“Grooming isn’t about expensive products,” says Kelly Lambert, professional groom for hunter/jumper show horses in Houston, Texas. “It’s about taking the time to get it right and practicing preventive measures.” Grooming show horses isn’t always a walk in the park, but there are ways to improve the quality of each session in between and before horse shows using these horse grooming tips.
Show horses need to stand out when they are performing, so a muddled coat does nothing to earn a blue ribbon. Lambert suggests color-enhancing shampoos, such as Quick Black from Exhibitor Labs. These shampoos strip the coat of faded color, such as reds and browns in black horses, to allow the natural color to shine through.
They are also formulated to bring out the natural highlights in show horses’ coats, which can improve the sheen and create a glow in the show ring. Grooming show horses is about accentuating positive features and minimizing negative ones.
When grooming horses, the stroke direction used with both stiff and dandy brushes can have an enormous impact on the overall effect. Lambert suggests using both up-and-down and front-to-back strokes to remove dust and position the hairs correctly.
“Vigorously rub the curry comb in circular motions across the coat, then follow it up with long, broad strokes with brushes,” she advises. Short, flicking motions can also help to unearth stubborn dust, which might otherwise settle back on the coat.
Many horse owners do not realize that bathing a horse too frequently can actually damage the coat and cause both fading and dulling of the color. Just like humans, horses produce natural oils that not only protect the skin, but also deepen the sheen of the horse’s coat. Bathing strips out those oils and can lead to chronic problems.
“Horses that are bathed too often will have itchy skin,” says Lambert. Better to bathe show horses just before performances and when they are especially dirty rather than making it a regular ritual.
Dirty body and dandy brushes can inhibit a horse owner’s efforts to keep his or her horse clean between horse shows. A plastic or metal comb can be used to clean the dirt and dust from a brush, reducing the debris that eventually settles back into the coat.
Riders should also wash their brushes on a regular basis with water and a mild soap. Leave the brushes out to dry in the sunlight before using them again, and make sure all the soap is out of the bristles.
A horse with a normal coat will automatically collect dirt and dust, much of which is difficult to remove during normal grooming sessions. An easy fix, suggests Lambert, is to spray show horses down with Show Sheen or a similar product. This makes removing dust and dirt easier with a simple curry comb and brush.
However, know that these products tend to make the coat slick, so it is best to avoid using them in the saddle area. Otherwise, the saddle pad may slip during horse shows and cause an accident.
Although mane pulling is generally not painful for horses, this activity can cause agitation and soreness. This is especially true, cautions Lambert, when the mane is very long and must be pulled quickly for horse shows.
It is better to pull manes on a regular basis, preferably after a workout. Exercise and sweating will open the horse’s pores, naturally loosening the mane hairs. This means less irritation for the horse, a faster pull job and better maintenance.
Sweat will naturally hasten the process of fading in a show horse’s coat, and will also collect more dust and dirt when the horse is turned out or put back in his stall. Therefore, it is a good idea to hose off show horses after every ride during the spring and summer months.
When sweat scraping show horses, Lambert suggests a rubber-edged implement rather than one of the long metal scrapers. A rubber sweat scraper is gentler on the horse’s coat and is more malleable, resulting in a more thorough job.
Kelly Lambert has been grooming show horses most of her life, and offers these horse grooming tips to anyone who is involved in the horse show world. She adds another word of caution for horse show owners: Use only trusted products, and never hire a groom with limited experience. Show horses deserve the best care both between and before competitions, and poor maintenance of the coat, mane and tail can lead not only to poor aesthetic turnout, but also health problems down the road.