Tips and tricks from two seasoned Thoroughbred sales grooms that equestrians can use for their show ring prep
Few things are as impressive as perfectly groomed glossy bays, gleaming chestnuts and glowing grays strutting their stuff in the Thoroughbred sales ring. Their coats are so clean, their white markings practically shimmer, and there isn’t an errant mane or tail hair in sight. Achieving that level of perfection might feel unattainable after hours of trying to remove a green stain from your horse’s hip or days trying to make an unruly mane lie flat so it will look neat in braids. To simplify and elevate your show ring prep, two Thoroughbred sales professionals have shared their tips and tricks for getting your horse to look his best so he can truly shine.
The “Queen of Shine” at Taylor Made Sales, in Nicholasville, Kentucky, is Sheri Hughes. For the past 18 years, Hughes has been a head quad leader, running the “top-off” team. In other words, once a horse has been bathed and groomed, Hughes and two other members of her team, Serena Fister and Michelle Kissinger, put the cherry on top. Together, they go through and make coats gleam, add vibrancy to whites, touch up blemishes and smooth manes, tails and forelocks.
Sherri Ivanovich has been working in the Thoroughbred industry since she was 16 years old. She is the yearling manager at Gainesway Farm, in Lexington, Kentucky, and has been doing sales prep for 19 years. At Gainesway the process of preparing horses for the ring begins long before they get to the sale. “It’s about putting the whole thing together — your exercise program, your feed program and your grooming program,” she says.
Before leaving the farm it’s important to have a routine and a schedule. Bathing your horse regularly goes a long way in ensuring cleanliness, but don’t overdo it — the horses at Gainesway receive soap baths about once a week to preserve the coat’s natural oils.
“Keeping white markings washed on a regular basis, especially when they’re out in the mud, really helps keep them white,” says Ivanovich. “If you wash them regularly, you don’t have to worry about staining and discoloration as much.”
If it’s too cold to bathe your horse, you can hot-towel him. “First curry the horse really well to get rid of the dirt and loose hair,” says Ivanovich. “Then dip a towel into a bucket of hot water mixed with a few capfuls of Vetrolin (liniment), wring out the water and use the towel to clean all the grime off along the top of their coat. Hot-toweling can also be used to encourage the oil to develop in their coats, which gives them a really good shine.”
When a horse comes to Hughes’ team at the sale, the first thing they do is polish the coat. “I soak a towel in ShowSheen, and I wipe them down from nose to tail (skip the mane and back/girth area with a ridden show horse). This really helps get any dust off of them. There’s another person with a large sponge (damp with water), and they wipe all the legs down.”
Gray and white coats can be challenging because they don’t have the rich gloss that chestnut, bay and black coats get. Hughes’ tip for making these horses stand out is simply to make them as white as possible. “I have literally put baby powder on an entire horse,” she says with a laugh. “Just put the powder onto a medium-hard brush, and then brush it directly onto the coat. When they walk into that ring, they will be so white that if they had wings, they could be Pegasus.”
Pro Tip: Brighten the Whites Both of our experts agree that baby powder also works wonders for helping white legs and bold face markings pop and can be especially helpful for covering stains or blemishes. Hughes says, “If there are any scars or any spots where hair is missing on the white markings, we put Desitin (diaper rash) cream on those spots and then put the powder over those spots to fill them in. Then you can’t even see those areas anymore.”
Pro Tip: Getting Rid of Green For horses that show up with stains and green spots, Sheri has a go-to concoction: “Mix one part Quic Silver shampoo to three parts (rubbing) alcohol, and shake it up in a spray bottle. Spray the mixture directly on the stain, and then take a damp cloth, and it will wipe right off. The Quic Silver gets the stain out, and the alcohol helps get the Quic Silver out so you don’t end up leaving behind any purple,” which is the product’s identifiable color.
Pro Tip: Mane and Tail Control Both experts agree that pulling manes is the only way to go. A cut mane won’t lie flat. To fix a cut mane Hughes’ team will thin the mane out from underneath with a pulling comb.
If you have an unruly mane, hair gel and mineral oil might be worth adding to your grooming kit. “We put mineral oil on our hands and then rub that through manes and tails for a nice sheen,” says Hughes. “On the crest of the mane, we use two different colors of VO5 (conditioning hair dressing): a blue-tinted gel for black manes and a gold-tinted gel for the blonde and chestnut manes. We use it just on the crest of the mane because it leaves this perfect line down the side that really shines under the lights. It also takes care of the little errant hairs so the manes lie flat.”
When it comes to tails, helping them look full and healthy begins with knowing how to comb them out. “We use ShowSheen exclusively in tails,” says Ivanovich. “It really helps with the detangling process. And we teach everyone how to comb out a tail without pulling all the hair out. You start at the bottom and work your way up. You can’t pull the comb straight through from the top and expect to leave the hair intact.”
Pro Tip: Removing Blemishes Covering up scars, scrapes and other blemishes is an art that Hughes has mastered. “I use a pair of scissors to scrape dust from different shades of chalk into my hand. I blend them until I get a color that matches the horse, and I use that to cover scars and other blemishes.”
Pro Tip: Finishing Touches Hooves look their best when they have been cleaned and polished. “First thing in the morning we use Brillo pads to clean their hooves, since any debris that’s left stuck to them will just stand out more once they’ve been polished,” says Ivanovich. “If they have black feet, we will put hoof dressing on before they leave (for the sales ring) or use mineral oil if they have white feet.”
“The last thing I do before they leave is take a soft brush and brush the hair coat down in the direction of growth,” says Hughes. “Then I go back over the body with a fleece car wash mitt, which removes all of the brush marks.”
If your horse has acquired that annoying layer of dust during your warmup, especially anywhere you’ve applied oil, Ivanovich advises using dust cloths before you head into the ring. “You can use a microfiber cleaning cloth or something similar to wipe them down since those really pick the dust up off their coats.”
Grooming can be a lot of work and, at times, overwhelming. Hughes contributes all her sales preparation success to having the right mindset: “You have to treat your horse like they’re the best horse that will walk in the ring that day. When you do that, you’re going to want him to look as perfect as you can make him.”
Box: Essential Products for Your Show Prep Kit
1. Fully stocked grooming box
3. Mineral oil
4. Car wash mitt
5. VO5 conditioning hair dressing in a color that matches your horse’s hue
6. Baby powder
7. Colored chalk
8. Rub rags
9. Hot towel bucket with clean towels
This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of Off-Track Thoroughbred Magazine, the only publication dedicated to the Thoroughbred ex-racehorse in second careers. Want four information-packed issues a year delivered to your door or your favorite digital device? Subscribe now!