Good Grooming Tips from the Pros

Go to a top-level show anywhere, and you’ll be struck by the way the horses’ haircoats gleam. How do they get that horse-show glow? Here, four champion trainers share the behind-the-scenes secrets of coat care and pre-show preparation that produce a winning look.

Each trainer has his or her own system, but you’ll find agreement on three key points:

  • Keep that healthy glow. Health and nutrition are the basis of a good haircoat. There’s no way your horse can grow a shiny coat if he’s missing essential nutrients or isn’t dewormed regularly. Halter trainer Mike McMillian puts it this way: “Groom from the inside out.”
  • No cutting corners. Elbow grease is the magic ingredient that brings up the shine. When you care for your horse’s coat every day, pre-show prep is a snap. (Top halter horses are groomed up to three times a day.)
  • Turn off the tap. Keep baths to a minimum. Lots of soapy baths will dry and dull your horse’s coat. Brushing and vacuuming remove dirt while stimulating the skin.Following are the details of each trainer’s program. Armed with this information, you can develop a grooming program to suit your own horse’s needs

Steve and Carol Dal Porto
Their creds:
Steve and Carol Dal Porto have trained more than 100 horses to Appaloosa Horse Club world championships in halter and pleasure. At last year’s World Championship Appaloosa Horse Show, they captured eight world championships and 11 reserves. They also stand four stallions at their Dal Porto Ranch in Brentwood, California.

Mealtime menu: Our horses get crimped oats and alfalfa cubes. Our cubes are made for us in Nevada, which I think has the best hay. They contain 25 percent oat hay and 75 percent alfalfa. Our horses also get stabilized rice bran-which adds fat to the diet and is excellent for their coats-and a general vitamin supplement.

The daily grind: Our horses are fed around 4:30 to 5 a.m., then get to chill out for about 3 hours. After that they get a good rooming with a rubber curry, brush, and vacuum to remove the dead hair and stimulate the oil glands. We keep tails in bags, but take them out every week or so and re-braid them. For halter horses that have been in our program for a while and have nice, short coats, we finish by running down with a little ShowSheen (from Absorbine, 800/628-9653 or 413/737-0201, diluted with water. We use about 3 parts ShowSheen to 1 part water, so it’s not heavy but still repels dirt. (We don’t do this for our riding horses, because the polish tends to leave the coat too slick for tack.) Then they’re exercised. After the workout in spring, summer, and fall, they may go back to the stall in a neck sweat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours to trim down the neck. (We don’t sweat our horses much in winter.) Then they’re groomed again with brushes and curries. They’re also under lights-250-watt bulbs, 16 hours a day-to keep their coats short year-round.

Bath time: We don’t rinse or bath our horses daily-only before shows, using a good-quality shampoo followed by a mane-and-tail conditioner. For halter horses, we finish the bath by applying ShowSheen to the haircoat.

Pre-show prep: Our horses get a pre-show touchup with the clippers-around the muzzle, bridlepath, ears, and legs. We use World Champion Pep coat conditioner (from Style Stable Products, 800/242-4103 or 320/587-3217) to bring up the shine in the haircoat, then apply highlighter around the muzzle and eyes.

Top grooming tip: There are no shortcuts in coat care. It takes time, dedication, and daily work to prepare a horse for show.
Mike McMillian
His creds:
Mike has specialized in conditioning and training halter horses for more than 25 years. His McMillian Quarter Horses, in Gainesville, Texas, has produced a long list of American Quarter Horse Association world champions, futurity winners, and high- point title holders.

Mealtime menu: We feed whole oats and alfalfa hay. In the past, we’ve used a range of powdered and liquid supplements; recently, we switched to a pelleted supplement, Sho’N Win (from Buckeye Feed Mills, Inc., 800/898-9467 or 330/828-2251, that’s giving us good results. Our horses are also dewormed monthly. That may be overkill, but I believe their coats are better as a result.

The daily grind: In the morning, we brush off the horses with a soft brush, then put on neck sweats. Each horse works his prescribed time, then goes back to his stall, with a neck sweat on, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Then the sweat comes off, and he’s allowed to stand and dry in his stall, generally with a sheet on. In the afternoon, the horses get a thorough grooming. We curry with an oval rubber brush, using small circular motions to free up dirt, dried sweat, and dead skin. That’s followed by vacuuming to remove deep dirt and loose hair, and a final brushing, using a soft brush in the direction of the hair growth. We may finish by spraying on MVP Daily Coat Regimen (from Equine Creations, 800/258-7578 or 409/258-7143), a water-based product that repels dirt, and a wipe-down with a towel.

Bath time: Our show horses hardly ever get complete baths. If a horse gets muddy while he’s working, we may hose off his legs and feet, but we usually work horses in polo wraps and bell bots, so this is seldom a problem. We do bathe tails, usually every 10 days to 2 weeks, using a mild shampoo followed by a conditioner. We may shampoo manes as well, if they’re scurfy. But as a rule, our show horses’ manes are pulled short and can be vacuumed clean.

Pre-show prep: The routine doesn’t change much before a show. We clip around the feet and face, then spray coat polish on the tail, and brush it out. We band the mane down tight to help the horse’s neck look longer, and finish with coat polish. Hoofs are sanded smooth and cleaned absolutely free of debris; we may even fill nail hoes with wood filler to get a smooth surface before we blacken and polish.

Right before the horse goes into the ring, we apply highlighter around his muzzle nad eyes. Highlighter makes the eyes seem larger and the head more refined. We generally extend highlighter behind the conrers of the mouth and up the side of the face, which seems to make the head appear smaller.

Top grooming tip: If your horse has a cresty neck, pull his mane so that the lower edge follows a straight line, rather than following the crest of his neck. You’ll create an optical illusion in which his neck appears to be straighter.
Lynn Simons
Hi creds:
Lynn and his wife, Andrea, operate Simons Show Horses in Aubrey, Texas, and have multiple American Paint Horse Association world championships to their credit. Last year, Lynn showed the yearling colt Customized to wins at numerous top events.

Mealtime menu: Most of our horses get crimped oats and alfalfa hay. To entice young ones to eat a little more, we may mix the oats with a little sweet feed, or a 14 or 16 percent protein pelleted feed. They also get a free-choice mineral salt and a liquid vitamin supplement; for our young horses, we like Lixotinic or Vi-Sorbin (both from Pfizer Animal Health, 800/877-6250,

The daily grind: Our halter horses are brushed aggressively in the morning, before they work. Those over 2 years old are put in neck sweats, which they stand in until noon. After the sweats come off, they’re allowed to cool down and dry off. In the afternoon, they’re curried and groomed extensively. We may even go back in the evening and give a horse a third grooming if we’re trying to get his coat into shape. We don’t keeep all our horses’ tails wrapped, but we do wrap those that tend to get stained.

Bath time: I’m not big on routine washing, because it dries the coat, but our Paints with body white do need bathing occasionally, especially right before a show. Any mild shampoo will get the job done. For tails that are badly stained, a brightening shampoo, such as Quic Silver (from Exhibitor Laboratories, Inc., 800/377-7963,, helps; keep in mind that it may take several latherings to get the yellow out.

Pre-show prep: We clip legs 3 to 4 days before a show, to give clipper marks a chance to grow out, an dfaces the day before. Then, just before a horse goes in the ring, we apply hoof polish and a little face highlighter.

Top grooming tip: For the show ring, white markings on the face and legs look best clipped-but with Paints, there’s often the question of where to stop. If a horse has white areas that extend up his leg almost to the shoulder, he looks best to me if the legs are clipped all the way up. Similarly, if a horse has a white face, I clip everything back to the ears with a #10 blade.

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