Tips for Show Day Grooming

Incorporate some or all of these tips into your show-day horse grooming routine to turn the judge’s head when you ride by.

show day horse grooming
Photo by Leslie Potter

While a shiny coat begins with proper nutrition, professional horsemen do have some tricks up their sleeves in show day grooming to give their horse’s coats some extra sparkle. 

Incorporate some or all of these tips into your show-day horse grooming routine to turn the judge’s head when you ride by.


◆ Before you can have a clean horse, you must have clean tools. Soak your brushes (including mane and tail brushes and combs) in warm water with a squirt of dishwashing detergent designed to lift our grease. Rinse well and let dry in the sun.

◆ When bathing your horse, be sure to rinse him until no shampoo suds run off with the water. Soap residue can lead to a dull coat.

◆ Once bathed, spray a silicone-based spray everywhere except for where the saddle sits and on his mane if you plan on braiding or banding. Pay special attention to white legs and his tail, coating them liberally to discourage the dirt from sticking.

◆ At the show, if you need to quickly switch from an under saddle class to an in-hand or showmanship class, liberally applying rubbing alcohol will help eliminate sweat marks quickly.

Photo by Leslie Potter


◆ While you’re bathing your horse, scrub his hooves with steel wool to get rid of the dirt and manure buildup around his coronet bands.

◆ Before you show, fill old nail holes with spackle that matches his hoof color.

◆ Once the spackle has set, sand his feet with a fine-grit sanding block.

◆ Apply only one coat of hoof polish if the arena footing is deep; dirt has a tendency to stick to polished hooves no matter what, but with only one coat, not much dirt will stick.


◆ If your horse doesn’t live outside full-time (where he could get sunburned), consider clipping his white legs (and face) at least three days before a show. Be sure to wash his legs and let them dry before clipping them with a No. 10 blade. Go against the grain of the hair for a close trim. This will leave his legs looking dazzlingly white.

◆ On show day, apply baby powder, corn starch, French chalk (used by tailors to mark clothes) or equine touch-up spray liberally to make his legs really stand out.

Horse getting a bath
Photo by Leslie Potter


◆ Right before you head to the warm-up ring, apply a light coating of baby oil or face grease to your horse’s eyes and muzzle to highlight his features.

◆ Swipe a dryer sheet over your horse’s face right before he enters the show ring to collect last-minute dust.

Mane and Tail

◆ How or if you comb your horse’s tail is really a matter of personal preference. At any rate, start at the bottom, working your way up, tugging gently on knots so as not to rip out the hair.

◆ If your breed or discipline encourages braiding or banding of the mane and/or tail, use human hair gel to combat fly aways.

◆ If you use a tail extension, ensure that it’s the proper color and clean before placing it on show day (use a silicone-based spray on the extension before you place it). Be sure you know how to properly braid the tail extension to the tailbone so it doesn’t have an artificial, noticeable swing.

◆ If you braid or band your horse the night before your classes, consider spritzing his mane with Listerine before placing a lycra hood over him. This will help prevent him from rubbing them out overnight.

These helpful grooming hints will keep your horse looking his best on show day, allowing you more time to focus on your ride!

This article about show day horse grooming appeared in the May 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!


  1. I wash my brushes in my washing machine! They come out like new! Cleaner than soaking them in a bucket like I used to…then I just lay them on a towel and let them air dry, which usually only takes overnight.


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