Shhhh…. Show groom secrets

How do pro grooms get their steeds so sparklingly clean? That’s classified information. We tied Allison Mitkowski to a chair and tickled her until she spilled her guts.

From Allison:

Every good show groom has a few secrets up their horse-slobbered sleeve, whether they groom for an Olympic rider or for school shows. As a trainer, rider and groom I picked up my fair share of secrets to help score me a few extra points in the show ring. These secrets are merely shortcuts and are nothing compared to the number one major secret that all good grooms know: a bunch of elbow grease (sadly not purchased at your local tack shop).

Getting Those Whites Even Whiter!

Anybody who has a horse with ANY white on them knows the difference a brilliant white marking can make. They also know how hard it is to keep those whites looking sparkling clean throughout a horse show. Here are a few tip on getting whites clean, making them stand out, and keeping them that way!

Blue Shampoo: A shampoo with a blue or purple tint made either specifically for white horses or even for older women with graying hair (Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing) not only removes stains but also adds a bit of the tinted blue/purple color to reflect light and make the whites even brighter.

Baby Powder: Once legs dry, apply a coat of baby powder to the white markings to add more white color and to set the work the tinted shampoo has done. The baby powder will also help keep whites white as it deflects dirt and discoloration. Apply another quick coat of baby powder before entering the ring for that added whiteness.

Orvus Shampoo: If you have really dirty white markings this is the shampoo you want to use. It’s basically industrial strength and gets the dirt that is really deep down out. It is in a concentrated gel form and you need only to apply a small amount. Let it sit for a few minutes to do its job and then wash thoroughly. This will remove deep-down stains and leave legs perfectly white.

Touch Up Spray:Touch up spray such as Shapley’s is a white aerosol spray that you simply spray on white marking to cover up discoloration. I like to use this as my eraser right before entering the show ring. If there is any discoloration on white markings before showing simply aim the can where you want it, spray, and a white chalky layer will cover the blemish.

Baking Soda: Baking soda mixed with water will also help scrub those whites clean. The baking soda helps to lift the stains and also is slightly abrasive and helps scrub away dirt.

Whisk: Whisk, yes the laundry detergent, is a great whitening “shampoo.”  Just mix a capful in a large bucket of water and apply to a wet horse. Make sure to rinse well and not use too often as this may be drying to skin. It has optical brighteners built in that reflect light, making the horse look brighter. As always with any non-horsey product do a patch test and wait 24 hours for reaction to make sure the product is safe for your horse and he won’t have an allergic reaction.

What To Do With Tails?

Tails are a whole different ballgame. They are often knotted and as we all know each hair is precious and we never want to pull one out. Washing them is the most difficult part of a horsey spa day and getting them looking clean and shiny can be a challenge. Here are a few secrets to wrestling tails.

Pledge: Believe it or not, this lemony wood cleaner works as a cheap and great tail detangler and adds brilliant shine all while repelling dirt. I like using it because it is not a silicone based product which tends to end up attracting dirt. Just spray it on the tail as needed to come through tangles and when finished spray an extra coat to prevent the attraction of dust–voila, you have a tail that stays clean and tangle-free!

Bleached-out tails: It’s so horrible to have that tail that is a beautiful color up top but down in the skirt looks bleached out. Here’s the secret for that: Hair dye! Now, there are a few rules to dying your horses tail with dye meant for humans. Do not touch the dye to the actual tail bone as you may get an allergic reaction. Also, just as with humans, don’t use the dye too often as it can be drying and damaging to the horses hair. Usually we reserve tail dying for large classes at ‘A’ and ‘AA’ horse shows. Always do a strand test by dying just a few strands with the dye and waiting 24 hours to see if there is a reaction. Match the dye as close as possible to your horses hair and if your use a “fake” tail bring it to the store to match the dye to it. Overall the dye will help give your horses tail a fresh and clean look.

The Tail Bucket: The Tail Bucket is a newer product from Horse Spa that is basically a bag that you insert your horses tail into, securing it around the top of the tail, and insert a small amount of water into. This product really allows you to work product (whether it be shampoo, conditioner or color) into the tail and get all the dirt out while leaving the bather surprisingly dry and clean (imagine that!).

Oxi Clean: For those nasty off-white tails try mixing up a small dose of Oxi Clean and some water in a bucket and soaking the tail in the combination. Just as the Oxi Clean lifts stains out of clothes it seems to do the same to yucky stained white and grey tails.

Scratch That Itch

Fungus, skin irritation, dry skin and other horse itches can be a hassle as they can lead you horse to start rubbing off hair as well as cause major discomfort to our beloved animals. There are plenty of antifungal “treatments” available on the market these day but they sure can be pricey. Here are a few shortcuts.

Dreft: For fungus problems give your horse a bath with Dreft. This gentle laundry detergent has enzymes that kill fungus. As always do a patch test first.

Listerine: For that nasty tail itch that cause you horse to start rubbing out his precious tail try applying Listerine Mouthwash. The alcohol content seems to kill whatever is causing the itch as well as soothe the itching and stops rubbing.

MTG: MTG, is a product from Shapley’s that doesn’t necessarily smell great but does wonders on killing fungus, removing rain rot and soothing dry skin. Beware: Use gloves or your hands may stink for days, but I have found nothing better for treating the itch than this product.

Spa Time!

Bathing your horse is fun and also a necessity but with all the products needed to get him clean the wallet can start to feel a little empty. Here are the secrets for a perfect and inexpensive spa day with your horse.

Vinegar: After rinsing the conditioner or shampoo (whichever is applied last) off of your horse rinse them down with a solution of half white vinegar and half water. This will not only help repel flies but also helps to repel dirt and gives a great shine.

Skin-So-Soft: A rinse with a solution of half Skin-So-Soft (Avon) and half water also helps repel bugs and add a fantastic shine to your horses coat without having to add silicone products.

Here’s my secret recipe for bathing and the order in which I do it.
1.      After giving your horse a good grooming and getting him as clean as possible soak him thoroughly with a hose on gentle pressure. Have your shampoo pre-mixed with water and ready to go so you can start applying it while your horse is well soaked. Focus mainly on the body and do the legs and face separately to be able to give them the attention that they need.
2.      Apply your soapy mixture to the body of your horse with a sponge and then use either a curry comb or your fingers to work the shampoo in and the dirt out. Let the shampoo sit on your horse all suds up for about five minutes and then rinse thoroughly with the hose on a higher setting (as high as your horse tolerates)  to rinse. I suggest rinsing shampoo off twice as leftover soap can irritate the skin.
3.      Soak your horse again with the hose on a gentle setting and mix a small amount of conditioner into a large bucket of water. Apply the mixture with a sponge to the body of the horse excluding the saddle and girth areas. Allow to sit for five minutes and rinse completely.
4.      Next move to the legs of your horse and one leg at a time soak the leg and wash with color specific shampoo or Orvus shampoo. While washing check for any signs of fungus that may need to be treated. Allow the shampoo to sit as you move onto the next leg then return to the first leg to rinse and apply conditioner. Repeat this process for all four legs.
5.      Move onto the face of the horse and wash gently with baby shampoo. If your horse doesn’t allow you to wash his face just use a baby wipe to clean up what you can.
6.      Soak the mane and apply color specific shampoo remembering to let it sit for about five minutes. Rinse, then apply conditioner and comb it though the mane to detangle it as well as evenly distribute it. Rinse and move onto the tail area.
7.      Completely soak the tail from dock to skirt using a hose and dipping the skirt in a bucket of water. Start at the dock using either a conditioning (if your horse has dry skin) or color specific (if you are planning to show and want to add brilliance) shampoo and work it through the hair and into the skin. Let that sit while you move to the skirt and use a color specific shampoo to remover stains. Work the hair of the skirt between your hands to remove the dirt. Rinse until the water runs clear and then add plenty of condition focusing it more on the skirt of the tail. Use a wide tooth comb to gently comb the conditioner through your horses tail and removes all tangles. Once again you want to rinse until the water runs clear.
8.      Prepare a bucket of water with a couple glugs of Skin-So-Soft in it and use a sponge to apply the mixture to the body and legs of your horse. After you applied it dunk your horses tail in what is left in the bucket and swish it around. Rinse your horse completely including the tail.
9.      Prepare a bucket of ½ vinegar ½ water mixture and repeat what you did with the Skin-So-Soft and rinse thoroughly.
10.  If you are preparing to take your horse to a show hand graze him in the sun brushing every so often with a soft brush until he dries.
Other Tips and Tricks
Here are some other miscellaneous tips and tricks that may benefit you and your horse.

Hemorrhoid Cream: Hemorrhoid cream does the trick for growing hair back perfectly (think no more white spots) on scrapes and cuts.

Old Clipper Blades: When pulling a mane to help thin it out use an old clipper blade. This will almost perfectly thin the mane without it looking too blunt.

After Clipping: After body clipping, rinse with a WARM olive oil and apple vinegar rinse (don’t be shy about going heavy on both). Prevents fungus and that dry “just clipped” look.

Healthy Hair Care: This is my absolute favorite horse product out there. It comes concentrated so I mix it in a spray bottle and during show season it is sprayed daily on every horse I groom. It gives a fantastic shine without having to resort to silicone based products.

And my biggest tip of all: ELBOW GREASE! Nothing will get your horse shinier than a good daily grooming using the correct tools and techniques.

For more advice on grooming e-mail me at [email protected].

  • A clean, shiny, show-ring ready horse: The Cleveland Bay stallion Bensington Bluestone

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