How To Groom Your Horse for Competition (Step-by-Step Guide)

by Michelle Drum March 15, 2021 5 min read

woman grooming horse

When you’re preparing for a competition, it’s time to up your horse-grooming game! You’re not only judged for your horsemanship skills and your horse’s abilities, but also on your appearance. Grooming your horse is an important activity, both when you’re preparing for a show and at any time — it helps your horse feel better as well as look better. Learn all you need to know to groom your horse for competition in this detailed guide.

The Importance of Grooming

Grooming is a great bonding experience for both of you. It’s an excellent way to spend time with your horse while taking care of him or her. Think of it as a regular spa day for your horse.


Regular grooming helps to keep your horse in top shape and provides an early warning if your horse has any issues requiring medical care. Grooming removes dirt, loose hair, and sweat from your horse’s hooves, coat, mane, and tail. It also increases your horse’s circulation and oil production in the skin, resulting in a shiny coat and a healthy horse.

When To Groom

Grooming your horse before riding is an essential tip for horse care. Horses can get sore and irritated when ridden without being properly groomed, as dirt and sweat can accumulate under their saddle, causing discomfort and even sores. And don’t forget proper hoof care, which is also critical for your horse. You’ll want to be sure to remove any stones, caked mud, sticks, or other small objects with a pick, then brush the hooves and do a visual inspection to make sure the hooves and shoes are in good condition.


It’s a good idea to groom before and after you ride your horse. This helps to keep him or her clean and ensure no irritations are developing. Even if you’re short on time, don’t skimp on the pre-ride grooming from tip to tail before you saddle up your horse. Also, make sure to pick the hooves after you ride, as hoof care is so critical.

Grooming for Horse Shows

Your horse should get special treatment before a competition. A week or a few days before the show is an excellent time for body clipping and mane pulling. You can easily do these activities in advance when you have more time so it’s a positive experience for you and your horse. 

Bathe your horse a day or two before the show. Do any touch-up clipping needed on the muzzle, ears, and bridle path. If your discipline calls for braiding the tail, you can do that the day before if your horse will leave it in. Otherwise, wait until the morning of your show. If you have time on the day of your show, you can save the remaining grooming and do it then. But if you know you won’t have time, complete it the day before and do a touch-up on the day of the competition.

How To Groom a Horse

Grooming is such an important activity that you want to be sure not to miss anything. Here are the steps to groom your horse correctly any time you ride.

1. Curry Your Horse 

Start by brushing your horse with a soft curry comb to loosen any caked mud and debris from his coat. Brush in a circular motion over the entire body, taking care around the bony areas of his legs, shoulders, and hips. While you do this, look for any wounds or skin lesions. 

2. Brush Your Horse

Use a stiff brush to get rid of the coarser dirt the curry comb missed. Start on one side and move around the horse to whisk out the dirt from its coat. Make sure to brush your entire horse and check for any irritations or wounds while you do it. 

3. Use a Soft Brush

After you brush your horse with a stiff brush, you’ll next use a soft brush or finishing brush. These brushes have shorter and softer bristles that are great for increasing the shine in your horse’s coat. They can also be used on your horse’s face if you don’t have a special brush for that. Use gentle, sweeping strokes, brushing around the face, ears, throat, and entire body. Your horse’s coat should look nice and glossy after this step. You can apply a grooming spray if you like; just avoid the saddle area, as it can make the hair slippery and cause your saddle to shift. 

4. Clean Your Horse’s Hooves

Pick and brush the hooves, and make sure there are no sticks or stones lodged. While you do this, check the state of the hooves and shoes to make sure they are in good shape. Look for any injuries, cracks in the hoof walls, and signs of thrush. 

5. Comb Out the Mane and Tail 

When you comb out your horse’s mane, make sure you’re gentle. You can use showsheen or a detangler in the tail to make brushing easier (but avoid the mane since it will make braiding difficult.) Start at the bottom of the strands and brush downward in sections until you can comb the entire mane from top to bottom. When you do this, pull the tail gently over to you while standing on one side. And be careful in case your horse kicks!

If you pulled the mane already, simply run a comb through your horse’s mane and tail. When you’re preparing for competition, it’s also a good idea to use a grooming spray to leave it clean and shiny.  

6. Clean the Muzzle, Eyes, Ears, and Dock Area

Use a damp soft cloth or sponge to wipe around your horse’s muzzle and eyes, checking for any signs of redness, swelling, or excessive tearing. Slowly check the ears for any dirt or lodged seed heads, as some horses can be fussy about having their ears handled. Then, use the cloth to wipe around the tail head and dock. Before you enter the arena, run a clean rag over your horse’s face to remove any sweat or dirt.

Best Horse-Grooming Tools

There are a lot of different horse-grooming tools you may want to use with your horse, but these are the tools you will need at a minimum: 

Grooming Your Horse for Competition

You may be thinking, “Isn’t this similar to how I regularly groom my horse?” The answer is yes. When preparing for competition, you’ll want to give your horse a bath, take some extra care, and add some additional finishing touches. But the majority of the grooming you’ll do in preparation for competition is the same as what you should do every time you ride your horse.


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