The showing season is off again and we went to our first proper show this week. We had a good day and now have a couple of championship wins in hand, two second places and a very satisfying third place with one of the younger horses. It is an exciting season ahead of us with one or two new horses and some more in the pipeline.
As usual we are getting ourselves organised, checking everything twice and making sure everybody is prepared for each show so hopefully we can avoid anything going wrong. However, if you are showing horses mistakes are inevitable! People have asked me over the years what top show riders do when things go wrong and how to avoid common mistakes. My mantra with most things is practice, patience, be organised and learn from your mistakes. However, I have listed here some things I have learnt over the years that I hope might help.
I have started with some common turnout issues that can be avoided.
Before you start merrily trimming and thinning your horse’s mane consider you are going to have to plait and how much mane you have to work with. Think about and what type of plaits you will need for the confirmation of your horse’s neck and how to show it off best.
If your horse has a big strong neck and you need larger plaits don’t over trim or thin too much. If your horse has a naturally thin mane shorten it by back combing and just take the edges and straggly bits off.
If you have a horse with a particularly thin mane, you are better off letting if grow a bit longer so you can roll a bit more mane into each plait.
If bigger plaits are required and you simply don’t have enough mane there are some other things, you can do to help. If possible, take some hair from a horse with the same or similar coloured mane if you have access to one. If I need a plait down near the withers, I often use a hair net to give it bit more body and of course there are very good false plaits on the market these days.
You need to be forward thinking and remember sometimes through the winter rugs can rub. I don’t have an up the neck rug on a horse that has a particularly thin mane or one that gets rubbed out easily. Just be aware of what is going to happen, and it will save you a lot of hassle later on.
Forelocks are often difficult to handle because they can be sparce. If that is the case, don’t cut a path at the top of the horse’s mane. Let the top of the mane grow so you can utilise it by pulling it forward onto the forelock and making a bigger plait.
Trimming & Clipping:
It is now necessary to be careful how you trim your horse because whilst you can trim the ears if you also plan to take part in dressage competitions you can not trim their whiskers off. Nobody is going to penalise you for keeping the whiskers or eyebrows on your horse but you do need to read the rules because some shows will insist that whiskers are kept on.
When clipping your horse, if you intend to turn it out with a rug on it might be worth investing in a bib to go under the rug. There is nothing worse than the shoulders being rubbed for the first few shows because they have been moving around in a rug and rubbing.
Don’t clip your horse too late because you don’t want to interfere with their spring/summer coat coming through properly. If you haven’t clipped already it is getting a bit late to clip now other than a grey. We tend to keep our greys clipped all year.
I am very careful when we first trim our horses particularly those with white legs as they can be susceptible to mud fever. I keep my horses’ legs trimmed all year as it is easier to keep an eye on mud fever or any other issues on the legs – you can see much more and deal with things quickly.
I prefer to wash my horse’s legs at night and clean all the mud off then thoroughly dry them before putting them in for the evening. This is particularly important if you have a horse with lots of feather because otherwise you can’t see what is going on and before you know it, it is almost too late to deal with any problems. Be careful if you are putting chalk on feathers as it can dry out the scabs and make them worse. Be very aware of what is going on, almost more so with horses with plenty of feather because it is easy for it to get infected.
We pull all our horse’s tails to really show off their confirmation nicely, but some people prefer to plait tails, particularly youngsters who may be more sensitive. This is a personal preference.
Don’t be tempted to cut the length of your horses tail until you have seen someone riding it or had it on the lunge so you can asses how it carries its tail. You don’t want to cut it too short!
We tend to cut ours in line with the chestnut on the inside of the hind leg – that is a good pointer but if a horse carries its tail very high you may have to make allowances for that. If the tail looks a bit straggly, they often look a bit better shorter.
There are wonderful false tails on the market now but some of the disciplines have regulations that say you can’t enhance so check the rules before you do this.
It is important to remember in the grand scheme of things if something does go awry there is always the next time and as they say, “every day is a school day”. Never forget why we show horses in the first place – if something goes wrong, it doesn’t have to take away from the fact you are doing what you love.
Good luck to everyone for the season ahead!