat. 

Trimming tactics

When you groom your horse, regularly check to see if he’s looking a bit fuzzy and could do with a tidy up. Then, whenever you find yourself with a bit of extra time, get the trimmers and scissors out and smarten him up. If you do it often, it should be a very quick job and, when it comes to preparing for a show, he’ll always be neat and ready to go. The key areas to trim include…

  • bridlepath This will enable your bridle to sit neatly between his mane and forelock. They have a habit of getting wider every time you trim them, so make sure it never gets any bigger than two fingers’ width
  • jawline Trim under the jaw and chin to sharpen up the appearance of your horse’s head and make it look more striking
  • ears Trim straight down the front of the ears so that no hair protrudes 
  • whiskers Many owners prefer to keep their horse’s whiskers on. However, if you choose to remove them, just run the clippers over his muzzle
  • legs Trim your horse’s lower legs to remove excess feather. Clip following the lay of the hair, not against it, so the cut doesn’t look so harsh
  • tail Showjumpers’ tails are usually left unpulled, but the bottom is trimmed straight. When cutting your horse’s tail, keep in mind how high he carries it – if you’re unsure, ask a friend to walk him across the yard for you so you can see. Roughly in line with his chestnut is a good height. Trim the tail straight across the bottom with scissors or clippers. 
  • mane You may wish to pull it in the traditional way or you could trim it like the showjumpers do, explained below  

The showjumpers mane

Traditionally, showjumpers have a blunt, cut look to their manes. If this is a style you’d like to replicate, here’s how to do it…

  • the mane should be a similar thickness the whole way along. If there’s a thick area it can be pulled to thin it out, but hair should only be taken from the underneath so that the hair on the top is all the same length
  • don’t take the mane too short so it has enough weight to keep it over. This means that your horse can go to a show plaited or unplaited and still look smart
  • when trimming, use scissors and cut up into the mane to trim the ends off, never straight across, while combing it flat all the time. Keep standing back to check how straight it is

Pre-show preparation

With your horse’s coat already gleaming from his usual routine, the chances are he won’t need a bath, but if he does, do it a couple of days before the show to allow time for the natural shine to return. 

The day before the show, wash his tail, then apply a detangler and let it dry overnight without brushing it through. If you brush it through straightaway, it’ll be really knotty and you’ll pull lots of hair out, but if you wait until it’s dry, the brush will go through much more easily. Always start brushing from the bottom of the tail and work your way up, gently teasing out knots.

All that’s left to do is plait your horse the morning of the show. You can either do traditional plaits or, if you fancy trying something a little different, you could try the continental style plaits that I usually do. They’re quick and easy to put in once you get the knack and look really striking. Find out how to do them below. 

Top tip – Hoof oil collects dust and dirt, which can look messier than unoiled hooves, so choose one that isn’t sticky or only apply it just before you enter the ring. 

Top tips

• Before applying a bandage, roll it as tight as it’ll go. This will help you get the bandages on the leg neatly and with even pressure. 

• Make sure one person does all the bandages. Don’t share the job with a helper, as the pressure will be different – it should be the same on each leg.      

• Talc can be removed from legs by running a hot cloth over them.

A plait with a difference

To put in continental-style plaits…

  • aim for 15–20 plaits, depending on the length of your horse’s neck, all identical
    in size
  • damp the mane down
  • separate it into even-sized segments – don’t make them too wide, approximately 5cm is ideal
  • plait the section of hair down, keeping it tight but not pulling at the base of the mane, as this will be uncomfortable for your horse
  • once you get to the end of the plait, fold the end over and wrap a plaiting band around it twice
  • create a triangle with the rest of the band, then roll the plait up tightly towards the underside, so it looks like snail
  • to secure it, wrap the band around the base of the rolled plait as many times as you can

Competition aftercare

Your horse’s legs are likely to have taken most of the strain at a show, so the aftercare mainly focuses on keeping them in good shape. Key things I do to look after my horses’ legs include…

  • washing the arena surface and mud off to prevent rubs and sores. It’s surprising how much irritation and soreness they can cause, especially under boots. However, drying the legs thoroughly with a towel afterwards is very important to reduce the risk of skin damage and infection, such as mud fever
  • if the ground is hard, I apply a cooling product to the legs as soon as possible to help them recover
  • if my horse has jumped a lot, worked hard or the ground is particularly hard, I put on stable bandages overnight for support, particularly in front. If you’ve washed his legs, ensure they’re properly dry before the bandages go on – applying talc to the legs can help dry up the last bit of moisture

Top tip – If your horse wears boots or bandages, apply talc underneath them to help protect his legs from rubs. 

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