Thursday, 26 February 2009

Segment Three: Grooming, Clipping, and Banding for the Show

Grooming for the show, no matter the class, is a lot of work. When I groom for a show, I am extremely anal. Everything has to be perfect and I will work to get it perfect before I head to the ring. Here are some tips and my show grooming and clipping routine that has brought me success in the pen at all levels.

Many people are at a loss as to what to do first when preparing the horse for show. My first step is to bathe the areas I am going to clip. For me, these are the legs and the head. Nothing will dull your clipper blades faster than clipping through dirty hair. In addition to that, when you clip through dirty hair, you will often get those dreaded “lines” in the areas you have clipped. A good clip job leaves no lines and blends seamlessly with the rest of the hair.

I like to bathe my horses at least one to two days before the show. The reason being is that bathing, especially with cold water, often fluffs the hair coat, giving your horse’s hair a dull appearance. Bathing one to two days before the show will allow the natural oils in the horse’s coat to surface and help smooth the hair down. I typically use Cowboy Magic Rosewater Shampoo for the coat, mane, and tail. However, if I have a really dull white spot or a dirty one, I like Silverado Whitening shampoo, but only on my dirty white spots. I use a medium bristled, flexible brush to scrub the shampoo into the coat, legs, mane, etc. I like to spend quite a bit of time scrubbing to really get deep into the coat. Before I rinse, I sponge the horse’s head with water then lather it up with shampoo using a soft bristled face brush. Next, I rinse the horse, scrape the excess water and rinse again. There are two reasons I double rinse; first is that excess shampoo can dull the coat and leave it tacky, second is that excess shampoo can make a sensitive horse itch. After rinsing, I drench my horse is show sheen and let her dry. Now let’s get down to tail business.

I like to wash my tails twice. The first washing gets the outer crud; the second washing I concentrate on getting the crusties out of the tail bone and any other dirt that may be lingering in there. A clean tail with no buildup will grow faster and longer, unless you have a horse like Gertie. She is on a tail strike and she refuses to grow hair. After rinsing the tail I saturate it with Cowboy Magic de-mineralizing conditioner, let it sit for three minutes, and rinse. After the tail is rinsed I will take a large toothed comb and gently comb the tail and let it air dry. The day of the show I will rewash the tail, condition it, and blow dry it to add volume. Since I use a fake tail on this particular mare, my washing, conditioning, and blow drying routines are the same for the fake tail. The fake tail will always look better if the real tail has some volume to it. I do not add any detangler or show sheen to the tail until I have attached the fake tail. The fake tail does not get put in until an hour before the first class. Now let’s get down to clipping.

I used to clip my horses about two weeks before the show to let the hair have time to blend. That was until I learned how to blend the hair! I use two different sets of clippers. The first set is the Wahl Arco Cordless clippers with the adjustable and detachable blade. The second set is the Oster Finisher with the small #40 blade. You may want to practice clipping your horse multiple times before you get too comfortable clipping right before the show. They always seem to move right at the worst moment and you end up taking a chunk of hair off in the wrong place. Practice makes perfect and it has taken me years to perfect my clipping routine. I start with the legs.

For dark colored legs (meaning no white), I only clip from coronet band to top of ankle. Make sure the legs are clean before you start. I set my Arco’s on the #30 blade setting and begin at the coronet band holding my clippers flush against the area to be clipped, yet at a slight angle. Never clip downward, you always want to clip against the hair. I clip upwards all the way to the top of the ankle, making sure I get all the hair around the ergot, bulb of the heel, etc. Then it’s time to blend the longer hairs of the leg into the freshly clipped hairs. I set the clippers to the longest blade setting and continue upward until the hair looks perfectly blended to my eyes. Every once in awhile; if the horse has extremely long scraggly leg hairs, I will use a downward motion to blend the hair on the longest blade setting. However, if the horse moves, you’ll end up taking more hair off than you want to. Now, when you are finished clipping in this manner, it will look awkward at first. It will seem as if the hair is too short around the pastern and ankle and it will look a different color. However, when you are in the pen, especially under lights, you will be amazed at how well it actually blends. Now for the white legs; (always a favorite).

White legs can be extremely difficult to clip and have them look good after clipping them. The Cordless Arco’s are outstanding for clipping the white legs. I do this the same way as I do darker legs with the same #30 blade setting. However, on an overo horse, I will clip all the white on the leg, even if it goes half way up the gaskin. I then blend the darker hairs of the leg into the freshly clipped white areas with the longest blade setting. For a tobiano, I will only go to just above the knee and then blend the rest of the white hair above the knee into what I have clipped. The reason I go slightly above the knee on a tobiano is that sometimes their knees have a yellowish tint. That yellowish tint in contrast to freshly clipped white will make the knee look funny and as said before, I’m anal. I want it perfect. In my opinion, with a little practice, the legs are the easiest to clip. The head takes more time and skill.

Clipping the head… this is where I get really anal. I don’t like to see unblended hairs; therefore it is very important to take your time when clipping the head. I like to start with the bridle path, which I also do with the #30 setting blade. The general rule of thumb is to gently lay one of the horse’s ears back and only go back as far as the tip of the ear. However, some horse’s have much longer ears than others. I will do this for my halter mare (she has small ears); but for Gertie, I lay her ear back and stop about an inch from where the tip of her ear would lie. (She has long ears). LOL! So for general purposes we will use the short eared horse as an example. I lay the ear back and set my clippers blades flush with the bridle path facing towards the ears. I let the ear go, and clip towards the ears stopping just in front of the poll. When you touch the bony process (the poll) don’t go any further. You want to keep as much forelock as possible and we all know how hard it is to get a nice thick forelock. (Gertie refuses to grow a forelock too despite my incessant use of MTG and a myriad of other products we have tried over the years. She grows hair at the speed of snail). Now let’s get down to the whiskers.

Since I still have my Arco’s in hand, I will move to under the jowel, chin, and muzzle areas next. Starting at the chin, I set my blade to #30 and clip upwards against the hair all the way up the chin and jowel area. Take care NOT to clip the outer edges of the jowels at this time or the hair will be too short. Get every orifice you can possibly reach with the clippers under there. Next, set your blade to the next highest (longer) setting in order to blend the hair under the chin and jowel into the hair on the jowel. Go slowly with short smooth strokes. If you go too fast and the horse moves you are going to take off too much hair. I blend the hairs with this method to about half way up the jowels on both sides. Now we move to the shortest setting on the clippers for the muzzle and eyes.

The muzzle is pretty self explanatory. I make sure that I always clip in good lighting so I don’t miss any of those pesky hairs. However, the day of the show I will go back over the muzzle with a horse shaver, even if I clipped the horse the day before, to make sure I have a horse that has a muzzle as smooth as a baby’s butt. Next to clip are the eyes.

The eyes are very sensitive and extreme care should be taken when clipping the eye whiskers. For the love of humanity… don’t shave the horse’s eyelashes… just the long whiskers. The horse has whiskers over and under the eyes that should be clipped. Be very careful not to poke the horse in the eye with the clippers or your finger. You can laugh now… but it happens. I start with the left eye first. I put my right hand above her eye and clip downward and to the left just clipping the whiskers only. Not the rest of the hair. For the whiskers under the eye: I take my left index finger and gently place it over the eyelid and my left thumb is placed under the eye; gently pulling the skin downward. I then clip upwards, toward the eye, taking care not to clip the eyelashes. This takes time and practice. If the horse blinks, you are probably going to have some short eyelashes. Don’t get upset, just keep practicing. Next, I clip the ears.

I am very picky about ears. I want them clean, and free of hair. I use the #15 blade setting on the Arco’s to do the outer edges and whisk away any straggling out ear hairs. Then I move onto my Oster finishing clippers. The finishing clippers have a small #40 blade. They clip extremely short, and almost to the skin. *Think surgical blade. I do the inner edges and the entire inside of the ear to where there is no hair visible to the naked eye. (If you look in the ear you would see peach fuzz). Make sure to go along the curves of the ear and get the “hidden” areas as good as possible. After clipping the ears I will take a microfiber cloth, dab it in water, and wipe the insides of the ears to make sure they are free of dirt, debris, and hair. Next, I dab a bit of baby oil gel onto the rag and wipe it inside the ear. Not only does this add a shine to the inside of the ear, but it keeps the ear moisturized and also from getting itchy. I have found that the baby oil gel does not attract the dirt as much as the actual baby oil.

Lastly, I shave the blaze or any other white markings on the face. This gives the horse’s face a clean and chiseled appearance, not to mention a much cleaner look. I use the finishing clippers for this task as they do not leave lines and I want the face to look smooth. Once again, I clip upwards against the hair. If the blaze has a whorl at the top, I just make sure that I clip against the hair at all directions to get a nice even look.

Now let’s move on to banding. How many of you pay hundreds of dollars over the show season to get those perfect bands? Well… I’m about to save you some money. Banding is very simple; you just have to take your time. The one thing I cannot stand to see in the pen is a banding job that sticks up here and there and lays flat in other places. There is a very simple trick to banding; whether the horse has a thin mane or a thick mane. I personally don’t pull my horse’s mane; no matter how thick it is. It is always easier to band a mane that is slightly dirty; however, I’m anal and I can’t have a dirty mane. I start with a clean, dry mane. I like my bands to be about a half inch wide. I start at the top of the mane and work my way down. I grab the first section of hair and use a clip to hold the rest of the mane back and away from the section I’m working on. Next I take a metal mane comb and comb the section straight down while holding the mane tightly and pulling downward. I then spray a small amount of Quick Braid at the base of the mane near the crest or the neck. I comb and pull downward again and then I am ready to band. Hold the section of mane firmly in one hand; keeping the tension downward, and begin wrapping the band around the section of mane. If you don’t keep the downward pull, you will end up with that bunched up mane at the base of the neck that helps cause the bands to stick up. When you are nearing the point where the band can no longer wrap around the hair any tighter, be sure to end the wrap with the last twist of the band underneath the section of mane. This helps to keep the hairs underneath in place. This next part is very important so pay attention. Once the band is secure, take both hands and grab a small section on each side, from the underside of the section of mane you just banded. Then, pull downwards until the mane rests securely against the crest line of the horse’s neck. By securing your bands to the crest line, you ensure that the bands follow the neck line, are even, and are uniform. If you pull up at any time you are doing this, you are going to have those hairs that bunch up above the band and you will need to start over. Repeat this process until you have finished banding. When I finish banding, I slather Shapley’s mane mousse over the mane and put a mesh mane tamer on the horse. I’m not sure why but my horse’s never rip the mesh mane tamers but they destroy the regular robin hoods. This process ensures that your bands will be flat, against the neck, and perfect the following morning. You may have to adjust a few, but it’s much less time consuming then banding the morning of the show.

After all the grooming is finished, I sheet the horse or use a full body sleazy. However, it depends on the weather. If it’s really hot, I only use the mesh mane tamer and will spot wash where needed the morning of the show.

The morning of the show, I rinse the white on her legs to get the dust off and let them dry. I used to use chalk for her whites but I hate it. I’d rather use baby powder. I can apply the baby powder with more precision and coverage. Once the baby powder is applies, I show sheen the white to keep the dust away. Next I take the mane tamer off, adjust any bands that need it, and begin vacuuming. I vacuum the hose entirely, including her face, with a soft attachment. Next I do her feet. I like to use two coats of hoof black for class A or breed shows. For open shows I use the clear polish. Once the black polish is dry, I spray a fine mist of Ultra Hoof Polish Enhancer on her hooves and let it dry. While the feet are drying, I spray the horse with a finishing spray, and take a clean rag to her entire body, slicking down the coat where needed and giving her that extra shine. I wipe the insides of her nose and apply baby oil gel to her muzzle, a smidge over the eyes, and a dab inside the ears. Lastly, I do the tail.

I like to blow dry the tail for added volume the morning of the show. I also use a fake tail on Gertie since her tail is very fine and thin. It’s getting longer but her butt is so big her skinny tail looks awkward. I like the natural loop tails from as they are great for horses that use their tail, hold the tail away from the body, or even the horse that just lets it hang. However, this tail is a two person job to get it totally secure and undetectable. I make sure the fake tail is clean and has been blow dried before I attach it. Generally I would go into how to attach a fake tail, but at the risk of this being a lengthy post, feel free to email me at for instructions on attaching a tail. Or, if you guys choose, I can make a separate post about this later as there are many styles of tails and methods of attachment. Once I attach the fake tail, I put about a dime size amount of Cowboy Magic Detangler at the ends of the tail and then… we are complete.

I will address properly fitting a halter in the pattern segment of the showmanship series at a later day. For now, this should get you started on your way to successful grooming. This segment could have been much longer. Sometimes I add a few more things here and there; but this gives you a general idea of my show day routine.


Toni said...

Great post. Woudl you recommend a tail extension for a yearling coming on two? My almost yearling filly has a short dull tail and just wanted to know if an extension would look okay for halter.

success in the pen said...

Thanks Toni. There are quite a few people that will do this. However, most of the time I only see the tails on horses this young that are competing in longe line. I usually only use my tail for showmanship or pleasure. The halter barns I worked for never used fake tails for their halter horses. From my understanding from Gary Gordon, it is often frowned upon, unless of course, the horse has a tail that has been chewed off. However, if you feel you must use a tail, you can always have a "natural blend" tail made for your horse that will suit her properly and not look fake. If you would like, email me pics of the filly's tail and I can give you further sggestions.

Elana said...

Hi there. I'm in the market for new cordless clippers and am curious what model of Arco's you use? I was thinking of buying the Oster Power Pro's but would be interested in hearing your thoughts. Thanks, Elana