5 Tips to Get Your Horses Show-Ready with Max Corcoran

Girl wears a big hat with AEquestrian embroidered in blue

By Erin Lassere, AEquestrian

One of the first things we are taught as equestrians is how to groom a horse. We are all familiar with the basics: curry thoroughly, make sure the hooves are picked out, and use fly spray. However, when it comes to sporthorse management and preparing for competitions, the topic goes beyond just brushing off dirt. Having groomed at multiple Olympic Games, World Championships, and 5* competitions, Max Corcoran has extensive experience on the topic. Max has offered some of her tips and tricks for getting horses to look and feel show-ready.

1. Make the Trip Easy for Your Horses

Your competition weekend does not start when you arrive at the show. It starts when you load your horses into the trailer. Making your horse comfortable while traveling is imperative. When your horses feel good, they perform better.

⭐If it is very hot, ensure that your horses are properly hydrated before and during the trip. Offer water when you stop.

⭐It is a good idea to steam your hay as well, or at least to wet your hay nets. This not only assists with hydration, it also reduces dust in the trailer.

⭐During the summertime, traveling at night helps with temperature management, along with reduced traffic.

⭐Make sure to allot enough time at stops to allow your horses to put their heads down. You can do this by coaxing them with a carrot! This is imperative to preventing shipping fever, especially on long trips.

2. Treat the Show Like Home

Our horses are very aware of the fact they are in a new place at competitions. Especially at big venues, where there are a lot of people and a big atmosphere, horses can feel the excitement. The best way to make them feel comfortable is to incorporate as much of their regular routine as possible. 

⭐At competitions, try to feed your horses on the same schedule they follow at home. 

⭐If your horses are accustomed to frequent turnout, make sure you take them on walks and let them graze if it’s possible. However, try to avoid walks at night. This can be dangerous, especially if you are in an unfamiliar place. Generally, your horses will prefer being in their stalls at night. 

⭐You should allow time for your horses to just “be horses.” When there is a lot of excitement and energy in the air, they will benefit from quiet time alone in their stalls.

3. Carry the Essentials

It happens all the time: our horses look picture-perfect when they are leaving their stalls, but become magnets for dust in the warm up ring. Keep the essentials on you to provide that final polish before your horses enter the ring or jog strip.

⭐Baby oil works very well to clean eyes and noses.

Coat conditioner is vital for providing that extra shine before your horses compete.

⭐Using hoof oil is also an important touch; glossy hooves can really pull the whole picture together!

Witch hazel, in addition to having antifungal properties, can be helpful for making coats shiny. Simply spray it onto a towel and wipe your horses down.

⭐Make sure to also “remove the stall from the tail”… shavings and hay do not belong in the show ring.

4. Become a Braiding Expert

You and your horse could be turned out beautifully, with a gleaming coat, pristine quarter marks, and spotless tack, but sloppy braids can spoil the entire look. Braiding is no easy task, but there are some tips to make you a master of the trade.

⭐Practice makes perfect. The more hours you put in, the tighter and more attractive your braids will be.

There are an abundance of products available to make the process less complicated.

Quic Braid works well to take stray hairs and to provide your fingers with extra grip.

⭐Braiding with waxed thread is a great way to ensure your braids are beautiful and will stay put throughout the day. If you are new to braiding with thread or struggle with it, you could use it in combination with rubber bands.

⭐You should keep essentials such as a pulling comb, scissors, and a regular comb in your braiding kit.

⭐If you find yourself struggling even after these tips, it is helpful to focus on the spacing of your braids. From far away, no one will be able to tell if the braids themselves aren’t perfect, but they will be able to see if the braids are spaced evenly!

⭐It is favorable to braid the morning of the competition, but if you must do it the night before, use a sleazy to keep the braids in place.

Black and white photo of Max Corcoran braiding Mr. Medicott's mane at a competition

5. Always Be Prepping

You hear the expression that it is best to work with a clean slate, but that does not exactly apply to grooming horses. A mane that has never been pulled and a tail that has never been washed will not miraculously become impeccable on competition day. You should properly manage them at home.

Pulled manes tend to be easier to braid. If the mane is too thick or too thin, it may make it difficult to achieve the proper tightness in your braids. If the horse can tolerate it, use a regular pulling comb, but scissors can work as well. Pull upwards and roll as if you were using a pulling comb, then cut diagonally. This eliminates the bowl cut look that you get when cutting straight across the mane with scissors.

⭐Another way to prepare the mane for competitions is to avoid washing it soon before braiding. A slightly dirtier mane provides more grip, and tends to be easier to handle when braiding!

⭐In order to keep tails full and healthy at competitions, reduce the amount of times you brush through them at home. Pick out hay and shavings, but try not to run a comb through the tail daily.

⭐If you have horses with naturally thin tails, try massaging their docks to stimulate blood flow. This can encourage tail growth.

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