Tips for Looking Your Best on Horse Show Day

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

BY JESS CLAWSON

Horse show days are exciting, if sometimes stressful. We’ve put in so much effort to get there that we don’t want anything to go wrong. I believe that feeling great about how we and our horses look will give much more confidence going through the ingate.

Of course, most of the work of having a really beautifully turned out horse is done well in advance–see my post on shiny coats–and how maintaining your tack makes a huge difference. I addressed tack cleaning for show day separately, so today’s post is about the horse and rider.

For the Rider

Contrary to what some may think, it’s not all about having the most expensive name brand attire. We can spend a small fortune on trendy jackets, breeches, and boots, and that’s all terrific if it’s in your budget and brings you happiness. I like having beautiful things too. But none of that matters if the clothes don’t fit you well and look good together. 

You want to be sure that your jacket and breeches fit nicely, and that you feel good wearing them. Make sure that details like sleeve length are handled before show day. Tailoring can go a long way to making any jacket look great. Even a less expensive or older jacket will look great if it’s lightly tailored. Complete with a nice belt and you’re all set.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Make sure to keep an eye on tidiness. One of my favorite new products this year are the Spur-Tech spur straps, which can be cut to the precise length you need to remove excess flapping around. Gloves, boots, and spur straps polish to the overall look. 

Speaking of polish, don’t overlook your spurs when you’re polishing the metal on your tack. Grimy spurs will detract from your shining boots. The Effax leather shine sponge does wonders for your boots right before you go into the ring, too. Have someone available who can wipe the dust off with a towel and then run a sponge over for an instant shine. Assuming, of course, that you’ve already cleaned and polished your boots! Watch this great video for tips on how to do it.

For the Horse

If you’ve already done everything you need to do to ensure your horse’s coat is as shiny as possible, all you need to do is add the final polish. 

I don’t necessarily bathe my horses with shampoo often, but I always do for show day. I love the Effol Oceanstar Spray shampoo followed up with the Superstar Shine spray for maximum glossiness and dust repelling magic. For horses with thin tails, the volumizer spray is terrific.

Mo only has one white sock, but for light greys or horses with a lot more white on them, you can try a whitening shampoo like the White Star Spray shampoo to really make them dazzle. Lighter colored horses will probably need to be bathed more frequently during show season to keep stains from setting in, so be sure to use quality products like Effol that won’t dry the coat out.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

I’ve dedicated an entire post to the tail, so instead I’ll focus on the mane, which is also key to a horse’s show appearance. Some of this is breed-specific, but for hunter/jumpers, dressage, and eventing, the standard is a short pulled mane. You don’t have to actually pull it (watch this video on how a little teasing, twisting, and scissors can make the mane look pulled). 

In these disciplines, we traditionally train the mane to the right side. You can train a mane in a variety of ways, but I prefer good old QuickBraid and some braiding bands for a week or two. I do this before I’m planning to shorten the mane, because a longer mane is heavier and will train more easily. While you’re working on the mane, take the opportunity to check for dandruff and ensure that the mane and crest are clean. A dandruffy mane will drag the whole look down.

When it comes time for braiding, you’ll be glad the mane is shortened and trained. What kinds of braids you do will depend on your discipline, but make sure you’ve practiced ahead of time and given yourself plenty of time on the day of to get them done. Braiding always seems to take longer than I think it will and I want time to correct any mistakes. The Plaid Horse Network has tutorials on dressage, hunter, and jumper braids. Effol makes a braiding kit with everything you need.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

One trick I love for white legs or tails is baby powder. You’ll definitely want to practice this ahead of time to make sure you’ve got your technique down, but rubbing baby powder into white socks and dusting it into white tails gives an extra level of sparkle. Make sure you don’t get it all over yourself, and apply it before you put your jacket on. 

Finally, look at your horse’s face, and make sure it’s clean. Otherwise, wash it with a damp rag. Take it around the eyes, making sure to gently remove any eye gunk. Then wipe inside his nostrils and around the muzzle generally. Horses’ noses and lips get dirty fast, so clean them up. For added polish, you can lightly apply baby oil around the eyes and nose. This is also worth practicing at home. You don’t want your horse’s face to look greasy or attract dust, so be careful and use only the tiniest amount. You can also buy products specifically for this purpose that work like a highlighter for your horse. I’ve never tried them, but they’re de rigeur at a lot of breed shows.

Once my horse is tacked up, I take a step back and look at the whole picture to see what I may have missed. I start at his nose and work my way back to ensure nothing is out of place or dirty–including the visible parts of the bit and the rest of my tack. Then I get someone to look at my apparel, front and back, to give me the thumbs up or wipe off any dirty or dusty spots I couldn’t see.

Now that you’ve given the time to your turnout, you can ride into the ring with that much more confidence. Have a great round!


About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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