Putting my money where my mouth is

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Nov 30, 2002
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First off, this is ABSOLUTELY NOT a criticism of anyone's approach to show grooming. I respect everyone's right to their own approach and I would appreciate it if everyone does the same.

One person said that they wouldn't show because they didn't want to body clip or bald, and I'd just like to say that there is DEFINITELY more than one approach that works -- please don't miss out on the fun thinking that you have to do something you don't want to do.

I'm still learning, and I know Mingus doesn't look perfect, but in case anyone is interested here's a not-so-quick rundown on what we did and what I feel worked for us. This may be boring or old news to many of you, but it may also help someone new to showing.

My focus is on good nutrition, conditioning and frequent grooming -- essentially enhancing what is already there. We feed Allegra Condition, beet pulp, BOSS, free choice good grass hay and a small amount of grazing. All three of our horses get this, with our yearling colt getting considerably more feed than the adult geldings. A happy, healthy horse is my overriding goal.

Prior to conditioning, Mingus was pleasantly plump. ..just as I wanted him to be. Three weeks before the show we began free lunging him every day for about a half hour and working on setting up and his liberty catch. We should have started earlier on the conditioning, as by showtime he was at a great weight, but still a little soft. He has long, lean muscles and doesn't bulk up, but I think he could stand a bit more definition.

At our county fair in July, he looked good but was setting up with his head too high, and was developing a bulge on the underside of his neck. He is starting to arch his neck more, though I still need to get him to set up as he looks when he's reaching over the fence -- that is amazing. But the change in how he is now holding his neck is already decreasing that unslightly bulge.

Since he is a gelding, I don't feel bad about neck sweating...no one is looking to see what he will throw. I need to do more of this, and I think he needs more than just a throat latch sweat.

About a week before the show, I used a 10 blade to clip his bridle path, under his chin, throatlatch, muzzle and the outsides of his ears (I folded them and only clipped what stuck out), then neatened up his forelock and fetlocks, blending the latter into his legs. I did not body clip (althoug I did a head, neck and leg clip for a March show, I never did body clip him) I was a bit worried that his winter coat would start coming in before our last show, but everything was fine. I brushed him repeatedly to get out any dead hair and dander.

I conditioned his mane and tail several times. His tail is currently shorter than I like, as one of his buddies likes to chew on it...I'll be bagging it in the future. Also, the downside of a "big-horse mane and tail is that it is difficult to fluff that kind of hair...

Two days before the show I began limiting his hay slightly to get rid of the hay belly. He still got the same amount of feed and I bumped up his beet pult a bit to keep him satisfied. I've done this for three shows now and the hay belly has disappeared in time -- looking at the photo, he's much more tucked than I thought.

Before I left for the show I bathed him, braided his tail and angled the end of his bridle path, slightly undercutting his mane, but keeping the rest of it natural. I don't like overly long bridle paths, yet I wanted the judge to see his neck, so I styled it to lay back against his crest before laying down against his neck!

I trimmed his muzzle again, using a 15 to let the dark skin show through without balding. I blended this into the rest of his face, which was not clipped at all. (I have to 'fess up to a couple of chop marks where my tapering did not go so well)

The morning of the show I brushed him thoroughly, for relaxation as well as to polish his coat. I tend to have tunnel vision when on a deadline, so I made a point to relax and reward him frequently, not just to plunge on ahead. I applied black shoe polish to his hooves, then a coat of clear hoof polish. I prefer more of a matte finish to high gloss, but find that the shoe polish alone comes off too easily. Have to work on this part...a neighboring exhibitor at the show told me that Krylon artist's fixative is the exact same stuff as hoof polish and comes in matte, but I don't want to risk him breathing the fumes.

After combing out his mane and tail, I applied Shine, a pommade that adds hold and (obviously) shine to his mane and forelock...this stuff works great without being goopy. His mane was not plastered down. I then sprayed a very light touch of mink oil to his black legs and tail to enhance them, then sprayed some on my hands and applied it very lightly to his muzzle, so that it was rich and black without the patent leather look. His coat is so shiny as to nearly look wet, so nothing was needed there, but in the future I might use a touch of baby powder to bring less attention to the angle of his croup.

Just before leaving for the show ring, I wiped his coat down with a clean towel and stuffed a couple of baby wipes into my pocket. Then before entering the ring, I wiped his hooves clean.

He ended up with 3 reserve championships, including Supreme Reserve Champion Gelding, Over, so I feel that our approach worked pretty well. I don't claim that this is a totally natural approach, but I stuck with what I want to do and what I believe best compliments my horse.

Since, as I said, I am putting my money where my mouth is, I welcome all criticisms and comments on what you might have done differently. I hope this is useful for someone.

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Susanne there is much merit in what you have sharred and what you are doing to enhance Mingus. Obviously you are on the right track and Mingus has made us all very proud. Some may need reminding that Mingus was never intended to hit the show ring and is a "rags to riches" story that unfolded right before our eyes. He's come a long way baby.

I would just like to address the lack of your body clipping Mingus and my thoughts on that.

I will hold firmly and say that if you are body clipping, on some horses, despite the blade size or time that you do it, it will change their coloration and sometimes, not for the better.

I will also say that some horses here of mine are simply and naturally slick as snot in the summer and do not require it. Others very much do.

Case in point: Here is Baby Chrissy, you know, the one that sucks my knees and will clean your clock?

When she is body clipped, she looks horrid. Her color turns that of a diaherra mustardy dull dull brownish orangish and stays that way until the following year. It does me no good to body clip her.

This is her without being clipped. Just natural. Now why would I want to zap off a coat like that?

I think you have great techniques with Mingus!

Because of your success stories, I decided to show Dealer in his summer coat. He looks pretty darned good to me...


Marty, You are so right about different horses needing different approaches depending upon their coats, coloring, and many individual traits -- not only do people need to follow their own preferences, but they need to look at each of their horses individually.

I realize that not all minis shed out well or for very long (Thelonius gets about a week -- his summer coat is lovely, but if you blink you miss it!), and that Mingus fits well into my stubborn preferences, LOL!

Baby Chrissie is absolutely gorgeous, and it would be a travesty to lose that color!
Thanks, Jamie,

Dealer looks great and his color is magnificent! I think outdoor shows were made for red horses!
Susanne thank you so much for that post!
Thank the rest of you too for your helpful responses. I intend to start showing my girls next spring and I truly worried about just how far I needed to go to best present my horses. You ladies just took that worry away! So this newbie is more than grateful.

Oh and one last thing. You all have lovely horses and I can see why you are proud of them. Thanks for sharing.
Your horses all look lovely in their natural coats.
Goes to show, some horses really do look better without being body clipped. Mary
Good for you Susanne - stick to your guns!

I have a friend Nicolette that began to show her 14 year old stallion on the AMHA/AMHR circuit in Northern CA and at Central Point this year. She's another elbow grease and great feeding girl and won't body clip. She's rightfully proud of her horse condition too!

Desperado glows from the attention and the only clipping she does is the clean up the extra long hairs under his jawline, feather on the feet, cleans up ears (more than you, but nothing severe!), and lightly his muzzle, bridle path (a very short one).

He's done quite well, taking Reserves and Championships as a senior stallion, and generally places in color as a Top Ten.

She's coming this weekend to bag my horses tails for 2006, her Desperado has an awesome tail! She'll be showing her stallion and a couple of mares in 2006, mostly AMHR as we're having loads of fun with that!
Michelle, That is so great to hear that Nicolette is showing Desperado at 14 -- there are so many beautiful horses that are never shown beyond the age of 3 or 4, and I think that's a terrible shame. I just got off the phone with a friend who is talking about showing her older stallion, who is an absolutely glorious guy.

I think we need to have more opportunities to show horses "of a certain age." They may not compare in muscle tone with the young lions and lionesses, but they are still beautiful and they deserve the attention.
Thanks, susanne, for showing us there is more than one way to "skin a cat." *LOL*

Or rather, "not to skin a horse" as some might put it.

I myself love the ultra clipped face and the look of lightly oiled skin on the muzzle and over the eyes, but I do not intentionally take eyelashes off.

I would rather show in natural coats at some times, but most of the time my horses have too much fuzz to show them properly. I did show Cherry Bomb one year in her natural coat in driving, but I wished I wouldn't have as it was an unseasonal 96 that day in Elma, and she was sweating over just a few minutes in the ring.

Ah, well!

Mingus looks good and your efforts pay off!

As for the Krylon, you could probably get away w/applying it outdoors in well ventilated settings and be fairly safe, I would think.

Liz M.
This is Rabbit in one of his paddocks, unclipped, at age 25


This is him at a Show, last year, a few weeks after the top photo.


I used to clip him to the skin, now I truly wonder why I did it- who on earth would wish to lose that glorious colour??
I love this thread, Thank you for starting it!

All the horses look terrific.

Mingus looks smashing!

I would enjoy turning my horses out like that the way we did as kids when we took our ponies to pony shows. We spent hours making them look their best but we did it all with brushes and elbow grease!

Just goes to show everyone has different taste, Thank goodness!!
I admire the work that goes into showing an unclipped horse. The months of grooming and blanketing to get that winter coat shed out and that slick summer coat that doesn't stick straight out. We aren't willing/able to do that and still have them out "being horses" for most of the year. Of course, it's a little different, climate wise, from here to Marty in Tennessee with her beautifully shed out Chrissy! She's a beautiful colour!

Of course it varies horse to horse as well, Zac looks wooly 4 days after he's clipped, cause his hair sticks straight out, but Image just needs to be clipped once in the spring and then we only clean up his head and legs after that because he has "horse" hair that lays down nicely.

Susanne, Mingus looks great, as always, I don't think anyone would fault his grooming in any way. I would've probably clipped over his eyes with the 15 and oiled them as well, I love how it makes their eyes look with a little shine over top, but then, that's my preference, doesn't have to be yours!
My gelding Mr. Move It has been shown since he was a yearling he is now seven and still showing strong. He still places 1st and 2nd consistently in driving, hunter and jumpers. I really don't do halter with him much more because I did get a better halter horse. When I did do halter he will place 4th or 5th in large classes still.

Gelding are great.
I'm so glad someone started this thread. I really wanted to ask about this last night, but since I have shetlands, not minis, I thought there might be a difference. I'm not trying to pick a fight or anything, I'm genuinely curious. I was wondering if mini folks had tried the old school "Pony Club" grooming to develop show coats before going to clipping. I grew up being taught that any horse can be made slick, with enough elbow grease. I do think that clipped horses looked well turned-out, but some of the colors are really changed, and that natural sheen can be lost.

To get my Shetland ready to show, I spent literally HOURS each day grooming. At least two hours with the zoom groom and the slick n easy blocks. I went through about a block a week. I still have tennis elbow from it, but I had some impressive biceps from all the zoom grooming! Then another hour or two with natural fiber brushes. No I'm not exaggerating; I was out in the barn until 11 at night grooming this pony. This all started 3 months before the show, which is when I started her conditioning too. 2 months before the show, she was brought in the barn (to keep from fading, and getting nicks and scratches) and had a light sheet on her to help get her slick. After the summer solstice, we put up lights so she had light at least 12 hours a day to prevent the winter coat from getting any ideas. Over this period of time she was gradually changed from grass hay only to less & less grass hay, increasing the Equine Senior & adding oats. A few days before the show, I clipped her lower legs, jawline and bridle path with a 10. I also used a 10 on her ears, but didn't clip to the skin; I just squeezed her ears closed, and whatever what sticking out got clipped. We have the little gnats here, so I didn't want to get her ears too clean. I did use a 30 on her muzzle, but I don't think I went as high as I've seen some of the mini's done, I just did where the whiskers grow. She had some long guard hairs on the underside of her neck, and my paint-horse friend showed me how to singe them off, which made me really nervous, but Sassy didn't even seem to notice it.

This was for an open show, and Sassy showed against Saddlebreds, full-sized Pintos, Welshes, I don't know what all was in the "Light Horse Class", but she was by far the smallest. I knew she'd have to be groomed to the nines to be noticed. I should also mention that Sassy LOVED being the barn princess and all the grooming. We bonded so much that summer. Grooming was such a peaceful, almost zen, time. But notice I haven't gone to a show since. It WAS a lot of work!

Here's an 'after' shot:

Eeeegads! big giant picture, sorry, I'll remove it.
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No one MUST body clip....
....but, in some circles the shows begin so early that you would need to attempt to keep winter coat off all year. Personally, I believe that is why the clipping is used even at a farm where they might like to try the natural coats. Several of mine shed out so nicely and have such tight coats that I'd only do the trims & makeup areas for summer shows....but they have a look of 1" long velvet all winter
So, a March show just couldn't be done.

Personally, I prefer the unclipped coat, if truly slick! Sure saves on blades

As to ages of show horses -- ok, there isn't one, so long as the horse looks good. Two of my very best show animals were begun at 7 & 12 yrs of age. Often, the reason you don't see the aged animals is because of their being 1) breeding and 2) more work concerns for conditioning. Mine were wonderful to work and it did not interfere with their breeding. But, it did take some pre-planning and extra handling to accomplish all at the same time. When a farm has the young ones that "have nothing to do but mature"
, it's easier to use them to show and just let the breeders be a horse.
Bess, I definitely understand that different coats and different climates require different approaches, and I'm not trying to pressure anyone not to clip -- just encouraging those who don't want to clip and showing that it can be done.

Again, I just want to see people do what is right for them and not feel forced to do it one way or not show.
Thank you so much for starting this thread. Deep down there are parts of me that would love to enter a show ring again, but the thought of clipping really puts me off. When we showed the goats it was really big to clip and they did look all spiffy when done well, however the nuisance of blanketing and bug spraying and watching the poor beggars freeze there butts off inspite of our best efforts made us quit and go to showing in full coats only taking off the rough edges. We still walked to the front of the line nearly every time and we were ALL much happier for it.

I realize it's not quite the same thing and that a goat doesn't put on the coat a mini does, however I don't think I could ever bring myself to body clip another animal without a VERY good reason and for me a trip to the show ring isn't a good enough one.

Not a criticism for those who do do it, just my own opinion.
This is a great topic! Susanne I really enjoyed your post about the Oregon State Fair and showing Mingus. I think he looks wonderful, toned and slick. It's obvious you've spent a great deal of time training and conditioning.

I, too, think that a great coat comes from the proper feed and nutrition. A little oil or show sheen just enhances that look. I have seen other horses that were not clipped.......just groomed to the nines.....and they have been winners in the show ring.

One reason we do clip our horses for shows is that we have two red roans, one solid and one a red roan pinto. If they were not clipped for a show, their coats would never show the beautiful silvery pinkish color they really are. Their normal summer coat never gets that color and in the winter the guard hairs are red!

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