I went in my very first costume class at our local Bearspaw Fair when I was 6 years old. After watching my family show prior to that, I was excited to join them, and now, over 20 years later, I still enjoy it just as much. That’s why I’m always excited to hear when someone has decided to give showing a try. I know it’s an intimidating prospect, and there are those who, without knowing where to start, never do give it a try. My goal with this article is to try to give those considering jumping into the show ring an idea of what to expect, and what is expected.
For the purposes of this article, our goal is to attend an AMHA sanctioned show and show in a halter class. We have a horse with the appropriate registration, now what?
Let’s start with the final goal. You want to have you and your horse properly turned out and have your horse trained to show to their best advantage.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Getting your horse to look his best goes far beyond “day of” grooming. You need to start at least a couple months ahead, with proper feed and exercise in order to get your horse in peak condition to look his best. Obviously Miniature Horses in general are far more likely to be too fat than too thin, and your program is probably going to be geared towards weight loss and fitness gain. However, halter horses are best shown fit, but certainly not thin. Though a tucked up tummy, refined neck and muscled hindquarter are important, the ribs and backbone should not be visible, and a too thin horse shouldn’t be confused with refinement. Feeding is an art, one which we can’t delve into too far here; feeding requires a separate article of its own. Picking up any horse magazine will prove this point; each issue will generally include at least one article on feeding! Basically, good quality grass hay along with a vitamin mineral supplement is a good place to start, and your ration can be adjusted from there based on your horse’s special needs. A regular de-worming program is also important to maintain your horse’s health. Since conditioning generally starts while our horses are still well camouflaged with thick winter hair, it’s very important to use your hands to feel for condition on a regular basis.
Exercise is also important to gain condition and fit. Depending on your horses fitness, begin with around 10 minutes of exercise (lunging, for instance), several times per week and increase as your horse becomes used to the exercise. The amount and intensity of exercise will depend on your horses age and starting level of fitness. Weanlings and yearlings shouldn’t do excessive amounts of lunging as their joints are still forming and don’t benefit from the stress of constant turning. After basic fitness improves, many people use sweats, neoprene and fleece wraps on the neck, throatlatch, withers or belly to tone these areas further.
In the show ring, there is a basic pattern followed during halter classes which is available in the AMHA rule book. You can request a free copy of the 2008 Rule Book at http://www.amha.com .
Horses are expected to walk, trot, show their teeth (except geldings), and stand and pose for the judge. Practice makes perfect! Just because a horse leads on a halter does not make them ready for a halter class. Your horse needs to walk beside you on a loose line, trot willingly to show off their movement and stand and “show”. Generally, the walking comes pretty easily, it’s the trotting and standing that take a little work!
Sometimes a helper to give a bit of a chase is necessary to get a good trot going, until your horse gets the hang of it. Be sure to stay back beside your horse, at his shoulder, horses don’t take well to being pulled behind you, and without you in front of him he is for more likely to give a good big trot. Horses are led from their left side. Push forward with your right hand on the lead rope close to the halter, cluck or give whatever voice command you have chosen to tell your horse to speed up, and “trot” yourself! Sometimes a whip in your left hand to touch their bum as you do this will help as you are cueing them to trot, but I find another person works far easier! As always when working with horses, repetition and short, frequent training sessions are more effective.
Standing and showing is a large portion of the halter class. Horses are shown “square”, with the front feet and hind feet even with each other and all four legs perpendicular to the ground. Horses who are excessively stretched, with the hind feet out behind the horse, will be asked by the judge to re-set correctly. The horses feet can be positioned using cues from the halter, or they can be “hand set”. Unlike in showmanship class, where you would not be allowed to touch your horse, in halter you may pick up and place each foot. The first step is to learn “whoa”. A horse has to stand without moving his feet for a long period of time in halter classes, and this is the most important thing you can teach them! Once they will stand, start having them stand with their feet where you want them. I find it’s easiest to walk them into position so that the right hind foot is where you want it to be, then set the other three feet around it, beginning with the left hind and then the front feet. This is easy to say, but will take time and patience to get it right. Only once the horse is comfortable with having their feet placed, and with standing still, do you start getting them to “show”.
Halter classes are all about getting your horse to look their best. A large part of that is getting them to “show”, putting their ears forward and stretching their neck to it’s best advantage. The horse needs to stand squarely on their feet, not leaning, and stretch their necks up and out with their ears up. Obviously, the easiest way to get this result involves treats! Find out what your horse likes and use it! Sometimes a combination of treats and something that makes a noise will get their attention, but you don’t want to overuse anything in practice because it won’t be so interesting in the show ring! I’ve had good luck using both loose oats (feed just a few at a time through the class to keep them interested, but not enough so they get distracted by chewing), and large “crunchy” treats (let them taste but be careful not to let them get a hold of it or you’ll lose their attention for a long time while they chew!).
Throughout training your horse to “show”, a second person to look at the horse in profile and tell you when he looking best is very useful. This helps you, from your aspect, learn how best to position the horse so that they are presented to their best advantage, which is our goal in halter classes!
Entering The Show
Be sure to get your entries in on time! Follow the instructions in the prizelist, and be sure to include copies of both sides of your horses papers. Decide which classes to enter. You’ve got your horse trained now for halter classes, and he’ll be there and looking beautiful. There are a number of classes you can enter, in addition to his open class for his height and age division there is an amateur/youth class, colour class, and possibly maiden and novice classes you could enter! If you are entering Amateur (or AOTE) or Youth classes you will need an Amateur or Youth card from AMHA. There is a fee for these, and you can get the form off the AMHA website, or they can be applied for at the show, the show manager will be able to help you out.
While a basic 3 Way (Tetanus, Sleeping Sickness) and West Nile vaccine is sufficient for a horse that has limited or no contact with outside horses, attending a show will significantly increase your horses risk of contracting a disease, their vaccination program will need to be changed to address this risk. All horses attending a show should be vaccinated against Influenza and Rhinopneumentitis, which are respiratory diseases that are extremely contagious and are required vaccinations at many shows. Another vaccine to consider is for Strangles. Contact your veterinarian for the vaccination program they recommend for your area and for your level of contact with other horses.
Obviously, even if your horse is trotting, standing and showing like a pro, without a lot of grooming they aren’t going to look a thing like the horses you see in the Miniature Horse World! With Miniature Horses, most of the grooming involves hair removal, they have far more than they need! Miniature Horses are shown body clipped, and your life will be far easier if you invest in a good quality set of clippers! We like the Wahl KM2 clippers, but Oster and Andis are other quality brand names. A set of pet grooming clippers will be cheaper, but they will not last for you to body clip your horse.
Your horse should be clipped within a week of the show, generally the closer the better. Believe it or not, if you clip any further ahead, your horse will look furry when compare them to the other horses at the show. Horses should be body clipped with a size 10 or 15 blade. Some people are now body clipping with a 30 blade, but we’ve also shown with horses clipped only 8.5. It’s all a question of what you prefer, but chances are anything longer than a 10 and you will arrive at the show thinking your horse is fuzzy compared to the rest. Clipping isn’t fun. It’s itchy and hard work, but your horse will look so great when you’re done! Clip with your blade flat against the horse and always clip against the direction of the hair. Be sure to have a couple sharp blades on hand. Clipping isn’t as bad when you have a blade that’s cutting like it should but with a dull blade it’s awful! Blades also get very hot, and it helps to have a couple blades so you can switch and let one cool completely every so often. You’ll also want to have lots of Cool Lube on had to spray on the blades to keep them running smoothly and cool them down.
Most horses don’t mind being clipped on their bodies, though they can get bored. However, many are touchy about being clipped on their legs, ears or face. Take your time, have lots of help to hold and distract the horse, and if you need to take a break, for your sake or your horses, you can always work on it again later! Don’t worry, your horse won’t be embarrassed if his friends see his half clipped state!
It is important for the sake of your clipper blades and to get a smooth clip that you start with a clean, dry horse. Bathing your horse is good, but be prepared, if it’s your first clip of the year and they have quite a bit of hair they will take forever to dry! We have a cattle blower that works great to blow the dirt out, and some people use a livestock vacuum as an alternative to pre-clipping baths.
Basically, you want to clip all the hair on your horse’s body, as smoothly and neatly as possible. The exceptions are at the top of the tail and base of the mane. To “finish” the tail, clip the hair in a neat inverted “V”, extending from the sides of the tail to a point in the center of his backbone. The length of the V is entirely up to you, from a couple inches to a lot longer, wherever you feel looks best on your horse. Start way wider and longer than you want it and trim a little at a time until you are happy with it. You can use chalk to make guidelines to help you out. At the base of the mane you want it to be neat without excess body hair, but you also want to be very careful to not cut off any mane hair since Miniature Horses are measured at the last hairs of the mane. If I’m clipping a horse that I know is right close to the height limit for their age or height division, I’ll leave a little body hair clipped in the shaped of the base of the mane rather than risk losing any mane hair. This isn’t going to fool anyone into measuring the horse further down the withers, and that’s not the intention; we just want to give ourselves a “margin for error”.
For your bridle path, start by separating the mane from a line drawn horizontally behind the ears, and clipping backwards down the mane. Start with a short section and then get out your comb and decide how much bridle path is going to look best with your horse. Flip sections to the other side of your horses neck and stand back and look until you find the bridle path length that most flatters your horses neck. Remember, you can always decide to take more off later, but you can’t put more on! The length of bridle path that looks best will depend on your horses neck, but quite long bridle paths are common. At the top of the mane, cut the hair at an angle towards the underside of the mane, it will help the mane lay smoothly.
Next is the forelock; the average Miniature Horse has far too much forelock, and it needs to be thinned out so it doesn’t overpower their pretty head or look untidy in the show ring. Don’t trim any length off the forelock, unless it’s really, really long, not until it’s past the end of his nose! Clip the sides of the forelock, in from the corners, to form a diamond shape until the forelock is a more manageable size and lays down nicely.
Many top groomers do more clipping, shorter blades on the legs, underside of the neck, and on the head and ears. Most grooming articles and top trainers would say that the ears need to clipped right out with a 40 blade, and it does look nice. But most horses are not exactly in favour of having their ears clipped, and ours live almost exclusively outside in the bugs and wind, so we clip only the hair that sticks out and shorten the hair in the ear so that it looks neat and tidy. I will often use a shorter blade (a 30 or 40) to clip under the jaw and throatlatch.
It is common practice to shave the muzzle and over the eyes with a razer, to allow the dark skin to show through. I have enough trouble shaving my own legs without drawing blood, so I’m too chicken. I found at a small shaver at Walmart for 13 dollars that clips closer than a 40 blade and makes them nice and neat and allows that dark skin to show once they’ve got their makeup on. Clip or shave the muzzle, including inside the nostrils and every nook and cranny. Go at least as high as the noseband of the show halter. Some people like to make a straight line even with the noseband of the show halter, personally I like to blend as much as possible so it looks more natural. It’s all a matter of preference! The eyelids should be clipped or shaved close as well. Trim the long scraggly eyelashes below the eye, but do your best to leave their upper lashes, though they sometimes get inadvertently trimmed! Look in the Miniature Horse World or on the internet to see how other people have clipped and shaved their horse’s faces, see what you like and give it a try! Practice will make perfect, and remember, hair does grow back!
In halter classes Miniature Horses are almost exclusively shown in Arabian style halters. Your show halter doesn’t have to be especially fancy, but it does need to fit your horses head well. The noseband should be approximately an inch below their cheekbones, but play with it to see where it most flatters your horses head. And do this before the show so that you have time to find a hole punch if you need more holes. Nothing can ruin your horses pretty head like a poorly fitting show halter with the noseband way too far down (or up) on your horses face.
Your horses feet should be trimmed by a knowledgeable farrier shortly before the show. A light grain sandpaper or electric hoof sander clipper attachment can be used to smooth out any ridges, remove stains and give a smooth surface for applying hoof polish. After any sanding is done, a hoof dressing should be applied to keep the foot from losing any moisture. Generally, we use black hoof polish on everything, but if you plan to use clear on white or striped feet more care needs to be taken in sanding and cleaning the hoof. Look carefully at the stripes on your horses feet before deciding to use clear polish. If the stripes aren’t perfectly straight, they could make your horses foot look crooked, even if they aren’t, and covering them up with black polish could be the way to go. You’ll want to apply hoof polish the day of the show, otherwise it might chip or lose its shine. Have some remover on hand, though Baby Wipes take hoof black off white socks remarkably well! Have someone help you by holding the horse, and make sure they stay still while the polish dries or that foot with invariable touch one of the other legs; alternatively, show only black horses, that’ll make this job much easier! Nail polish dryer in a spray can does work on hoof black, but sometimes the spraying makes them move around more anyway!
Okay, now you have a horse that’s looking great, in good shape, well trained, and clipped to show off their best features! Time for the show!
The day before the show, or the morning of depending on what time of day your class is, your horse needs a bath. There are lots of different shampoos and rinses that people will recommend, but so long as your horse is clean and sparkly when you’re done you’re doing fine! If your horse has white markings, invest in a “blue” shampoo to clean white, it does make a difference! After your horse is clean, a product such a Show Sheen or Cowboy Magic Detangler sprayed on the mane and tail will make them easy to comb and keep them from tangling. We also spray Show Sheen on white markings, especially legs, and it makes stains easier to clean off again.
Invest in a slinky hood. It will make your life so much easier! After their bath, stick on the hood, and a light nylon blanket (a sheet), or a full body slinky, to lay down their mane and keep them clean. Braid or bag their tail, especially if it’s white! When you undress them the next day for the show, they will be clean and shiny, and their mane with be laying down and under control! Make sure as you put on the slinky though, that the mane and forelock are smooth, otherwise you’ll have a mess to deal with when you take it off! A full body slinky comes with an attached tailbag that will smooth the top of the tail for you, but otherwise about an hour before the show wet the top of the tail and wrap it with vet wrap to lay down all the little short ends at the top of the tail.
When getting ready to go in the show ring, baby oil gel is your best friend! It can be found in the baby department at Walmart or any drug store, and is used as “makeup”. Use it to smooth any little flyaway hairs along the top of the mane and to slick down the forelock. The forelock can either be smoothed straight down the face or tucked off to the side under the halter, and if you have a particularly rambunctious forelock, use a good hair gel instead! At the last minute, apply the baby oil gel to your horses muzzle and above his eyes where you’ve clipped or shaved it close to apply a shine and draw attention to your horses pretty eyes. Don’t do this too far ahead, you’ll just end up wearing it yourself! Be sure to have some Baby Wipes as well, to wipe your hands and the lead shank before you go in. If your horses eyes and muzzle don’t clip down to dark skin there are horse grooming products available that have a dark tint to use under the baby oil gel. Obviously, not if you have white markings, those just need to be clean. The current trend seems to be moving away from so much “goop” on their faces, so a light shine to highlight the eyes and muzzle is all you need.
Now, what are you wearing in the show ring? You need to look neat and professional, to present a pretty picture for the judge, but not to draw attention away from your horse. Dress pants or new western jeans with a dressy long sleeved shirt or suit jacket/blazer are a safe option. Running shoes wouldn’t be appropriate, western boots or dress shoes are generally worn. Keep in mind that you’ll need some good pockets to keep treats and ear getters in! Also, take a look at your horses colour and get something that flatters it, not clashes. For instance, red would look great with a black horse, but not so good with a sorrel or chestnut. You’ll also have to attach your show number to your back, there are number clips available that slip over your collar and clip onto the number, or plain old safety pins work just fine as well.
Okay, I think you’re ready!
If at all possible, try to watch a previous class to get your bearings and see exactly where everything is happening, where the judges are, where you’re lining up. You’ll feel much more comfortable in your class then! If you’re right at the start of the show and can’t watch, tell the other exhibitors in your class that it’s your first time and you’d really like to go in last, chances are they’ll be happy to oblige!
When you go in the show ring, remember to smile! As far as you’re concerned, you’ve got the best horse there and your job is just to show him to the judges! Try not to be nervous because your horse will pick up on that and be nervous as well, though I know that’s easier said than done! I’m nervous every time I go in the ring, and only in the past couple years do I manage to eat breakfast the day of a show! And no matter what colour ribbons you come out with, you’ve really accomplished something just by getting you and your horse ready to be there!
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, other exhibitors will be happy to help you, and if they don’t have time at that particular moment, they can usually point you to someone who does! And have fun! The best reason to show your horse is the chance to meet so many other people like you who love Miniature Horses!
Nothing in this article is written in stone. There are as many ways to prepare and show a horse as there are people showing horses! Learn from everywhere and everyone you can, then take from it what works for you and you horse.
What you need: