How to Prepare for a Horse Show

Five Methods:Preparing Your Horse Far in AdvanceGetting Your Horse Ready 1-2 Days in AdvancePacking for the ShowGetting Yourself ReadyPreparing Day-of

Anyone who has ever shown a horse knows the thrilling, but sometimes stressful times, right before you enter the arena. Rather than waiting till the last minute to prepare for a show, spend some time up till the event getting ready and you'll have your most relaxing and successful show yet!

Method 1
Preparing Your Horse Far in Advance

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    Groom on a daily basis year-round. If you want a truly show-ready horse, keep their coat in perfect order all the time. Grooming your horse every day does two things: increases emotional bonding, and increases the health and shine of their coat. A win-win situation, huh?
    • Spend the most time with a curry comb to work out dirt and loose hair that cause your horse to appear dull and dusty.
    • Be sure to pick your horse’s hooves on a daily basis as well. Keeping them clean will make it more comfortable for your horse, and better-looking in the long run.
    • Spend time brushing the dock of your horse’s tail to stimulate hair growth. Your horse’s tail will end up becoming fuller and more healthy as a result of spreading the natural oils and stimulating the hair follicles.
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    Feed your horse a coat-enhancing grain. There are many different feed products on the market that are full of the nutrients necessary to enhance the thickness and shine of your horse’s coat and mane/tail. If your horse is able (based on dietary circumstances), incorporate one of these grains into their regular eating throughout the year, at least several months prior to a show.
    • You can also feed your horse small servings of dried bread crumbs. This really will make their coat shine, just be careful to not make your horse sick!
      Image titled Prepare for a Horse Show Step 2
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    Take care of your horse’s mane and tail. If the mane and tail of your horse are constantly ratted and full of debris, it will be very difficult to get them looking good in time for showing. Brush your horse’s mane and tail thoroughly every time you groom them, and rub in some cocoa butter once every few days. This will act as a conditioner, making their hair thicker and softer over time. When necessary, use a detangler to help reduce the number of knots.
    • Braid their mane and tail occasionally (when flies are low) to keep the hair from getting in more knots.
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    Keep up your horse’s medical treatment. A horse that is underweight, overweight, has worms, or any other illness/ailment won’t show as well. Make sure that you are keeping your horse’s health in mind throughout the year, instead of doing last-minute worming and medication the week of a show. A healthy horse will work better and be much more presentable than an unhealthy horse. You should also ensure that your horse is up to date on its vaccines and meets any other important health standards. [1]

Method 2
Getting Your Horse Ready 1-2 Days in Advance

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    Bathe your horse. It's best to bathe the horse the night before so your horse is clean and ready to go.If you clean your horse before the night of the show, your horse could get dirty and you would have to clean them again.
    • Beware of using shine-enhancing formula around the saddle area though, or you might run into the issue of a slipping saddle or saddle pad.
    • Another benefit of bathing the horse the night before is that there is less time for them to roll about etc. to make themselves dirty again.
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    Clip your horse. Clip the fetlocks on your horse's legs closely, as well as the longer hairs that grow on your horse's muzzle, face, ears, and throat. Clip the hair that falls onto your horses hooves straight. Clipping is important! Always clip your horse a nice, clean bridle path - for stock horses, the length of the ear but for light breeds about an ear and a half. Clipping adds definition to your horse's body shape and improves the overall presentation before the judge.
    • Do not trim your horses if they are heavy horses, such as Friesians or Clydesdales.
    • If you're planning on a full-body clip, do so 1-2 weeks prior to the show. Clipping the entire body gives the coat a dull appearance until the oils are spread out again and the coat grows back a bit.[2]
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    Whiten any white socks or sections on your horse. A white horse or horse with socks that appears brown, grass-stained, or dingy won’t score as well with judges. Use a whitening shampoo to thoroughly scrub all white areas on your horse, allowing it to set and soak in for about 5 minutes before rinsing it off. Then, coat white socks or stars with cornstarch or French chalk to keep the white looking white.
    • Wrap white socks with standing wraps to keep your horse from dirtying and staining them before a show.
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    Take care of your horse’s mane and tail. Wash the mane and tail with a specialized shampoo, and use a whitening product if your horse’s hair is white. Add in a detangler to make sure that there are no knots to get your comb caught on. Then, use a metal pull brush to thin out too-thick manes, or use a specialized mane razor to accomplish the task. Finish off by braiding or banding the mane and tail for the show.
    • By braiding the mane and tail a few days in advance, even if you intend to have their mane and tail loose, it will keep it from getting tangled and add a lovely wave to the hair.
    • If you’re banding the mane, cut off excess hair after banding. This will help it to look more precise and avoid the need to cut it twice.
    • Wrap the tail with a tail bag or long sock to keep it from coming undone or getting caught on anything.[3]

Method 3
Packing for the Show

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    Prepare your horse's food and water. Because shows are often stressful areas for horses (with all the other horses and people present), it is important to try to keep as normal of a feed schedule as possible. Get all their regular food and at least two buckets for water. When you get to the show, try to feed them at the same times as you normally would at home.
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    Gather all your tack. The worse thing is showing up to a show missing some of the necessary tack and equipment that you will need. Make a checklist of everything you will need for the show, including any riding or exercise gear and blankets. Put all of these together and check them off your list prior to leaving, just to make sure you’ve gotten everything you could possibly need.
    • Clean and polish all tack before heading to the show for the best presentation.
    • Check with your show circuit's regulations; some bits, aids and pieces of tack are prohibited. For example, 4-H has severe restrictions on the types of bits used, and some riding clubs or associations don't allow figure-eights, draw reins, etc.
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    Get a trailer companion prepared, if necessary. Driving long distances in a trailer can be especially stressful for some horses. Rather than arriving at your show with a frightened, anxious horse, help to minimize their anxiety by bringing another horse along for the ride. They’ll be much more calm upon arrival than if you hadn’t.
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    Prepare the necessary stall equipment. Call the event venue that you are showing at, and see if you need to bring your own bedding for the stall. Many shows require that you bring your own shavings to fill the stall with, as well as any hooks or chains, and a wheelbarrow/bucket and pick for cleaning. See what will be available for communal use at the show and what you need to bring from home - and make sure what you’re bringing meets any guidelines the venue may have.
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    Get a first aid kit prepared, for both horses and humans. No matter where you travel, it is always important to have a first aid kit prepared for your horse. Bring all basic supplies to treat for basic cuts and abrasions as well as bruises or swelling. Be sure to do the same with a human first aid kit, should you encounter an accident of some sort.[4]
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    Bring a change of clothes. You’ll be away from home, so it’s best to prepare for everything and anything. Pack a spare set of show clothes in case something happens to your own, making them unusable for the show. Additionally, you could choose to pack a pair of more comfortable clothes/shoes for the ride to and from the venue.

Method 4
Getting Yourself Ready

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    Dress for Western classes. For western competitions such as Western pleasure or Western horsemanship, 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, 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 compliments yourself as well as your horse, then you have nothing to worry about.
    • Dark colors on light horses, and lighter colors on dark horses tend to draw more attention to them.
    • 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.
    • If you are confident in your skills and the skills of your horse, try drawing a bit of extra attention with a brightly colored shirt is a good option. You will stand out in the crowd and be more memorable in a sea of similar colors.
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    Dress for English classes. You should wear a dark and/or traditional coat (navy, black, hunter green, tan, gray, brown, or copper) and breeches that complement, generally a light neutral or white color. Your shirt should have a stock collar and pin or a ratcatcher collar. Your boots should be highly shined and your gloves should match your boots; black is the recommended color. Do not wear boots that have a high heels.
    • The glove should successfully keep any bare flesh from being seen between your hands and the sleeve of your jacket.
    • For saddle seat you need a full suit: day coat and matching pants with shined jodhpur boots and either a derby hat for the female riders, or a fedora for the male riders, that accents your outfit.
    • Helmets for English classes are typically expected to be velvet-covered. Check the guidelines for your event to see what the specifics are.[5]
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    Do your hair properly. always have your hair up, make sure to get all fly-aways before showing, unless you are showing hunter/jumper or dressage. For more competitive shows, all hair should absolutely be under your helmet, or tight into a neat, tight bun in a hairnet at the back of your head, just barely below your hat or helmet.

Method 5
Preparing Day-of

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    Feed your horse. Overfeeding or underfeeding at an event is a surefire way to make your horse uncomfortable, and therefore less show-ready. Follow their regular diet plan, adjusting feeding around events if necessary. Your horse will be happier and easier to work with after having eaten.
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    Do a final grooming. Don’t bathe your horse, but brush them down really well to make their coat gleam. Spend the most time using the curry comb, and make sure to address all parts of their body. Spend extra time on white areas and apply more baby powder, corn starch, or French chalk if necessary.
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    Polish your horse’s hooves. English and western riders often sand the horses hooves to make them smooth, then apply hoof polish. Black hoof polish can be applied on naturally black hooves, while clear polish should be applied to hooves any color other than black. This should all be done on a clean hard surface.
    • Put down rubber or heavy foam mats on the ground in your grooming area, to allow the hoof black to dry. Once the hoof black is completely dry, dirt may be wiped off with a dry towel.
    • If you don’t want to polish your horses hooves, rub in some lanolin oil to add extra shine.
    • Appaloosas are not permitted to use hoof polish of ANY color, other than clear, and even that is frowned upon. Check with your breed registry for specifications and regulations.
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    Take time to relax. Shows and events are intended to be enjoyable; if you’re nervous you will not only enjoy the event less, but your horse will mirror your emotions and you likely won’t show as well. Make sure you've gotten enough sleep the night before, and enough to eat and drink before the competition. Do some deep breathing exercises and visualization to relax; listen to music or repeat a mantra if that helps you. Be sure to help your horse relax as well, going for a walk or lunge with them if necessary.[6]
    • Don't worry about the other competitors. Act as if you were riding alone in your home arena. It will calm your nerves, and encourage you to pay attention to your own riding. Of course, be alert, and avoid running into the other riders in the ring.


  • Don't ask the judge why you got a lower score.
  • While you are waiting in line to speak to the judge, don't chat to other people.
  • When you are in the arena the judge is watching you. As soon as you step in you are being assessed.
  • While at a day long show, do not sit on your horse. Give him a break, get off and find yourself a chair. He'll be more likely to drink, relax and be fresh for your next class if you get off his back.
  • Stay calm and in control. Judges don't like to see horses misbehaving, and they certainly don't want to see the rider panicking.
  • Before entering the ring for a jumping class say the course (the jumps in order) out loud from memory to make sure that you know it. Going 'off course' is cause for elimination.
  • 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. It should be pinned to the back of your coat or western shirt, level with the middle of your back or on both sides of your saddle pad.
  • 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.
  • Judges like confident performances so if you are nervous and sweaty blow on you palms and keep your eyes up. Never look down, it is dangerous! Most importantly have fun and be cautiously competitive!
  • Remember, it's okay to cancel on a show if you're not ready for it. Try not to succumb to any pressure you might be feeling—just do what feels right for you and your horse.
  • For the English classes, the more traditional jacket colors are navy and black. They are also the most popular/ most accepted. Hunter green, copper, and tan bold choices. They are accepted, and will help you stand out, but just in case those colors are not allowed in the show that you are visiting, keep a black or navy jacket.
  • Don't brush a horses tail everyday, as the brush pulls out too many strands of hair, this will make your horses tail look thin and scraggy when you are showing!! Just brush the tail once every 1-2 weeks for a fuller, fresher tail!
  • Avoid washing the mane at least a day before plaiting as it tends to become frizzy.
  • Don't give your horse a massive workout the day before a show. You don't want to tire him out before the big day!
  • Rubbing baby powder onto white markings while they are clean and damp gives them a bright shine.
  • Don't work your horse too hard, even at the show. If your horse starts panting and getting very sweaty give them a little break.
  • After you have finished grooming your horse before the show, make sure to put a light rug on to keep them clean over night.
  • Make sure you bring a grooming box so you can brush them before going in the ring.


  • Don't get too close to other horses in the arena as they can injure you or your horse as they kick out. Horses wearing a red ribbon on their tail indicates that they may kick, and horses wearing a green ribbon are young or inexperienced.
  • Never complain to the judge on why you did not place the way you wanted to. Instead, try to ask for reasons why you placed the way you did; it makes a better impression, and gives you more knowledge of the weaknesses you must address as a rider.
  • Always tie your horse up using a halter and lead rope- remember to use a quick release knot. When changing for classes, do not tie the horse up using the reins. If they pull back and break them you cannot show. Also If a horse pulls back it can seriously harm their teeth; there have been occasions where horses have broken teeth in that manner.

Things You'll Need

For the Horse

  • Feed
  • Buckets, one water, one feed
  • Hay
  • Bedding
  • Snaps to hang buckets
  • Fan and extension cords
  • Rubber mats for stall floor
  • Show halter/lead
  • Saddles
  • Saddle pads
  • Girth
  • Bridles
  • Bridle bag (for show bridles and show halter)
  • Extra set of reins (in case one set breaks)
  • Saddle racks
  • Portable tack racks
  • Tack box
  • Light sheet (weather permitting)
  • Sleezy
  • Hoof pick
  • Hard brush
  • Soft brush
  • Face brush
  • Hairbrush or mane comb
  • Horse shampoo and conditioner
  • Showsheen
  • Hoof black or clear
  • Fly spray
  • Lunge line
  • Lunge whip
  • Splint boots
  • Rubber bands
  • Braid comb
  • Clippers
  • Scissors
  • Wipes
  • Wraps
  • Vet wrap (just in case)
  • Sponge
  • Towels
  • Sweat scraper
  • Small bucket to contain water to sponge down your horse (not drinking!)
  • Basic horse first aid supplies
  • Muck bucket and fork

For the Rider

  • Show jacket
  • Show shirt or Dickie (shirts get sweaty quickly, bring spares!)
  • Collar pin
  • Breeches or jodhpurs (extras are good, in case one pair gets too sweaty or soiled)
  • Clean, crisp, ironed blue jeans or show pants
  • Western event show shirts (neck scarf, necklace, if needed)
  • Hangers and dry cleaner bags (helps keep clothes clean and untouched)
  • Western hat (Showmanship)
  • Hat box
  • Belt
  • Chaps
  • Helmet
  • Lint roller
  • Show boots (keep them shined, un-scuffed, and in good repair)
  • Spurs
  • Hair nets
  • Hair ties
  • Bobby pins
  • Hair spray
  • Gloves
  • Rain gear
  • Any extras you might need for unforeseen problems/events
  • Hair net or hair bow

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