Horse Show Skills and Solutions:


Quick tips to make your brown horse stand out from the restThere is something undeniably elegant about a bay horse. The ebony mane and tail complement a coat that ranges from shades of nutmeg to mahogany. Then there are the chestnut horses. Who can deny the appeal of a horse whose fiery red coat glistens like copper? Yet in the show arena, a plain bay or chestnut can get lost in a sea of like-colored horses. If you compete on a horse that’s clothed in a plain brown wrapper, here are some tips to help your horse get noticed.

First, consider any white markings that you might be able to highlight. If your horse has any socks, stockings or a blaze, be sure to scrub these areas clean the night before the show. You can also make them look super white by clipping away the top layer of white hair, which may have become yellowed and dingy. Then, right before you head through the in-gate, bolster the gleam by adding a dusting of cornstarch or baby powder to the white areas and then brushing away the excess.

Next, look over your tack. Western competitors have a great deal of leeway in their choice of headstalls. Unique silver conchos and rawhide embellishments can catch the judge’s eye and make your horse memorable. In the huntseat division, however, you’ll need to be more discreet. A small brass bridle tag on your horse’s crownpiece, for example, might be enough to differentiate your bay gelding from another one. A sheepskin-lined girth is another option.

Finally, think about your own attire. Once again, riders who compete in the western show pen have more options than their English counterparts. A splashy shirt that coordinates with a saddle pad in shades of blue, red or teal will help the judge tell your horse apart from the half-dozen other horses of the same color. Huntseat riders, unfortunately, have more limitations on their clothing. Relegated to wearing tan breeches paired with hunt coats in hues of navy and gray, about the only dare-to-be-different alternative is to select a shirt in a relatively bold color such as carnation pink, sunflower yellow or pastel turquoise. Yet if riders go too far in their quest to be noticed, they risk sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb. Sparkling helmets, gloves and chokers with rhinestones, and gaudy earrings are deemed too flamboyant for the staid world of hunters and huntseat equitation.

Remember that any alterations in your apparel or your horse’s tack won’t make up for flaws in your performance. But they might help a judge remember you. In fact, it’s not unusual for a judge to jot down specific references to horses such as, “fluffy pad” or “pink shirt” to help them tell apart horses of similar colors. Indeed, while there are plenty of plain brown horses that are wildly successful in the show world, they are also sent into competition with a few extra touches that tell the judge, “Hey, look at me!” With a little extra effort, you can do the same thing.

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Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.


  1. Awesome Tips! I know a bunch of friends who have bay horses who might like this advice. I own a paint so we kind of stand out a lot more. Lol!

  2. I have a chestnut who is a nice looking one, but she is the norm like the rest of them… This might make her stand out among the COMPITION!!!

  3. These are great tips! Our barn has never had the problem of not sticking out in the show ring… we ride mostly Paints and Appaloosas:) but still those are really helpful tips (I’m an english rider and I’m sure that at some point I’ll ride a Bay or Chestnut and these tips will really help out)!:):)

  4. I haven’t had problems sticking out in shows. My first show horse was a gray POA, my second was a dark bay (almost black) with seal points, and my new one is probably going to be a mostly white pinto with palimino coloring.


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