How to Groom your Horse like a Professional

Imagine yourself watching the practice ring at a horse show. Sitting there gazing at all of the trainers, the coaches, the amateurs, and youth practicing diligently before the show, can you tell which of the horses have been groomed by professionals, and which aren’t? I know I can.  Watching the practice ring at a show is one of my favorite things to do as an equestrian, and if you haven’t tried it, I would highly suggest it.

So how do the pro’s horses stand out?

A professional trainer’s horse is spotlessly clean, with the silkiest manes and tails, the shiniest coats, with the whitest legs, and the most impeccable clip jobs; even in the practice pen.  Horse’s groomed solely by amateurs can sometimes achieve the look of a groomed horse comparable to that of a professional, but it is rare.  Horses cared for by amateurs are typically a bit more dull, with not so perfect clip jobs, and white feet and legs that are just not as sparkly white.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with an amatuer grooming their own horse.  In fact I make all of my lesson kids groom their horses at home and at the show.  It creates a bond between horse and rider, and builds character in both youth and adults.  I would love it if everyone groomed their own horses at shows, which is why I like to write these blogs.

So how do these pros get their horses to look so glossy and perfect at horse shows?

I’ll tell you what the professionals do every day at home, what they do before a show, how they get their horse ready in the practice pen, and how their finish their horse for competition.


The routine at home


Paid professionals take much pride in the way their horses are cared for especially when it comes to their grooming and conditioning, and they start with what a pro feeds their horse.  

In my experience, not only do trainers feed the highest quality feeds to ensure an extremely healthy looking horse, they also tend to feed their horses feeds that are high in fats and oils.  Not only does this keep their horses in a good show weight, but it also makes their coats bloom.  A horse who is healthy and shiney (and frankly a little fat) to begin with makes it easier to create a beautifully clean horse at the show.



Whether it’s warm or cold, professional equestrians usually keep their horses blanketed. This is because they want to keep their horses as warm as possible, in order to keep their coats as short as possible.  Sometimes they even opt for two blankets if one isn’t enough.  This is because a horse with shorter coat is a more sleek and polished looking than a horse with a long coat.

Blanketing not only keeps a horse’s coat short, it provides multiple other benefits to their coats.  The next most obvious benefit is that it keeps their coats free from dirt and dust.  I always put a sheet over my horse after giving her a bath before a show to keep her nice and clean.  

In addition to preventing the growth of coat hair, it keeps the coat laying flat against the horse’s skin.  Imagine getting the goosebumps when you are cold; the hair on your arms raise to help trap air against your skin to help insulate you.  This process happens to horses as well, and a horse with a puffed up coat tends to look dull and hairy.  A sheet or blanket will help keep the hair pushed down against your horses skin, but like a helmet will give you helmet hair.  This makes the horse’s coat looking sleek lite satin.

Lastly, a trainer will keep their horse blanketed for a long enough period of time that the natural oils of their horse’s coats will accumulate against their skin making their coat almost slippery.  Much like if you do not shower for a long time and your hair becomes sleek and oily.

There are some cons associated with keeping a horse blanketed all of the time, like a horse overheating, and the possibility of hair rubbing completely off in places; but for a professional, the benefits outway the cons.


Snoozer was less than impressed with his blanket.

Turn out

Depending on the trainer, and the discipline, full time show horses get limited to no turn out.  While some pros prefer to let their horses out to let off some steam, others prefer to leave them in entirely to safeguard them from any injury they may inflict upon themselves outside.

Your average horse owner typically turns their horses out for the whole day, but let’s face it, horses who go outside, get dirty.  Even if they are brushed every day, horses who go outside will always be dirtier than ones who stay inside, and the horse whose mane and tail are exposed to the elements will always be more brittle, and snap off quicker than the horse who stays in.

You may think, “What if I bathe my horse regularly?”  One would think that would help, but when you bathe a dirty horse who came in from turn out, you are washing away any natural oils in your horse’s coat, making him less shiny than the horse who remained inside.

Personally, this factor is one reason that I know my horses will never be as lacquered looking as the rest of the pros.  I like to turn my horses out about eight hours a day, every day.  Keeping a turn out blanket on your horse will help keep him less dirty, and if you are determined  enough to have your horse shine bright like a diamond, you could bathe him, then leave him in for about a week before the show to try to achieve the professional horse coat all of the trainers have.


Putting black horses outside can be especially harmful to their coats, as the sun will bleach it and turn it brown.

Every Day Grooming

Horses in the care of a professional, are always groomed twice a day; before and after they are worked.  Whether they are just lunged, or ridden, they are always groomed habitually.  When I groomed for trainers they had a specific regimen they followed.  It went as follows:

  • Curry comb the horse’s coat vigorously
  • Spray diluted moisturizing spray over the entire coat, mane, and tail feathers
  • Brush the body with a soft brush, brushing away loose hair, and brushing in the moisturizing spray
  • Carefully comb through/ detangle the mane and tail feathers
  • Pick the feet
  • Clip any long whiskers or a long bridlepath 

This was all done before any tack or protective equipment was put on the horse,  and it was all done again after the horse had been worked and properly cooled off.  If the horse got too hot and sweaty during his workout session he would get rinsed and sponged with a mixture of special oils and liniments.

An important detail to mention is that if you have groomed your horse properly after you have ridden, your horse should look as if he hadn’t been ridden at all.  That’s right, absolutely no saddle marks.  “IMPOSSIBLE!” you say, but it is more common than you think.  The university from which I graduated had 157 horses in their equestrian program, and every single one was always free of saddle marks.  In fact, you would be called back to groom your horse again if he was left with any sweat marks, because this is how a horse should be groomed.


This is the specific coat moisturizer that the trainers I worked for used on their horses every day.

Monthly grooming

At home, horses in the care of professionals have their tails wrapped up (you can take a look at my article on caring for a show tail), and redone before each show, or about once every two months.  If the horse has a long mane, pros usually keep them braided (you can look at my caring for a long mane article) to prevent any wind knots and tangles.  Lastly, a good equine professional keeps their horses feet trimmed on a regular basis with proper shoeing on their horse’s feet.

Before leaving for the horse show

Usually, a big name trainer will have an assistant, or paid groom to go through a list to ensure every show horse gets the same treatment before the show.  This list usually entails:

  • Clipping legs
  • Clipping the head
  • Clipping the ears and bridle path
  • A full bath including taking down and washing the tail
  • Putting the tail in a tail bag once dry
  • Sanding Hooves

If the show is in the wintertime, most trainers opt to give their horses a full body clip about two weeks before the show.

I’ve written full articles on how to do most of these  so if you have any questions feel free to browse my older works.


In the practice ring at the show

Some trainers can have specific pet peeves about how their horses are presented, even in the practice ring.  The trainers I worked for hated when there were any shavings in the tail feathers of the horse they were working, even if they weren’t about to go into the show ring.   Pet peeves for trainers are understandable because the way their horses look while they and their clients ride are a reflection upon how much effort and care is given to each individual horse.  

Not only is the daily grooming ritual repeated before the horse is worked at the show, extra steps are taken to perpetuate a picture of professionalism and cleanliness on the part of the trainer.  These steps include but are not limited to;

  • Brushing all of the shavings out of the tail feathers, and mane
  • Wiping a thin layer of baby oil on the horses face and forelock
  • Wrapping legs in clean, modest colored polos
  • Wiping any extra boogers out of the horse’s nose
  • Dusting off any dusty tack


Speaking of tack…

If you haven’t already noticed, the tack a pro uses to practice in is usually very modest.  Normally, you will see matching plain leather bridles, and saddles with little to no embellishments, and modest colored saddle pads and protective equipment.  They save the bright colors and fancy tack for the show ring.

While practicing pro’s tend to go for a more modest look with solid or muted colored saddle pads and protective equipment because they want to be taken seriously.  Most trainers shy away from polos with crazy designs, halters in neon colors, or sparkly bright saddle pads.  Those eccentric or blingy items of tack are seen as a distraction to them, and the fancy colors or patterns tend to be a passing craze that will go out of fashion before the tack has been used to its full potential.

As an amateur, you can indulge in outgoing pieces of tack and equipment if you want, that’s the beauty of caring for your own horse, but if you want to be seen as someone who really knows what their doing, maybe go for a more modest look.


The finishing touches

So, you’ve made it this far and you need to get your horse ready for his class.  Assuming he has already been bathed, is free of saddle marks, and has been groomed at home with all of the earlier steps mentioned these are the next steps that need to be done

  1. Curry comb
  2. Coat conditioner
  3. Brush away loose hair
  4. Pick the feet
  5. Spot clean any dirty white spots
  6. Apply hoof black, or transparent hoof polish to hooves (it is important to do this after you have brushed their coat as to not get any loose hairs stuck onto the wet hooves)
  7. Take down clean tail out of its protective tail bag, and carefully comb through it with detangler and shine.  For a straighter tail, dowse it in showsheen to make it damp, then brush through it to take the kinks out.
  8. Apply detangler and shine to mane and comb through it
  9. Spray showsheen, or a aresoll coat highlighter to your horse’s coat, and wipe in in with a clean towel.
  10. Trim any rouge whisker or bridle path hairs you see.
  11. You may apply a thin layer of baby powder to white legs if they seem yellow, be careful though, because too much baby powder can look tacky, (make sure your horse’s hooves are dry before you apply)
  12. Use baby oil, or hair gel to hold together your horse’s forelock, and to lay rouge mane hairs flat.
  13. Saddle up (but do not tightened all of the way, your horse may be sitting around with the saddle on for a while)Apply face highlighter or baby oil to your horse’s eyes and muzzle for a shiny look
  14. Spray a good layer of fly spray on your horse
  15. Bridle, and go warm up for your class.

*Note; I did not mention any part of braiding or banding manes.  If you need to braid or band your horse’s mane and tail you must also take this factor into consideration, and depending on the type or style of braiding you need to do, you can prepare your horse as early as the day before like in the case of button braids, or you may need to braid right before your class in the case of a running braid.


Horses in their groom stalls, impeccably turned out for their classes, and awaiting their riders.

Right before competition

When you leave for your class, make sure you have someone who can help you, that has a groom bag prepared.  This groom bag should have

  • A clean rag
  • Fly spray
  • A soft body brush
  • Showsheen
  • Mane and Tail brush
  • Small braiding rubber bands
  • Baby oil
  • A hoof pick
  • A bottle of water
  • Safety pins in case your number falls off.

Your helper should look similar to this picture of me from my time grooming for a very successful Western Pleasure trainer in 2011.

If you’ve made it through this entire article, then you are now armed with the knowledge to groom your horse like a professional horse person does. Take these steps into consideration if you want your horse to look as clean and polished as those pros.   

A perfectly groomed horse will not ensure you win your class, but a well groomed horse completes a beautiful picture for the judges to watch.  A poorly groomed horse is a distraction and an eye soar.


Caring for a Long Mane

Ever wonder how some horses like reiners or Friesians have such a beautiful long mane?  There a few reasons.  First is purely genetics; if any horse’s sire or dam has a long mane, then their offspring may have a long mane.  The second is hair maintenance.  Frequent care of any mane will cause it to grow longer and stay tangle free.


Care of a long mane is simple, although sometimes time consuming.  It consists of washing the mane and putting it into braids at least once every month.  Here are the steps the professionals use to a maintain and grow a beautiful long mane:

First, the hair should be thoroughly washed and conditioned. Take special care to scrub the crest of the neck where the mane grows out of.  This will massage the hair follicles and encourage hair growth.  After washing, be sure to rinse out any remaining soap and conditioner residue.  If there is any soap left on your horse’s skin it will become itchy causing your horse to rub out his mane.

Next, once your horse’s mane is thoroughly rinsed, wait for it to dry.  For a faster dry time you can blow dry your horse’s mane, but be careful that you desensitize your horse to the sound of the blow-dryer beforehand.  Once dry, gently comb through the mane.

Lastly put the mane into braids.  A horse with an average thickness of mane each braid will use four to five inches of mane hair.  This will insure you don’t have a large number of tiny braids to deal with.  When you begin braiding be sure to make the very top of your braids as loose as possible.  If the top of the braid is tight, and your horse puts his head down to graze it will pull a large amount of hair out (this is especially true at the withers).  Once you’ve insured that the top of your braid is loose, the rest of your braid should be tight so that your braids don’t fall out.  Tie off your braids about three inches from the end of the mane hair.

If your horse has very thin hair the product MTG may also be applied to the roots as directed.


These steps should be repeated ideally once every two weeks, but should be done at least once a month.  The longer the braids are left in the more at risk your horse is to pull out entire braids.

Long manes do not have to be braided like this; however, if they are not, they are at risk of getting wind knots as depicted in the picture below.  Wind knots are very common for long-maned horses and commonly need to be ripped or cut out causingthe mane to be uneven in appearance.


Clipping Legs

Clipping your horse’s legs is one of the more straightforward grooming practices done on horses.  It only has a few variations, and almost every seat and discipline do it.  It simply adds to the overall picture of your horse, and if he has white on his legs the white becomes brilliantly bright.  Clipping of the legs should be done at least 2 days before the show.


Clipper blades with a size 10 blade and any clipper cleaning supplies necessary

Before you start:

Vigorously wash your horse’s legs to remove any clipper-clogging hair that is present.  Then wait for the legs to dry completely before you begin to clip.  Also, if your horse is nervous about the sound and feel of clippers, take the time to practice desensitizing him a couple of days before you try to clip him.


To make your clip job look more professional, be sure that your horse is in a summer coat or has been body-clipped.  Horses whose legs are clipped but have a winter coat look awkward. If you have a draft breed do not clip its legs!

Colored legs:

Colored legs do not need to be clipped very much, they only need to be spruced up.  It is the long hairs on the coronary band, and the long fetlock hairs that will need to be trimmed.  Some horses seem to also grow very long hair on the back of the cannons which should be clipped off too.

Start with the coronary band.  When clipping this part of the foot it is important not to completely press the clippers onto the skin and clip.  This will create an odd looking ring of clipped hairs.  The goal is to only clip the tips of the hairs that are covering any part of the hoof or coronet band.  So, one method to achieve this is to line your clippers up with the coronet with the clipper blades being flat on the hoof, trim upwards until you reach the edge of the coronet, and then veer the clippers outwards towards yourself like the arrow shows in the picture below. Veering the clippers out creates a blended look along the coronary instead of a choppy look


Fetlocks and the back of the cannon should be next.  The goal here is to trim any long looking hairs without creating an unnatural look.  This can only be done through experimentation and blending. It is not crucial that the hairs be cut as short as possible; only that they are tidy and uniform looking.


Some people clip with the grain of the hair which works decently.  Other people clip against the grain of the hair like normal, but then blend in the clipped parts with the unclipped parts by clipping around the area with the grain of the hair.  Whatever works best for you, keep into account that the less surface area you clip the easier it is to blend the clip job.  So, try to clip only the region where the ergot grows that the back of the pastern like the picture illustrates below.  Then, you can blend the surrounding areas.


White legs:

Any part of the leg that is white should be clipped; like socks, stockings, coronets, etc.  All the white needs to be clipped even if it goes above the hocks or knees! In my opinion, clipping white legs is easier than clipping colored legs because you need to blend less.

Simply take your ten blades and trim all of the white hair.  Be sure to run the blades against the grain of the hair to ensure shortness.  Also, if your clippers leave lines on the legs you will need to continue running over the same spot until the lines are gone; also your blades are very dull!

Make sure you clip all of the white hair, and that you miss none!  Leaving long leg hair looks sloppy and unprofessional.  If you are worried you will miss hair, simply clip the leg again and again until you are sure nothing was missed.

If you have a Pinto, and their white goes all the way up the leg into the body, you need to clip the entire leg and blend in the hair around the shoulder muscle and elbow on the front legs, or the on the hind legs.   You do not have to stop at these places, but make sure to always stop in a place that can be easily blended the clipping looks natural Below I have outlined where to stop on the front leg if the white continues upwards.


Preparing a Show Tail for Pasture

So, your horse has a long show tail or you would like to grow out your horse’s tail, but you would want to put your horse out to pasture.   Follow these simple steps for a horse who can enjoy the pasture while still growing a beautiful, thick show tail.

If your horse already has a long show tail it will be easy to put it up for pasture.  However, if your horse’s tail is not already long enough to reach the middle of his cannons, I would suggest waiting for it to grow naturally before you wrap it up.


  • Braiding bands of any color
  • One roll of Vet-Wrap, or equivalent material
  • 15 strands of bailing twine, or equivalent material
  • Scissors

*You must also know how to braid

Step 1)

Make sure your horses tail has been freshly washed and conditioned so you do not wrap dirt in with the tail.  Also, it is crucial that your horse’s tail is completely dry before wrapping.  If it is not dry the tail could mold and fall out.


Step 2)

Separate all of the protective feathers from the tail.  These feathers are located at the top and middle of the tail bone.  These feathers never grow quite as long as the longest part of the tail, but they may even be long enough to reach the middle of the cannon.  These feathers are a tool to keep bugs and flies away from the body and must be separated from the main tail.


Step 3)

Braid the rest of the tail.  Although this may seem simple, this is the trickiest step.  Your braid will start 2-3 inches from the tail bone. If the braid starts too far away from the tail bone, the wrap will act like a pendulum and rip out all the hair. If the braid starts too close and is too tight on the tail bone, blood flow will be lost and the hair will FALL OUT!  That is why it is very important to make sure that the beginning of your braid is loose, while the rest of the braid is tight.  These are the reasons that this step is so crucial.  If done incorrectly the tail will either rip out or completely fall out. You must find the perfect balance between looseness and tightness so you neither loose circulation in the tail bone, nor have all the hair rip out while it is in use. This could require practice.

The tail bone is found at the top side of the thumb demonstrating that the braid starts a few inches lower.  Notice how loose the beginning of the braid is, then it becomes tighter.


Step 3)

At the top of your braid separate the first two braid strands.  Take the braid and wrap it through the top of the braid to create a loop as shown in the photo below.


Step 4)

Cut about a foot and a half of vet-wrap from your roll and carefully wrap the loop created in the last step; pictured in the photo below.  This step assures that the bailing twine you will use does not rub against the hairs of the tail and wear them off.


Step 5)

Carefully tie the bailing twine onto the vet-wrapped loop.  Make sure that the middle of the bundle of twine is tied on the loop so that it is even on both sides.  Tighten the knot as much as possible so it does not loosen later on.


Step 6)

Unravel the beginning of your vet-wrap about a foot and slip it through the top of the loop where you slipped the braid through.  This will create a makeshift seal for the rest of your wrap and prevent dirt from getting in.  After you have sealed the top simply wrap your vet-wrap up and down the braid loop.  Make sure you wrap every part; from the very bottom of the twine not, to the top of the braid loop.  Do NOT wrap onto the tailbone!  All of your vet-wrap will be used.


Step 7)

Cut off any access twine that is touching the ground.  Measure this out by pulling the tail straight to the floor and cutting the twine even with the horse’s fetlocks.  Lastly, take down your horse’s feathers and gently comb them out with your fingers.


Your show horse is now ready for pasture!


Sanding Hooves

What is sanding hooves?

Sanding hooves is the process of carefully scrubbing and sanding away dirt and the outermost layer of the hoof in order to obtain a cleaned and polished hoof.

Why do we sand hooves?

Hooves that are sanded add an extra element of eye appeal in the arena.  People who have never sanded hoove often ask ” why does it matter if their hooves are sanded? They’re standing in the arena dirt anyway!”  Although this is true, sanding hooves matters because it is what the judges expect to see.  It is expected that every horse’s hooves be sanded and polished; if they are not they cause a huge distraction in the performance arena.

In the halter arena is where sanding hooves is the most crucial.  As the hoof grows the wall is impacted by environmental conditions and health issues.  So, the hoof wall will grow differently at different times creating a hoof that has “rings” or lines across the hoof wall.  If a halter horse shows with these rings across their hooves, the judge may suspect health concerns. These rings can be easily sanded off.


  • A hose with a spray nozzle with a “jet” setting
  • SOS pads (easily found in department stores in the cleaning section)
  • A small electric sander
  • Course-grain sandpaper, and fine-grain sandpaper that fit the size and shape of your sander
  • A sanding block
  • Clear hoof polish for white hooves, black hoof polish for black hooves.*

*Make sure to check with your specific horse association rules pertaining to hoof black.  Some breeds are not allowed to use hoof black for certain events.

Getting Started:

It is important that before you start the actual sanding process, all excess dirt and grime be scrubbed from the feet.  First you will need to spray all of the excess dirt off of your horses feet with your spray nozzle.  The “jet” setting works the best for this.

Before spraying


After spraying


Next, take your SOS pads and vigorously scrub as much dirt off of the hoof as possible.  You may need to use more than one SOS pad for multiple hooves.  Below is the same hoof after being scrubbed.


Now it is time for the electric sander.  It is important to realize that the hoof cannot be sanded when wet so you must wait until the hooves are completely dry before you start.  If your horse is not used to the sound the sander makes you will need to spend extra time desensitizing him to it before you can start.

First you will start with your course-grained sandpaper and sand away as much of the rings of the hoof and dirt as possible.  You must hold to hoof like a farrier would, with the hoof lifted towards the front of the horse and the leg resting on your leg.  If this is too hard for you to achieve invest in hoof stand so you don’t need to hold the leg up.  It is important to realize that if your horse wears shoes, the nails of the shoe will easily tear apart the sandpaper.  Therefore, it is important to avoid sanding any areas with nails sticking out.

Below is the hoof after sanding with course grain. Because of the obvious rings still apparent you can tell that this hoof is not yet finnnished.


Once you have sanded away all of the rings and dirt from the hoof repeat the process with your fine grained sandpaper.  The fine grain will create a smooth, polished look that the course grain cannot achieve.

At the Show:

Every time you bathe your horse at the show use an SOS pad on the hoofs so they are always clean.  At least an hour before you go into the ring take your horse into an aisle that is free of dirt and clutter, and preferably concrete.  First pick out the hoof like any other day and sweep away the dirt that comes out.  Next, take your sanding block and touch up your hooves sanding away any left over or new dirt.  Take your hoof polish that matches the color hoof you are working with, and carefully wipe the sponge applicator across the coronary band.  Excess polish will drip down the hoof but that is all right.  Continue wiping back and fourth across the hoof until you reach the bottom; make sure not to touch the applicator on the ground or it will become dirty.  Also make sure to view the hoof on the other side to check for any missed spots.  The most common missed spot is the heel.  Now, your horse must stand in the aisle until the hoof is completely dry!  If the hoof is even a little sticky dirt and shavings will stick to it and ruin all of your hard work.

Now your hooves and sanded, polished and show-ring ready!