There is nothing as stunning as a mini that has been groomed head to tail for the show ring. Remember, a beautiful horse is a healthy horse. The horse must be on a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, and have regular farrier visits. The outside grooming of the horse is just icing on the cake. Grooming the horse for show is a year-round effort; you cannot groom up an unkempt horse and expect it to perform well in the show ring.
Because of heavy pony genetics, the miniature horse tends to grow long thick coats, especially in winter. Usually by the time show season rolls around, most minis have not shed their winter coat. Few minis even grow sleek summer coats! This necessitates a "full body clip" or "show shave". This is debatable by some; some people feel that a horse should be shown in a full coat. The majority of minis are clipped for shows, and judges will show a preference for a shaved horse. The shaved horse will lose most of it's coat color, but the horse will look more defined and sleek and easier for the judge to judge conformation. It is thus recommended that if you are showing for results, you will body clip. This is especially important for Halter classes; the performance classes have less emphasis on grooming perfection. If you show obstacle only; a sleek full coat will be acceptable. There is no "rule" about body clipping; it is wholly up to the exhibitor. Pictured below is my stallion "A Stable Business Tattoo Buckeroo"... on the left he's in his winter coat, and on the right he's body clipped for a show. Pretty dramatic difference of the same horse, eh?
Before you body clip, you may want to also evaluate your horse's mane and tail. Sometimes dark hair will bleach out to a burnt reddish color. If your horse's mane and tail are a dark color, you may want to dye the horse's hair. It is best to dye the mane, tail, and forelock before body clipping so that if you drip black dye on the coat, it can be clipped off and won't dye the skin. Simply purchase a hair dye for humans and follow the directions! It is quite an easy procedure if you are careful not to make a mess!
If you do decide to body clip, remember that your horse will need to be blanketed. You are clipping off his insulation! Make sure to get a blanket warm enough for the weather. An additional liner or blanket may be needed, as may be slinkys or hoods. Do not clip the hair off of the horse and then have him freeze!
Once you have an arsenal of blankets... decide WHEN to clip. Often, you will need to experiment with your horse to see how long it takes the horse to grow it's coat back in... when the coat starts to look "too long", and when the "color" starts to come back. Unlike big horses, who are clipped in January-February so that they don't damage the summer coat, minis are usually clipped before every show (my shows are once a month) so there is little regard for seasonal timing. Some horses, such as black horses, are best clipped a week or two before the show. This allows them time to grow BLACK hair back in if you don't want a greyish coat color. Some horses look best clipped the day before the show. Some horses, such as white horses, are best clipped either early before the show (to minimize pink skin showing through) or just before the show (to take off stained white hair). You will have to experiment, as each horse is different.
The blade size will also affect hair length and color. The larger the blade size, the closer a clip. The majority of minis are body clipped with 10 blades, some go a bit smaller to leave more hair on if they want to retain color. I use 40 blades as well on the face, but more on that later. So I recommend getting some 10 and 40 blades, and a good set of clippers. The more blades you have the better, you can rotate them when a set starts to get hot, and change them out if they get dull. As for the pair of clippers.... the stronger, the better. I had a cheap (ish) pair of Oster A5 two-speeds... they are nice, but once I tried a better clipper I was spoiled! I now use a Laube Lazor Clipper... they are much stronger and faster (and more expensive) but they clip thru wet hair like butter and take a fourth of the time. BUY the BEST clippers you can afford and keep them maintained... they will be worth every penny! Other supplies you will need to clip are Blade Wash and Blade coolant (WD-40 works great and is cheap!). Blade Wash is mostly useful for brand-new blades, which MUST be soaked before you use them because of a manufacture protective coating).
So now you are ready to clip. The first thing you need to do is BATHE your horse. Nose to tail. The best bath you can give. Make absolutely sure the horse is free of any dirt or sand... clipping even a SLIGHTLY dirty horse will dull your blades FAST and leave tracks on your horse. NEVER CLIP A DIRTY HORSE!
Bathing itself is an art. If the horse is a gelding, I clean his sheath while he's at the wash rack and not wet yet. It's a good opportunity. Then I start at the face first. The face is the most traumatic part of a bath, but as long as you do not get water in their ears your horse will forgive you. Because you are clipping the head, it is important you get it CLEAN. I use a good horse shampoo that is clean rinsing. At this step, I also condition the forelock to get the entire head over with. I use PANTENE PRO-V. Yeah, the people-stuff. It will leave your horse silky guaranteed. When the head is done, I head down towards the neck. I wash the neck and mane, and then condition the mane. I am sure to get the roots of the mane hairs. Then this is done. Then I head for the top of the back. I work around the horse when I bathe, so that by the time I am done the first parts are already drying, and it speeds up the process. The most IMPORTANT part to scrub is along the back. This is where all the sand hides. You can curry shampoo in it all day, and still not get it sand-free. But try. Hose until you can part the fur and not see any sand. Then move down the sides and belly. Then, work on the tail, and don't forget to condition! Lastly, scrub the legs. Scrub them good! They hide a lot of dirt and it's ALL getting clipped off!
Now your horse is squeaky clean and smells like Pantene. Let them dry for just a bit in a paved area. Offer them some water to drink and maybe a bite of hay. I then apply a liberal spray of ShowSheen to repel dirt and reportedly make the clippers run through better.
As soon as the head and neck and back are dry, you can start to clip. If you have good clippers, you can clip a damp horse just fine. In fact, a damp horse will keep the blades slightly cooler and give a smoother clip. I recommend buying the best clippers you can afford; it will make all the difference in the world! Remember also, if you buy brand new blades, to soak them in Blade Wash to remove the factory coating that will prevent them from clipping well. And if your clippers have been sitting a while, take them somewhere for a tune-up... take good care of them!
Use the 10 blades to clip the entire horse. Always clip against the hair in long, even strokes. It takes some time to do it smoothly without leaving tracks. You won't do it perfect the first few times! If you do not clip exactly against the hair, you will get "corduroy horse" ... but don't panic. Just run the clippers over against the hair a few times to even it out. Make sure to switch out your blades if they get hot, and pay attention to the "tone" that the clippers hum. If the tone starts to go down in pitch, spray on some Cool Lube or Wd40 to get them humming in a high pitch again. If the blades are hot, your horse will not have a good experience clipping and will fight you the next time! If your horse is afraid of the clippers, you can twitch them, or try good ole' desensitization (but this will take a LONG time). Because I only clip during show season, I make it a point to keep my horses used to the clippers year round. They get bridle paths clipped in the winter, and I take swipes at their face and legs just for the heck of it. They look like moths ate them, but it's just fur. It will all be clipped off in the spring. When body clipping, the only hair you will leave is their mane, forelock, and tail.
When clipping their forelock, some people shave the bit under the forelock to leave just thicker hair. You do not want a bushy forelock in the ring, so shave off enough that you have a sleek patch left. If your horse throws his head around, you may get a smaller patch than you expect! When clipping the bridle path, consider your horse's conformation. If it is an "arabian type" mini, you may want a longer bridle path like the Arabians have. A longer bridle path will tend to make a thick or short necked horse appear longer necked. The rule of thumb otherwise, say for performance horses, is about three or four inches, or the length of the horse's ear laid back. As for the mane... if the mane is very thick and bushy, it will need to be trimmed back too. Some people clip off both the top and bottom of a thick-crested horse... but I prefer just to clip from underneath the mane. It looks less unsightly when the mane is trying to grow back out. When clipping around the tail, leave an inverted "V" shape above the tail. This "V" can extend all the way to the top of the croup. It makes the tail look more natural, and if left on the croup, can give the illusion of a flatter topline. This is highly individual to both the horse and your aesthetics.
There. Your horse is all clipped, ready for a blanket and some rest after the trauma of a bath AND a clip!
The day before the show, take your horse back out for another bath, some ShowSheen, and some more clipping. This time, take out those 40 blades. It's time to touch up the face. Now, clip out all the hair of the inside of the ears, an "eyeshadow" pattern above the eyes, and all around the muzzle. SOME people use Bic razors to take off ALL the fuzz, but I stop with 40 blades. It's close enough for me. (The Bic razors along with some face highlighter give the nose and eyes a "patent leather" look which you may or may not desire). Do NOT shave off the eyelashes! This is protective to the eyes! Also, if you shave off the hair on the insides of the ears, apply a good fly repellent cream to them so gnats don't bother the horse.
At this time as well, pay some attention to the hooves. If you want your hooves to have a mirror finish, then sand them once they are dry. Start with a coarse sandpaper, and work your way to a fine grit. Sanding the feet as smooth as possible will make the polish have a shinier finish.
Throw as many sheets on your horse to keep them clean as you have, bed the stall with shavings, and hope for a clean horse at the show the next day!
Before the class, your horse will need final detail work. First, curry out all the shavings and dust from the coat, and comb the shavings from the mane and tail. The Show Sheen from yesterday's bath will have kept the horse clean, and you do not need to add more or it will make a dull buildup at this time. Pick out the hooves and clean any dirt out of the horse's nose, eyes, and ears.
Now is the time to apply hoof polish. If your horse has dark grey hooves, apply Black. If the hooves are light or striped, apply clear. When applying hoof polish, have the horse stand on concrete or a carpet/mat/tarp so that dirt does not stick to it. Apply the hoof polish in one thick stroke if possible, and let dry. Only one coat is necessary. If the hooves have been sanded, the finish will be very smooth and shiny! You can apply a Polish Enhancer on top to seal the hoof polish, but this is probably not necessary.
Continue to brush the horse as long as you have time... bring up the oils in the coat and remove as much dust and dander as possible. If the horse has any manure stains, you can use a Green Spot Remover ("Shower in a bottle") and a clean cloth to rub the stains out. If you want to add a Coat Polish like an oil spray, now is the time for that last-minute luster.
Finally, apply some "horse makeup". This can be either a prepared "highlighter" or some simple Baby Oil or Vaseline. I prefer a prepared Highlighter for horses because they usually contain sunscreen. They also come in clear, black, and red for different skin colors. Some people like the dramatic black, but I use clear on all my horses because I don't like my hands and sleeves turning black when my horse nudges me! All that clear oil all over me is enough mess for me. Apply the highlighter liberally to the muzzle, above the eyes, inside the ears, and along the bridle path.
Add a complementary show halter and a handler dressed to the nines, and your horse is ready to hit the ring!
Andrea Rollins (c)2003