A gleaming show-worthy coat doesn't come overnight. Grooming your horse is more than knocking off the mud after he's rolled or picking out his hooves to prevent lameness. Good old-fashioned elbow grease, plus a few tricks of the trade, can help your horse attain a show-worthy shine that will grab the judge's attention and make you proud to ride into the show ring.
Grooming Starts from the Inside-Out
There's an old saying among horsemen that grooming starts from the inside-out. A healthy horse tends to have a shiny, soft coat. Good nutrition is the key to keeping your horse healthy and to growing a beautiful, glowing coat, and luxurious mane and tail.
Feed your horse a quality diet consisting of good-quality hay and feed recommended by his veterinarian. Invest in the best quality hay you can afford; many top experts recommend an alfalfa mix. Some feed additional alfalfa hay cubes to supplement their horses' diets.
Supplements such as vitamin packs and powder supplements containing essential oils, biotin, vitamins and minerals may be helpful. Consult with your horse's veterinarian about any changes to his diet and always follow a professional's advice when it comes to feeding your horse a nutritious, balanced diet.
A basic grooming kit includes a rubber curry comb, a stiff (dandy) brush, and a soft round brush, a hoof pick, a sweat scraper, and a mane and tail comb. You may also want to invest in a grooming block, especially if your horse has white markings. Grooming blocks are inexpensive and can remove spot stains from leg socks and stockings.
Keep your grooming tools in a plastic box with a handle. Plastic is easier to wash and dry. My grooming toolbox always gathered dirt, no matter where I kept it. Most of that dirt fell off of the grooming tools and gathered in the corners of the box. A plastic box was easier to hose off a few times a year than the wooden box my dad made for me, even though the wooden box was more attractive.
It is also a good idea to clean your grooming tools several times a year. You can rinse them out under a hose spray and lay the brushes bristle-side up in the sunshine to dry.
When it comes to creating that gleaming shine on a horse's coat, daily grooming is a must. Groom your horse morning and evening if you're not riding him on that day, or before and after your ride if you are schooling him.
Cross-tie your horse in the barn aisle or in his stall. This makes it easier to groom him without worrying about where he's stepping. Start with the rubber curry comb and begin on the left side, neck, and rub the curry in a circular motion. I like to use the curry in my left hand, and then brush with the dandy or stiff brush held in my right hand. This way, I can work from the poll to the withers, then the flank, then the hindquarters without pausing to pick up tools.
Never use the curry comb on the legs. Use the stiff brush instead, and brush downwards with the direction of the hair.
When moving behind your horse, always keep a watchful eye on him. Your horse may be the gentlest creature, but he can be startled, or kick out at an insect and hit you instead. When you finish the left side, groom the right. Finish your grooming sessions by combing the mane and tail and picking out his hooves.
You may think that frequent baths help a horse's coat to shine, but they tend to have the opposite effect, stripping essential oils from the coat and causing dry, rough skin. Bathe your horse infrequently. Instead, use routine brushing to keep him clean. Most horse owners bathe their horses the day prior to a horse show. If your horse tends to roll, use a turnout sheet to keep him from staining his coat or keep him in his stall after his bath. Otherwise, you may arrive at the barn to an unpleasant, muddy mess on the morning of the show if your horse has what I like to call, "a sense of humor."
On the show day itself, pay special care and attention to your horse's grooming. Braid early, if you braid or band your horse's mane and/or tail, and make sure he doesn't rub the braids out, ruining his mane. If his mane needs to be pulled for English braids, you can do that the show morning if you have enough time or before his bath. Remember, never cut a horse's mane; it will lie unevenly. Instead, pulling is an effective technique that doesn't hurt the horse but create a short, even mane that's easier to braid into hunter-style braids or rosettes. Watch sprays, including fly spray application, on show day. Avoid spraying the saddle area. Many sprays can cause saddles and girths to slip, and that's the last thing you want when you're rounding the inside turn and heading for the first fence on a jump off!
A Gleaming Shine in Your Horse's Coat Starts Months Before the Show Date
Just as you can't cram months of training into a few sessions before a show to master a new skill with your horse, so too does a beautiful coat come from months of hard work and elbow grease, not a last-ditch grooming efforts. Keeping your horse in tip-top condition year round, feeding him high-quality feed, and keeping up with routine grooming tasks will keep him in prime condition and ready for the show pen this year.
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