Grooming: Make the best first impression

Grooming: Make the best first impression

Presenting yourself and your horse in the best possible light wows the judges and boosts your confidence too. We talk to experts NAF and Smart Grooming for their tips on tip-top turnout.

For the event horse, making a good first impression is essential. Whether you’re coming down the centre line, leaving the start box or preparing for the show jumping phase, being immaculately turned out is important.

For immaculate grooming, there are no secret ingredients or magic wands; it all comes down to attention to detail. Leave nothing to chance and no stone unturned. When so much time, effort and patience has gone into your training, make sure competition grooming preparation is also high on your priorities so your turnout matches your performance.

Competition turnout will be much quicker and efficient on the day if you have a daily grooming routine in place. Rubbing your horse down daily with a rubber curry comb will loosen hair, scurf and dirt, while regular hot clothing will lift out loose hair and dirt from the rub down. Use hot water with antibacterial solution to help lift the dirt. Dip in a cloth, such as a tea towel, wring out and then firmly rub your horse’s body, regularly refreshing the cloth in the water. Once dry, brush your horse off with a body brush or flick brush and curry comb to remove the last of the loose hair and dust. Then use a rolled-up towel to rub the coat to polish.

If your horse is looking in need of a tidy-up, it’s time to get the trimmers and scissors out, but be careful to avoid the whiskers. The following are the key areas to trim.

  • Bridlepath: This will enable your bridle to sit neatly between your horse’s mane and forelock; make sure they never get any wider than two fingers’ width.
  • Jawline: Sharpen up the appearance of your horse’s head to make it look more striking by trimming under the jaw and chin.
  • Ears: Trim straight down the front of the ears. n Legs Remove excess feather on your horse’s lower legs. Follow the lay of the hair so the cut doesn’t look so harsh.
  • Tail: Show jumpers’ tails are usually left unpulled with the bottom trimmed straight. When cutting your horse’s tail, consider how high he carries it.

Before an event

The week before an event, ensure your horse has been trimmed up, tail tidied and cut to the correct length with a nice straight finish, and mane thinned and tidied to make plaiting as easy as possible.

After exercise, wash off with a good conditioning shampoo, massaging in well, then apply a detangler to the tail and dry overnight without brushing it through – by waiting until the tail is dry, the brush will go through much more easily. Always start brushing from the bottom of the tail and work your way up, gently teasing out knots.

Competition day

For event-day finishing, wash your horse’s legs as close to your presentation time as possible to keep them clean. Touch up any unwanted white hairs with human hair dye and apply purple shampoo or whitener to white socks. If applying chalk, rub in well.

Hoof oil can be sticky and collects dust and dirt, so apply just before you enter the ring.

Plaiting with thread is the best option. Big plaits with even sizing will add more top-line and you can add false plaits to a thinning mane at the bottom by saving the mane from ‘pulling’ and adding it into the bottom plaits.

Keep a microfibre cloth or shining mitt handy to pick up any dust from the coat as a last-minute touch-up. Use baby oil or a gloss around the eyes and muzzle and under the tail to add shine.

Quarter markers can really make your horse stand out and a fabulous, clean shiny coat will give the best results. Keep the coat lying flat and add a little water to the coat using a body brush, but do not saturate. Finishing or quartermarking sprays are great for good definition, but avoid using on cross country day as they can clog pores and lead to the horse overheating. Free-hand work looks best, so try using a fine-tooth comb and a firm, small body brush.

Photo: Smart Grooming

Event day: Smart Grooming’s guide to your must-have products

  • Silicon-finishing spray, such as Ultra – makes plaits shine.
  • Plaiting wax – keeps flyaway manes under control.
  • Stain remover spray – gets rid of last-minute stubborn marks.
  • Separate competition grooming/turnout kit – keep clean specifically for events.
  • Hand towels – have at least two to hand for emergency wipe overs for horse and rider.
  • Folding steps or block – for standing on for plaiting and unplaiting.
  • A plaiting apron – ideal to keep everything in one place.
  • Quick Unpick – a speedy way to unplait. Cut the thread, hose the mane down and the plaits will start unravelling.
  • Coat conditioning spray and a fleece mitt – perfect for giving a quick buff over and shine.
  • Hoof oil – a solid type will ensure no spillage.
  • A wash-off lotion that contains witch hazel and essential oils – helps with cooling and bruising


“Make sure the grooming kit is clean so dirty brushes are not reused on clean coats. Either keep a set of brushes for using on competition days or ensure the everyday set is washed and clean. To get white socks extra-white, we use Smart Grooming Leg and Body Whitening Powder – just sponge on to wet legs after washing, leave to dry and brush off.” AMY FERRIS, HEAD GIRL TO MIKE AND EMMA WINTER AT WAYFARER EVENTING

“We use NAF Silky Mane & Tail D-Tangler on a daily basis for the horses as it makes it super-easy to brush through their tails and stops the hair from splitting. On event days we also use it on a wet brush to do our quarter marks as it makes the coat shiny!” LAURA COLLETT, RIDER

“Apply a good-quality tail detangler to a freshly washed tail and brush through carefully. This will make it really quick to brush through on the competition morning. Plaiting wax is also a game changer. Quick and easy to use and it helps keep the flyaways down for a smooth finish.” BECCA NICHOLSON, HEAD GIRL TO BRAZILIAN RIDER, MARCIO JORGE

This feature was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of British Eventing Life magazine.