How to Prepare for a Horse Show

Anyone who has ever shown a horse knows the thrilling but sometimes stressful times right before you enter the arena. This article will explain how to make you and your horse look like winners before those nerve racking moments.


  1. Give your horse a bath to get every part of him or her squeaky clean. It's best to give your horse a bath a few days before the show to allow time for the natural coat oils to return and make him or her gleam. However, if you are already running out of time, coat your horse in some shine-enhancing formula after he or she is dry.

  2. Clip the feathers on your horse's legs closely, as well as the longer hairs that grow on your horse's muzzle, face, ears, and throat. Also, always clip your horse a nice, clean bridle path - a few inches at the most. Clipping adds definition to your horse's body shape and improves the overall presentation before the judge. The judge will always choose a great performance over a mediocre one, and presentation is a key part in the judging process [do NOT clip if your horse is being presented for inspection].

  3. Decide what to do with his or her mane. The style mainly depends on your horse's breed and the discipline (type) of the show or class, but here are the basic styles:

    • For English events such as Hunter Under Saddle, English equitation, jumping, or Dressage, pull your horse's mane to around four inches (the width of your hand) and then braid it with yarn that matches you horses mane so it will blend in. The braid is then pulled upward to create a loop. Then, with the extra string (from braiding), tie off a little before the middle of the loop, creating a button. There are several styles of braids you can choose from, including: hunter, button, rosette, French, etc. [FEI regulations do not “actually” require braiding, although it is respectful to your judges to do so and provides a great finishing touch to your horse’s turnout].

    • Whether or not to braid the tail also depends on the discipline. Typically, Hunter competitors do braid the tail but Eventing competitors do not, even for Dressage. To braid the tail, simply do a French braid, taking very small sections from the sides, starting at the top. You should braid down to almost the end of the tail bone. Then, keep braiding regularly (no longer a French braid) and either loop it under and secure or pinwheel it.

    • If you are showing your horse in western events such as Western Pleasure or Trail, banding your horse's mane is a good idea. Banding tends to make a thick neck appear thinner and makes your horse appear well-groomed and finished. To band a horse's mane, you must first shorten it to an appropriate length, probably around four and a half inches. Then you take about one inch sections of the hair and wrap a small braid binder of some sort tight around it. Be careful, however, not to wrap it too close to the neck as to it will stick up like a mohawk. Repeat the banding process until you have run out of mane. Try to keep the band even and laying flat.

    • To make your banding job stand out, use a different color band than your horse's mane (such as white bands on a dark mane).

    • A mane tamer would be an excellent idea in keeping the bands intact for a night or in the trailer ride over.

  4. Hunter and western riders often sand their horses hooves to make them smooth, then apply shoe polish. When the shoe polish dries, paint black hoof polish on your horse's clean black hooves (use clear polish on hooves that are not black). This should all be done on a clean hard surface. Once the hoof polish is dry, spray with black (or clear) paint right before entering the ring for a final touch. [This is not recommended as it also removes your horse’s natural protective coating of the hooves.]

  5. Make sure you look your best, now that your horse is all set to go. Dressage competitors should refer to FEI regulations; Eventing competitors should refer to the USEF Rules for Eventing as well as FEI regulations.

  6. For western competitions, always wear an outfit that makes your horse stand out and color coordinates with your saddle pad. This will add great style to your overall presentation. For a local show, a button up western shirt, nice show pants, boots, hat, and a belt may be very acceptable. But for more competitive shows, everyone will be wearing more elaborate garments such as form fitting silkies and vests, expensive chaps, etc. If your budget will not allow you to make these purchases, as long as your outfit complements yourself as well as your horse, then you have nothing to worry about.

  7. Dark colors on light horses, and lighter colors on dark horses tend to draw more attention to them.

  8. It's not recommended to wear an all-black outfit in the show ring. Most of your competition will also be wearing it and you will want to stand out among everyone else. A deep purple or midnight blue is a great alternative.

  9. Your chaps, boots, and hat will look very smooth if matched in the same color so it would be a good idea to do so.

  10. Once you have your outfit together, assemble a test drive to make sure everything matches, fits, and is comfortable so you have no surprises on show day. For hunt seat you should be wearing a dark coat (navy, black hunter green) and breeches that complement. Your shirt should also bring out any stitching details in your coat.

  11. Use the proper tack for your discipline. Dressage and Eventing riders should study the rules in detail, as you may be eliminated if your tack is incorrect.

  12. For the western events, use a complete leather bridle, western saddle, and saddle pad. Your outfit looks very put together if your reins, headstall, and saddle are in one leather color. Lighter oil colors make dark horses stand out but darker colors can look just as good depending on your particular horse's color.

  13. Load all grooming equipment, tack, and anything else you will need. Try to get to the show at least an hour before it's supposed the official opening or start. This way you will have time to accustom your horse to the surroundings and tend to little last minute touch-ups.

  14. Remember to warm up before your classes and make sure you have fun at the show. Good luck!


  • After your horse's feet are clipped, cleaned, and polish is applied to the hooves, buy some cheap ankle high pantyhose and pull over hoof and part of leg. This will keep the legs cleaner and the hoof polish will not attract dirt.

  • After applying hoof polish and allowing it to dry, apply a good coat of aerosol hairspray directly on top. It will keep the hoof polish from getting sullied in the arena dirt.

  • Wring out an old towel in baby oil and wait for it to dry a little bit. Then rub the horse all over with it. It makes the coat very shiny.

  • Always wear long hair in a low ponytail, snood, or show bow while showing.

  • Clean all tack before loading to go to your show. In some disciplines, judges count off for anything dirty in the show ring, including your boots.

  • Applying baby powder to white markings makes them blindingly bright.

  • Be sure that your hat is secure. You may be penalized, or eliminated (in Eventing) if you lose your hat while inside the arena. So invest in one that stays on in a stiff breeze.

  • Gloves are preferred in many types of classes. For some Dressage and Eventing levels they are required. In western showmanship and equitation classes, they look great if they match your pants.

  • Make sure your number can be seen at all times so that the ring steward or judge doesn't have to ask you to adjust anything for visibility.

  • Always keep a loose rein while in Western pleasure and when passing other riders allow plenty of space for at least two horses.

  • Don't look down at your horse while riding, this creates an ugly look. Instead, look straight ahead and always have a smile on your face. Most likely when the judge sees you, a smile will come to them too.

  • Look like you've already won the class even if it's just beginning.

  • Make sure your spurs will stay on your boots. If you lose them, you'll have a hard time finding them and your horse might not perform as well. If your spurs are slip ons, write your name on them with permanent marker and put a sticker on them with your show number. In Eventing, check the rule book to be sure your spurs are a legal type and length.

  • When you are entering a halter class, jiggle the lead chain on your horse's halter to make him listen and make his head go out and ears perk up.

  • Before a halter class, trot your horse around, back him up, and spin him around to make sure he is awake. An alert horse looks better than one that is falling asleep.

  • Spray hairspray on your forehead and on the inside of your hat before you put it on. It will make it stick. Then, secure the hat with Bobby Pins.

  • You can use a black permanent marker to touch up the areas on your horses hooves that you missed when you put on the hoof polish.

  • ALWAYS SMILE!!! That is the most important thing to do when you are in the show ring!

  • If you lose a stirrup in a pleasure class, wait until the judge isn't looking to fix it.

  • When the judge asks you to back up at the end of a pleasure class, try to move your hand as little as possible.

  • If you are a little bit behind on clipping your pony don't worry! Try and ask someone who knows how to clip already to show you how it's done, but if that doesn't work why don't you try to learn how to do it yourself. If none of these ideas work don't stress over it, concentrate on riding well.


  • Do not apply any shine-enhancing spray to areas where the saddle goes. It will cause the saddle to slip a lot.

  • When changing for classes, do not tie the horse by reins. If they pull back and break them you cannot show.

  • Don't get too close to other horses in the arena as they can injure you or your horse by kicking.

  • Horses can get spooked easily at shows. so if it is your first time or your horse isn't quite adjusted to the show grounds, they may pull back at your trailer, so keep your eyes on them!

  • Always tie your horse up using a halter and lead rope- remember to use a quick release knot and never tie the rope directly to a solid ring. Tie bailing twine to the ring with the lead rope to that.

  • If you have to band your horses mane, never use conditioner, or show sheen, in the mane, as the bands will easily fall off.

  • Don't clip the hairs or feather of a breed that is supposed to be hairy and have feather. Shires, Clydesdales, Friesians, Fell Ponies, Gypsy Vanners and several other breeds are supposed to have feather. Cutting it off will cause you to lose points, especially in the breed ring. Gypsy horses, especially, are known for their massive amounts of feather, beards, manes, tails, mustaches, ear hair, etc. DO NOT trim it before going into the show ring.

Things You'll Need

For the horse:
[ ] Halter
[ ] Lead Rope
[ ] extra lead rope (in case one breaks)
[ ] Saddle
[ ] Stirrup Leathers
[ ] Sturrips
[ ] Saddle Pad
[ ] Girth
[ ] Bridle
[ ] Bit
[ ] Reins
[ ] extra set of reins (in case one set breaks)
[ ] Saddle Soap
[ ] Hoof Pick
[ ] Hard Brush
[ ] Soft Brush
[ ] Face Brush
[ ] Hair Brush
[ ] Showsheen or Vetrolin Shine (a must!)
[ ] Fly Spray
[ ] Lunge Line
[ ] Dressage Whip/ Crop
[ ] Rubber Bands
[ ] Comb
[ ] Clippers
[ ] Hay and Hay Net!
[ ] Treats
[ ] Wraps
[ ] Vet Wrap (just in case)

For you:
[ ] Show Jacket
[ ] Show Shirt
[ ] Collar Pin
[ ] Breeches
[ ] Belt
[ ] Helmet
[ ] Lint Roller
[ ] Show Boots
[ ] Spurs
[ ] Snacks/ Drinks
[ ] Hair Net
[ ] Hair Ties
[ ] Bobby Pins
[ Word Document ]

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