Preparing for the Show

We've put together some great tips and downloads to help you plan for your next horse show. 

Sometimes packing, cleaning and organizing is just as important as preparing your horse for competition - if not more important. We've put together some great tips and downloads to help you plan for your trip. 

Cleaning and Caring for Your Horse

Cleaning Your Horse

Start by bathing your horse thoroughly. Soak the entire body and wash with mild soap. Only a little soap is necessary - enough for a light lather. There are many equine soaps, but a mild dishwashing liquid or human shampoo will work. Extra soap and scrubbing should be done on white legs.

Give extra attention and care to your horse's mane and tail. These long strands of hair should be thoroughly soaped and conditioned. Handle the mane and tail carefully to avoid pulling out hairs.

The most important part of bathing your horse is rinsing thoroughly with clean water. Take extra time to rinse all the soap from the mane, tail and coat. Any soap left in the hair will make it appear dull and dry. After bathing, allow your horse to dry completely, preferably in an area free from drafts and well above freezing temperature.  Be cautious of drying your horse in the hot sun. This could bleach your horse's coat.

Clipping Your Horse

Once your horse is dry, he should be clipped. You may need assistance for this job from someone familiar with horse handling and clipping. Many types of clippers are used, ranging from dog clippers found in a discount store to special horse clippers. Blades come in several sizes. The most frequently used sizes are 10s and 40s. The 10s are used for thick hair that is found in the bridle path, underneath the jaw and on legs. The 40s are used for fine hair that is found on the muzzle, around the eyes and both inside and outside the ears.

When using a size 40 clipper blade, start by clipping the muzzle as close as possible. Next, clip the hairs of the nostril that show when the horse is at rest. Carefully clip the eye whiskers above and below the eye, holding the eye closed and protected with your thumb. Be careful not to clip the eyelashes.

Get a FREE copy of AQHA's Horse Clipping Tips e-book.

The ears are usually the most difficult to clip and most resisted by the horse. Be cautious and careful. If restraints are needed, the most commonly used one is the "twitch." Have someone hold the lead rope and twitch while you clip the hair on and in the ears.

Start clipping the ears by running a smooth stroke with the clippers down one edge of the ear, then do the same to the other edge. From there work to the inner part of the ear, being careful to work all hair out and away from the inner ear. The most important thing to remember is to take your time, be smooth, and make the inner ear as clean and hairless as possible.

To clip the other parts of the horse, change to size 10 clipper blades. To clip the bridle path, you must first know how long it should be. Take your horse's ear and gently lay it back along your horse's neck. Add a thumb's length to figure out the approximate length the bridle path needs to be.

Begin clipping by pressing the clipper blades against the skin at the poll where the forelock begins (do not clip off the forelock). Work back toward the mane slowly, occasionally lifting the clippers to allow clipped hair to fall to the ground.

The object of clipping underneath the jaw is to clean hair from that area and sculpt the line underneath the horse's head without making the jaw appear clipped. Therefore, smooth, careful strokes with the clippers are necessary. 

Start underneath the throat latch of the horse and move the clippers in the direction of the hair to remove all long hairs from this area. Then, clip from below the chin toward the throat latch, clipping the chin area close and slowly lifting the clippers from against the skin, blending the hair from the throat latch to the chin. Finish by clipping the hair along the jaw line, stroking either from the front to the back, or from the outer part to underneath the jaw.

To clip the legs, start by clipping the coronet in short upward strokes, being careful to remove hair from the hoofline only. Next, clip the fetlock area by removing hair from around the ergot (the tough growth of skin on the back of the fetlock). To remove any "wild" hairs on the leg that are growing long, turn the clippers over, holding the top side of the clippers in the palm of your hand, and clip in a downward stroke in the direction of the hair growth.

On white legs, clip the white hair so it is less likely to hold dirt and look dingy. Make a smooth stroke from the coronet to the point where the dark hair begins. This should be done so that, while the white hair has been clipped, the darker hair remains its natural length.

Caring for the Mane and Tail

After clipping your horse, give special attention to the mane and tail. For halter, hunt seat classes and some western events, such as pleasure and horsemanship, a shorter mane of about four inches is currently the trend. Horses usually have their manes braided for hunt seat classes or banded for halter or western classes. Manes are usually longer for braiding and shorter for banding. If competing in different events the mane should be of average length.

These three processes - shortening, braiding and banding - are detailed and not easily explained. However, it's not important that you learn them right away. A clean, brushed mane and tail are acceptable and there are usually individuals at a show who will band or braid your horse's mane for you at a charge. You can learn from these people as you go, then, do it yourself.

For other events such as reining, cattle events and speed events, the mane is usually left long and flowing. It is important that it be well-kept and clean.

After the tail has dried, braid it. This keeps the tail from snagging on objects around the stall area and prevents it from being stepped on. A sock or tail bag can be put over the braid and tied at the end of the tail bone for added protection. Avoid tying or braiding anything too tightly around your horse's tail. It could interrupt blood circulation.


Packing for Your Horse

You should pack the amount of feed, hay and all supplements your horse will need for the trip. Do not overfeed or underfeed your horse while traveling, and do your best to keep your horse's regular feeding schedule.

Pack feed and water buckets (two water buckets for hot summer months) and include hay string, wire and chains, or snaps to hang buckets from stall walls. Bedding, such as wood shavings, is usually available at the show. Before you pack your own bedding, check with the show secretary to be sure the show grounds will allow you to use your own. If they will, ask what type of bedding the show grounds allow.

Take any tack and exercising equipment you will need. Load your saddle, pad, bridle and any other tack you will show with, including crops, tie downs, running bat, etc. You also might pack a work saddle and work pad for practice time, or to use if bad weather threatens at an outdoor arena.

Do not forget any training equipment such as training bridles, draw reins, running martingales, etc., or other applicable necessities such as splint boots, leg wraps, blankets, longe lines and a whip.

Remembering a first aid kit for your horse when packing your trailer is important. This kit should include ointments for cuts and scratches, a thermometer, gauze, vet wrap and other items needed in an emergency. It's a good idea to also pack a similar kit with first aid supplies for humans.

You should consider what might happen if your horse were to become ill before or during a show. If your horse is well enough to compete, check with your veterinarian about any medication he is receiving. AQHA has approved the administration of conditionally permitted therapeutic medication administered by a licensed veterinarian.  Levels have been established for eleven different therapeutic medications.  These established levels do not enhance a horse's performance.  For specific details regarding the use of therapeutic medication, contact AQHA or refer to this therapeutic medication fact sheet. The health and safety of your horse are the most important things to consider when deciding whether you will compete.

Packing for Yourself

Packing for the exhibitor is equally important. Consider the outfits needed for each day of the show. It is a good idea to include an extra change of clothing. In putting together what you will wear for the show, remember that your clothes should fit well, be clean and pressed. Many American Quarter Horse exhibitors wear starched Wranglers, a starched, long-sleeved shirt with collar and Western boots and hat as the basics of their Western outfits. Chaps are optional for Western classes. Clothing requirements for exhibitors are in the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations.

A clean, professional look is what is most important. Besides basic clothes for the exhibitor, include riding aids such as spurs and crops if you normally practice with these. A hard hat with harness is required in youth English classes (both flat and over-fences) and for amateur competitors in English over-fence classes. Weather protectors such as raincoats and hat covers also should be packed.


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