Groom to Win for the Horse-Showing Ring

Use these tips to give your horse the ultimate show-ring shine.

These tips will give your horse the ultimate show-ring shine.

Use these tips to have your horse looking sleek and shiny no matter what your discipline. Journal photo
Use these tips to have your horse looking sleek and shiny no matter what your discipline. Journal photo

From AQHA Corporate Partner Farnam with contributions from Kristin Syverson

Want to prove you are a serious competitor? Then enter the ring with a serious shine. Not only does meticulous grooming demonstrate good horsemanship, but it also creates a lasting impression in the judge’s mind. Set yourself apart from the crowd with these tips.

Manage That Mane

To shorten your horse’s mane, do not cut it with scissors. The proper way to shorten is by pulling and thinning the mane by hand. Horses are not as sensitive about this as humans. However, if too many hairs are jerked out at once, the horse will become irritated.

Start pulling at the longest part of the mane. Work evenly along the entire mane. Take the longest hairs from the underside, pulling only a few hairs at a time. Make sure you pull the hairs out completely rather than just breaking them off. Broken hairs make manes thick and bushy with frizzy split ends.

How about what’s under the mane? In AQHA’s 15-page FREE report, Judging Halter Classes, you’ll get an understanding of the ideal American Quarter Horse. You’ll train your eye to acknowledge balance, structural correctness, breed and sex characteristics, muscling and more.


Clipping is an art, and the only way to be good at it is to practice. If you are a novice, don’t start practicing the day before the show. If your horse has never been clipped, you’ll have to work with him long before the show date to get him used to the clippers.

For the show ring, bridle path, ears, muzzle, jaw and fetlocks should be clipped clean, so they look smooth and neat. The best time to clip your horse is after a bath, once he is dry. Clipper blades must be sharp, clean and oiled. Dirty, dull or dry blades will not do the job. To help achieve the polished look you want, download AQHA’s FREE Clipping Tips report.

Washing Up

Give your horse a bath a few days before the show to give natural oils enough time to regenerate a glossy sheen on the coat. Any stains or spots can be touched up on the day of the show.

Keep soapy parts wet. If allowed to dry, shampoo leaves a film that will dull the coat. Rinse your horse thoroughly with clean running water. Keep the water running until no more soap runs out with the rinse water. Be gentle when you wash your horse’s face and head. Use just a little soap. Do not get water in your horse’s ears or soap in his eyes.

Shampoo your horse’s mane and tail like you shampoo your own hair. You can double up his tail and wash it right in the bucket of soapy water. Don’t scrub too vigorously when you’re working on the mane and tail; you can break off hairs.

A shining finish makes the biggest impression when it is combined with a conformationally correct horse. To learn what characteristics judges value, get AQHA’s FREE report, Judging Halter Classes.

Use a good conditioner to make the mane and tail more manageable after shampooing. After your horse is rinsed, scrape his coat as dry as possible with a sweat scraper. Towel-dry your horse after you’ve removed as much water as possible with the scraper. Dry his heels to avoid drying and cracking. Then walk him until he’s dry. Depending on the weather, you might want to use a cooler or blanket. Wool is always good because it keeps him warm while letting moisture escape.

Make a Shining Finish

While nothing can replace a healthy, natural shine, a good-quality hair polish gives your horse the added edge that attracts attention. Apply hair polish to your horse’s mane and tail right after shampooing to keep the hair tangle-free and more manageable. Then, right before you go into the show ring, use it on your horse’s entire coat for a first-place finishing touch.

Foot Notes

Hoof cleaning and moisturizing are great for day-to-day grooming, but feet have to look extra neat for the show ring. Use hoof polish to give hooves a sharp-looking shine. Make sure to remove it completely after the show and apply moisturizing hoof dressing immediately to the clean hooves to keep them in good condition.

18 thoughts on “Groom to Win for the Horse-Showing Ring”

  1. pulling manes gives a more natural look but if done too often your horse won’t have any mane left to band. Stick to cutting the mane with scissors then cut upwards into the hair the way your barber does. If you take your time it looks just as good and your horse will be much happier too.

  2. Sorry, but pulling manes is not my choice of shortening. I agree with Cyd, stick to cutting the mane with scissors and then as the barber does to thin. Pulling manes makes horses uncomfortable and ultimately dangerous if done the wrong way to the wrong horse.

  3. I agree whole-heartedly with the posters who use scissors. My Quarter Horse mare is a docile, desensitized horse. She tolerated getting her mane pulled on 2 occasions, however, it took me 3 days each time. I developed my method of cutting the mane by grasping an inch wide section of mane and holding it firmly down toward the ground. Using a fine-toothed come, push upward toward the mane bed to bunch the hairs not being cut (it is kind of like ratting people hair)leaving only the longest hairs grasped between your thumb and forefinger. Snip upwards into the hairs to avoid a blunt look. Practice taking smaller sized snips until you achieve the desired length. Comb bunched hair hair down again to comb out. Repeat until that same inch section of hair is cut the same length. It takes awhile but the results are very uniform without being blunt. Generally, I snip the mane the width of 4 fingers. Banding helps train it but make sure you pull the undermost hairs of the mane as close to the mane bed so the mane lays flat.

  4. Another nice alternative to pulling is a commercial comb with blades built in. I have one that you back-comb the hair just like as if you were pulling, then one push on the handle makes the blade slide across and cut those hairs. It was only about $30 – definitely worth it!

  5. I prefer a long natural mane on my horses. So I don’t show in classes where having a short mane is required. If more people would stand up and say no, then we would have more reiner, cutters, working cow, and speed event horses in halter, and pleasure classes. You would have Champions that are truly all around horses.

  6. Way to go folks! I totally agree with the “no scissors” technique. If a horse can feel a fly land on its tail, well then it just makes common sense that pulling hair wouldn’t be too confortable. Thanks for speaking up.

  7. At least the light is on in some people’s heads, of course pulling a mane hurts can i show you? Don’t do it. I have the cutting tool and it works good, I have also done the back combing method and sizzors which both give you a natural mane look, albeit short. I agree with the person that prefers a long mane, I went that way this year and lost an average of two placings each time. So I guess we all have a choice there but please let’s choose comfort for the horses.

  8. I’ve pulled manes for years, and never had a problem. Also, having a long mane doesn’t make a reiner/cutting horse lose a pleasure class…they aren’t pleasure horses, and vice versa for a pleasure horse in a reining class.

    I saw a few long manes win at Congress in western pleasure last year. But if you show in SMS or any hunt class where you need to braid, a long mane is not an option.

  9. Jo,

    Horses with long manes are shown in halter and pleasure. You don’t see it alot yet. Look at the lady’s horse that won the World in western pleasure. She has won it 2 years in a row. (I think I’m right on that) Her horse has a beautiful long mane. I have seen reiners win in halter over halter horses. I have a friend that has a reiner that shows in many different events in AQHA shows and wins. He is a great horse and has pleasure points too. He also has a long mane. I think some people might be afraid of change and keep the manes short because thats what they’re used to.

  10. As long as the horse has good conformation for the class selection, is clean and presented in a neat manner then it shouldn’t matter how long the mane is. It’s up to us to make a change.
    Some horses are okay with having their manes pulled and some are definitely not happy. I have a mare you can do anything with, clip all her body and bridle path but put a set of clipper near her ears, watch out so I show her with washed ears and a long mane even in English events and still place.

  11. My mare has a thin mane but it is long and I want to shorten it. I’ve tried the sizzors and it did not look good. I’m now thinking about pulling it. Does anybody have any thoughts on pulling a thin mane? Will it look better or worse? Thanks!

  12. I too have a thin maned quarter horse and if I pulled his mane there would be nothing left. I use scissors or clippers to shorten his mane, but in order too avoid the scissor edge effect I make little vertical snips up into the mane all the way along to slightly vary the length of each hair. No one knows it’s not a pulled mane. Much harder with a thick mane though. You could always do a combination scissor and then pull just a few hairs to finish. For horses that are really bad about pulling or clipping I have the vet top up the tranq after getting their teeth done in the spring before show season.

  13. well pulling manes has been around and done for years, its tradition, you dont mess with tradition. it really does not hurt them. they have verry little nervs in there mane and tail.

  14. Oh and tell my mare who bucks and rears in the crossties that pulling her mane doesn’t hurt. And I wasn’t rough or harsh and took WEEKS to get it done. I stopped, it’s not fair to her and her long mane is just lovely anyhow. Kinda like stonewashed jeans, short manes have seen their day, it’s long overdue time for change!

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