First impressions count when you’re showing horses. From the polish of the boots to the shine of the horse’s coat, the judges are evaluating the picture you and your clients create from the moment the horse enters the arena.
By keeping up with grooming trends, your barn’s turnout shows the judges that you pay attention, you took the time to prepare the horses, and you want to win. Here, two trainers known for top turnout of their horses talk about show-grooming trends in their disciplines.
Stacey Kleikamp of Stacey Kleikamp Quarter Horses in Newberg, Ore., has trained horses for 18 years and coaches amateur and youth all-around competitors on the American Quarter Horse Association breed circuit. On the hunter-jumper side of showing, James Hagman of Elvenstar in Ventura, Calf., oversees winning riders competing on the “A” circuit.
A Healthy Coat: The Foundation
Trends may come and go, but a glossy coat is always in style, says Hagman. “All the horses have to be beautiful,” he says. “They all have to have a nice coat, and that really comes down to elbow grease.” At Elvenstar, that means careful attention to regular grooming, conditioning and nutrition.
Kleikamp agrees, adding that horses in her barn stay covered and under lights, which keeps the horses slicked out year round. “They’re on timers, so the horses are under lights 16 hours a day,” she says. In addition, Kleikamp keeps the extra hair on her horse’s ears, legs, bridle paths and muzzles tightly clipped.
For bathing and conditioning, Kleikamp prefers products containing natural botanicals. “I try not to use silicone-based products that tend to dry the coat,” she says.
Tidy Manes: Accentuate Necks
For the pleasure and all-around horses on the breed-show circuit, manes are mostly short and tidy, cut instead of pulled. “Unless it’s a really thick mane,” Kleikamp says. “Then I’ll pull the mane to thin it out.” Straight scissors work well if you practice, she says, and an additional onceover with thinning shears can help hide any mistakes. Undercut the mane by making the underside slightly shorter, so that the mane naturally curls under.
In the breed pen for western classes, manes are always banded at the regional shows. And at local shows, clients can also add extra polish to their horses’ appearance by banding. “When you do your bands, don’t make them too big,” Kleikamp says. “Keep each piece of mane about half an inch wide. Also, keep the piece of mane close to the neck as you wrap the band around it.” The key is to keep each band tidy and close to the neck so it lies flat when finished, she adds.
So far in late 2005 and 2006, some show horses at the bigger shows have been exhibited with full manes. “A few trainers are showing their horses with long manes in western pleasure, although it really isn’t mainstream,” Kleikamp says.
Reining horses, of course, continue to have long, flowing manes. If you do go the long-mane route, make sure the hair is well conditioned, to prevent brittle breakage or flyaways.
Traditional button braids are still the standard for English horses and breed and hunter shows—although all-around horses at small breed shows may compete in their western bands if the show schedule doesn’t allow time to braid between classes. “Or, the more hunter-type horses can also go into the western classes in braids if hunter under saddle is their main class,” Kleikamp says.
For jumpers, Hagman says he’s seeing loose manes or European style braids, which are looped rather than pinched down and tied off. “Everything from turnout to tack is more European,” he says.
Full Tails: Create a Pretty Picture
Whether on the breed or hunter circuit, a full tail is a must. “Most of my clients have one- to two-pound tail extensions, depending on the horse’s natural tail,” Kleikamp says.
Natural-hair tail extensions add a finished look to show horses on the rail in western and English classes at breed shows. Plus, the added weight of a tail extension will also contribute to the flat tail set desired in the breed-show pen, Kleikamp adds.
Tail extensions have also caught on with hunter and equitation riders on the “A” circuit in the last few years. “Pretty much everyone at the top level of competition uses a wig in their horses’ tails,” Hagman says. “We’ve all learned that the wigs add to the overall picture of any horse.”
Before investing in a tail extension or wig for your show horse, make sure it meets your show association’s standards. “And, make sure the tail is in securely so it doesn’t come out during class,” Kleikamp says.
For hunter under saddle and over-fence horses at AQHA and other breed shows, tails are not braided, Kleikamp says. On the hunter “A” circuit, Hagman says, tail braiding is reserved for the biggest and most important shows. “We’re braiding the tails less for the equitation horses,” he says. “Braiding is hard on the tail and causes the horse to lose hair. So, we try to pick and choose which shows we can skip doing the tail. The jumpers are way into the European look with short, straight-cut tails.”
Finishing Touches: The Last Sparkle
No matter what’s in vogue for show grooming, the final touches count no matter what. At the breed shows, that means black or clear hoof polish. Hunters and jumpers at “A” circuit shows go with clean hooves. No matter what the discipline, each horse gets a dust repellent on their coat and final wipedown of its ears, eyes and nostrils. Trends come and go, but in horse showing image is always everything.