Hours and hours of lessons, practice, and prep work go into getting you and your horse ready for your next show. On top of that, riders want their horse to look flawless in the show ring to give them an even better shot at the blue ribbon. Getting a sparkling clean horse is difficult, which is why many people hire professional grooms to help. However, if a professional groom isn’t in your budget, read on to learn more about horse show grooming and how to groom like a professional without breaking the bank.

6 Pro Horse Show Grooming Tips


Step 1: Clipping

Clipping is an important step in horse show grooming for many disciplines. Though it is not required to fully clip your horse before a show, it is important to touch up certain areas where their hair may be unruly.

  • Before you begin clipping your horse, ensure they have been brushed properly to avoid clogging the clippers with excess dirt. It is also helpful to apply coat polish to your horse and put plenty of oil on the clipper's blades to help them glide evenly while you are clipping. After oiling the clipper blades allow the clipper to run for a few minutes to spread the oil.

  • After you’ve prepared your horse and the clippers you can begin clipping their coat against the grain. If you are doing a full-body clip, start by clipping on the horse's shoulder so they can get used to the sensation before you move on to other areas. Make sure to do even strokes and overlap the areas you’ve clipped. Frequently stop to apply oil and cooling spray to your clippers to ensure that the blades do not get too hot.

  • If you are only touching up their muzzle, ears, bridle path, fetlocks, and tail get your horse comfortable with the clippers before you begin. Then gently glide the clippers over those areas to clean them up. They should look tidy when you finish.

Pro Tip: If you are going to a higher-level show or simply want your horse to look stunning when they enter the ring it is usually a good idea to give them a full-body clip. This also makes it easier to groom them and bathe them on the day of the show. If you are comfortable with your clippers, a full-body clip could be a good option. For more specific details about clipping check out this blog on Tips and Tricks for Clipping Your Horse.

mane pulling

Step 2: Mane Pulling

Another crucial step in horse show grooming is pulling your horse's mane. This is a common practice in English competitions. Make sure to check the standard practices for the show you are attending before you pull your horse's mane as it may not be necessary. Though it is not always required, pulling mane is a great way to keep your horse tidy and looking great in the show ring.

  • First, to pull a horse's mane you will need a pulling comb. Usually, these are made out of metal or hard plastic. Before you start, decide how long you want your horse's mane to be. Usually, you want the length to be between 4 and 6 inches or about the length of a dollar bill.

  • Once you’ve decided the length, grab a small section of your horse's mane and hold it at the length you want it to be. Then, tease the hairs up with the pulling comb to remove any hairs that may already be at the desired length.

  • Next, wrap the remaining hairs around the comb and place your thumb over them to secure them in place. Then yank down to remove the unwanted hairs.

  • Repeat these steps until all of their mane is the desired length.
  • Pro Tip: Ensure that you continue to take small sections of hair so the pulling continues to be effective. For horses with sensitive hair try to pull extra small sections of hair, especially when you get closer to their head.


Step 3: Bathing

The next step in horse show grooming for any discipline is bathing your horse. This should be done 1-2 days before the show so you can take your time and give your horse a full wash.

  • First, gather all the things you will need to give your horse a professional wash:

  • Then, do a spot test on your horse's body to ensure that they are not allergic to the shampoo you are using. If the spot has no irritation after about a day it is safe to continue.

  • Before beginning the bath get as much dirt off of your horse as possible. Go through your normal pre-ride grooming routine to remove caked mud and dust. Then begin to wet your horse all over, start at their shoulder and work your way back to get their entire body only avoiding their head. Make sure you get their mane and tail, under their belly, and on their legs in this step. I recommend using a hose for this step but a sponge also works. Pro tip: To get their tail it can also be helpful to fill a bucket and lift it so their whole tail is in it this makes sure it gets fully wet.

  • Next, drop some of your equine shampoo into a bucket and fill it with warm water. There should be enough shampoo in the bucket to create suds. Then grab the sponge and start soaping your horse by using circular motions starting at the top of their neck and working your way back. Make sure to scrub under their belly, in between their legs, and under their tail. It is also a good idea to use different sponges for their body, face, utters or sheath, and under their tail.

  • For the mane and tail use extra shampoo and lather it into their hair. Use a comb or brush and comb through their hair starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. You should be able to run through their hair from top to bottom smoothly once you are done. Pro tip: If it is important that your horse's mane and tail are completely spotless use Listerine mouthwash and scrub it into your horse's tail. This will help remove dandruff and stubborn dirt particles from their scalp.

  • After doing their mane and tail, take your curry comb or scrubbing mitt and re-scrub their entire body in circular motions. Do this gently so you will not irritate their skin. This will help get dead skin, hair, and stubborn dirt up from their skin. You can also go over their body with a sponge one last time as well to ensure you got every spot.

  • Next, rinse them off with either the hose or a sponge starting from the top of your horse down to their hooves. Spend a lot of time on this step to make sure all of the soap is off as soap left on their skin could cause irritation. Use the sweat scraper after this step to remove all the excess water from their coat. Repeat the rinsing and scraping process as many times as you need to completely remove all of the soap.

  • Then you can begin washing your horse's face. Since their face is more sensitive than other parts of their body, be gentle during this step. Get fresh warm clean water with no soap to begin. Go over their face and their head with the warm water. Take special care to get behind their ears and under their head during this step.

  • Then take a clean soapy sponge and go over their face again. This time make sure to scrub areas where there might be more dirt or sweat built up. Do not get soap in their eyes while you do this.

  • Then rinse your horse's face using warm non-soapy water. Again make sure to get all of the soap off of their face and not get anything in their eyes.

  • Finally, take the sweat scraper and scrape any final excess water off of their body making sure to get under their belly. After that, use a rub rag to rub your horse down. Use a separate rub rag under your horse's tail and on their face. After they are dry, make sure to cover them in a light cooler or sheet to make sure they will not roll in the dirt and ruin their coat.

Pro Tip: Once your horse is mostly dry, you can also spray them with polishing spray to give them extra shine. Spray them lightly and brush in the spray with a body brush to spread the polish evenly. Avoid the saddle area when you do this as it can make it easier for it to slip.


Step 4: Grooming

This horse show grooming step should be done the day of or the night before your show to make sure your horse has less time to reverse the work that you’ve done by rolling in the dirt or mud. Many people groom their horse right before entering the ring as a final touch.

  • Start collecting all of the grooming tools you will need to properly groom your horse. Here is what you will need:

  • After you have all your supplies, start by currying your horse at the top of their neck and working your way back to their rump on both sides. Curry them in a circular motion to bring up any dirt or dead skin from the base of their coat.

  • After using the curry comb, use the hard brush or dandy brush to flick the dirt you’ve pulled up with the curry comb off of the horse's skin. Use long flicking motions to do this. Make sure to get the horse's legs and under their belly during this step.

  • After you’ve removed as much of the dirt as possible in this step use the soft brush to go over their body again using long strokes. This brush is meant to help message the skin and get up smaller particles of dirt from the base of the coat.
  • Pro Tip: Use a finishing brush or body brush with very long and fine bristles after this step to get off even smaller particles of dirt. Also if you have the option, use brushes with natural bristles to help spread natural oils from your horse's skin into their coat. This will help give them an extra shine.

  • Then brush their mane and tail out going from bottom to top with a mane comb or brush. Do not start directly at the top as this will rip your horse's hair. Work in sections going from top to bottom.

  • Pick your horse's hooves by using the hoof pick to scrape the dirt out of your horse's hooves. Make sure you scrape away from your body while you do this. If your hoof pick has a brush attached to it that can also be used to get smaller pieces of dirt out of your horse's hooves. Use hoof polish to seal out and repel dust.

  • Finally use the wet wipes or sponges to wipe under your horse's face and under their tail. If you use sponges make sure they are separate.

Pro Tip: After you’ve finished grooming you can lightly spray your horse with finishing spray to add some extra shine. Make sure to brush it in with a body brush and avoid the saddle areas while you spray.


Step 5: Braiding

Many show disciplines also require that horses have their mane and tail braided to be competitive in the show ring. Many people have professionals braid their horse's mane and tail for them but here is how you can braid like a pro all on your own.

  • Start by combing your horse's mane with a brush or comb. When this is done section the piece closest to the top of their head. It should be between 1 and 2 inches wide.

  • Once you have a piece sectioned, apply a braiding spray or gel to control the hair. This product is similar to hair spray or hair gel and will hold the braid in place.

  • Brush through the section with your fingers and then braid the hair into a tight braid. To tie the end of the braid, fold the bottom end of the braid underneath the braid using a rubber hair band. Then roll the braid up as far as it can go and tie it off with another hair band.

  • Repeat these steps until all of their mane is braided including their forelock. At the end rub some extra braiding spray or gel on the braids to make sure they stay tight.

  • To braid their tail, first, brush it out completely with a comb or brush. Then wet their tail and brush some braiding spray or get through it. Next start the braid at the top. Each time you continue the braid add a piece of hair from the outside or underside of your horse's tail. This is done the same way a french braid would be done on a human.

  • Once you reach a point that is close to the end of their tailbone stop adding pieces to the braid and simply braid the rest of the hair in your hands. While you do this, braid an arm-length piece of braiding thread into the braid. Braid until the braid is about 2 - 4 inches long. Also, make sure that the color of the thread matches the color of your horse's tail.

  • Then tie the braid off with the thread and use a needle to thread the excess part braid up into the french braid that you have created. You may need to use your fingers to help shove the excess braid in.

  • Once the excess braid is in, tie the thread off in a tidy and presentable-looking knot or sew the thread into the tail and knot it off with the needle. Take care to not poke the horse with the needle you are using.

  • Finally, spray the horse's tail with braiding spray to lock it into place. Do not leave their braids overnight as horses will nub them and it can damage their tail.

final touch ups

Step 6: Final Touch-Ups

In the last hour before you enter the show ring you will want to:

  • Re-groom your horse to ensure that they are completely clean.
  • Spray them with finishing spray to add some extra sparkle.
  • Run a comb through the unbraided section of their tail, or if they are not braided at all comb their mane and tail.
  • Wipe down their eyes, nose, ears, tail, and dock with wet wipes or separate sponges.
  • Reapply braiding spray onto their braids to keep them locked into place.
  • Apply hoof oils to your horse's hooves to give them a professional look.
  • Ensure all of your attire and tack is also free of dirt or sweat.
  • Walk them early to the ring and don’t forget to take a deep breath and smile!

Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions About Horse Show Grooming

Here are some extra frequently asked questions about horse show grooming to help you groom before you enter the show ring.

How do you keep a horse clean before a show?

There are a few different approaches to keeping your horse clean before a show, including stalling them, keeping them covered, or polish spray. If you can, keep your horse in a freshly cleaned stall the night before your show so you can keep them from rolling in dirt or mud in the pasture. In addition, cover them up. If you live in a hot climate try to cover them with a light sheet or slicker so if they roll or lay down it will minimize how dirty they can get. The more surface area you can cover on your horse's body the better the chance that they will be clean in the morning. Another way to help keep them clean is to use horse polishing spray after you groom them for the last time. That way if they do get dirty, you will be able to brush the dirt off very easily the next day.

How do you groom a horse like a professional?

To groom your horse like a professional you need to clip, bathe, brush, braid, and pay extra close attention to details . The steps outlined above in this blog will make your horse sparkle in the show ring. If you’d like to learn more details about grooming and the intricacies of the different brushes used in the process check out this blog on all the different brushes and their functions. You can take some of the ideas in there and apply them to your daily grooming routine. You can also check out this Blog on Grooming Tips from Sydney Lewis who was a professional groomer.

How do you clip a horse's tail before a show?

If you prefer clipping your horse’s tail, you can do this by shaving the sides of the horse's tail that aren’t directly visible from the front to achieve a contoured look. This option is definitely more permanent than the braiding option but can be good for riders looking to avoid braiding. Check the current trends and standards for the discipline of the show you are attending to make sure this is the best option.

How short should I cut my horse's tail?

You should cut the tail so it sits about 4-5 inches below the hocks. Cutting a tail is called banging a tail. Again make sure you check the standards for the discipline you are competing in to make sure your tail will be the correct length.

How do I trim a horse's tail?

To trim a horse’s tail, you can either use scissors or clippers. Decide what length you want your horse's tail to be and then trim it in a straight line.

When can you wash a horse before a show?

If you have the time it is best to wash your horse either 1-2 days before your show. This minimizes the risk of them ruining their coats in the days before. If you know your horse will roll it could be best to wash them the day before the show and keep them in a freshly bedded stall.

How do you keep a grey horse clean before a show?

Grey and white horses are definitely the most challenging to keep clean before a show. To keep a grey horse clean before a show, make sure you use whitening shampoo to get as many stains off of them as possible. In addition, wash them the night before your show and keep them in a freshly bedded stall with a light sheet to cover them. If you feel comfortable wrapping their legs and putting a fly mask on them as well that could also be beneficial. Essentially try to cover up as much of their body as possible. There are also stain removers available if your horse still manages to dirty themselves.

How do you get poop stains off a white horse?

To get poop stains off of white horses, use special whitening shampoos and/or stain removing shampoos. If they get these stains on the day of your show there is also stain remover spray or cover spray available to help with this. If you don’t have either of these things use soap and water to scrub the area.

How do I make my horse's coat shiny?

There are many methods to achieve a shiny coat, including brushing and certain sprays. Many riders use special brushing techniques to get their horse's coat to shine. In a nutshell, special brushes are used to glide natural oils from the horse's skin onto their hairs. There are also polishing sprays that can be used to make your horse shiny if you use them every time you groom. Both methods work very well.

How do I make my horse look professional?

To keep your horse looking professional for a show, bathe, clip, and groom them extensively before your show and make sure they are braided. If your discipline does not require colorful outfits opt for more neutral tones like white and black for your saddle pad. But most importantly, research what attire is best to wear depending on your discipline.