Revised by Gale Chrestman, Extension 4-H and Livestock Specialist, Mississippi State University.
Showmanship is the conditioning, grooming and presenting of a horse to its best advantage. Conformation of the horse should not be considered. However, it is easier to groom and show a horse with good conformation than one with poor conformation. Look at the horse and study his faults; try to correct these faults and make him look as much like the ideal horse as possible. To do this, you must have a good mental picture of the ideal horse of the breed being shown.
Conditioning, grooming and training a horse for showmanship cannot be done quickly. Sometimes readying a horse for show takes three to six months, depending on the time of year you start, the age of horse and how quickly the horse responds.
Brush your horse daily. Brushing cleans the horse and distributes the natural oil from the skin surface to the hair shaft. A horse that is regularly brushed and fed properly will typically have sheen to his hair coat.
The mane should be thinned and shortened to about 3 inches in length. The bridle path should be trimmed as short as possible.
Trim the long hair from the throatlatch and underside of the jaw to give a neat appearance. Clip the hairs inside the ears. Trim the hair around the coronet and fetlock. Horses with white on the legs can be booted up. Clipping the white hair down the clipper length makes it much easier to clean, and it shows up much whiter. Clip whiskers; remove long eyebrows by pulling or clipping. Don't cut the eyelashes.
Clipping and mane pulling should be done well in advance of shows. Be sure not to clip too far in any area or pull the mane excessively. Most tails are left full and ground length. Clean and brush as often as possible because this promotes growth. Never comb or brush a dirty or tangled tail since this will pull and break the hairs. Keep a good conditioner or oil on the tail to prevent split ends and breaking. Clip white legs far enough in advance of shows so clipper marks are gone. Clip and groom muzzle whiskers, ears, coronets and bridle path just before showing. Clip in such a manner so as to blend into the overall appearance of the horse. If this is done, you will show a horse that exhibits a more refined, classic appearance.
Be sure your horse is clean. Wash with mild soap or brush and vacuum until clean. Wash your horse the day before showing to allow its natural sheen to come back. If soiled spots occur before showing, clean with a wet cloth and towel dry. Clean hooves with a brush and water.
Exercise your horse before the show so he will be easier to handle in the ring. When exercising, try to keep the horse from breaking into a sweat. If showing in hot weather, exercise early in the morning and then brush after the horse dries.
Begin last minute grooming about two classes before your class. Go over your horse with a fine bristle brush or sheepskin to remove any dust. If the hair lacks gloss or bloom, you may choose to use a small amount of coat dressing. Petroleum jelly, baby oil or mineral oil can be used to give a wet look on the muzzle, inside the ears and around eyes. Apply freely and wipe excess material off with a towel. As soon as you finish showing your horse, make a point to wipe these areas clean with a towel. This will help prevent sunburn and irritation.
Hooves may be oiled, but it would be better to paint them with a commercial hoof black or shoe polish. Commercial preparations don't tend to dry the hooves as much as do the shoe polishes. Remove as much hoof polish as you can and apply hoof dressing as soon as possible. This will help prevent hooves from drying out.
Check and clean your tack. If you use a silver show halter, be sure to polish the silver and oil the leather.
Be as particular with your own appearance as you are your horse's. Be neat, clean and well-dressed.
Different situations dictate different show-ring procedures. There is no set pattern for a showmanship class. An example of a pattern that you might be asked to perform is on the back of this publication. The pattern you will be asked to perform will be posted at least an hour before your class. Familiarize yourself with this pattern and know how you are going to execute every maneuver. Part of your score depends on the accuracy and precision you demonstrate in completing the pattern.
Be sure that your exhibitor number is readily visible. Hold the halter shank in the right hand, giving the horse enough shank to allow him to walk with a natural balanced stride. Hold the remaining portion of the shank in the left hand. The remaining portion of the shank should not be too long and cumbersome. Do not wrap the excess lead shank around your hand or fingers. Keep the end of the lead shank in a loop that will allow the horse to pull free if he is startled. Keep a safe distance between you and the next exhibitor. Be alert and know where the judge and ring steward are at all times.
When asked to line up for the inspection, set up your horse squarely and as quickly as possible. When the horse is standing correctly, let him stand. Don't continue to move your horse. Keep the horse alert when the judge observes him. Some part of the showmanship pattern will be designed for you to show the action of your horse at the walk and trot, or saddle gait. Other maneuvers, such as 360-, 270-, 180- or 90-degree turns, stops and backs, may be added to test your ability to show your horse.
When beginning your pattern, let the horse take the first step, then walk or trot to the judge or marker at a good, alert,collected gait. The trot should be brisk and smooth to show the ability of the horse to flex at the joints and to show the alignment of the feet and legs in motion. Movement at both gaits should be made so the horse is traveling in a straight line to or from the judge. If asked to return to the line, move your horse through the line before turning around, then lead back up to your position and set up as quickly as possible.
The judge will inspect the horses individually. You should have your horse set up correctly.
Use your imagination to draw lines in the ground, dividing into four sections the area around your horse. One line goes straight in front of the horse and straight behind. The second line goes across the horse, just behind the withers. You should never be in the same or diagonal section with the judge. However, you should always be in the section next to the section that the judge is in. Execute these moves in a smooth, natural, precise manner. Don't anticipate the judge's moves, and don't be mechanical in your moves. Never stand directly in front of your horse. Keep the horse alert. If the horse is too far out of position when the judge is observing him, move your horse into a good position.
Don't continuously adjust the horse. Move the horse with the lead shank. Make all the motions of showing in a natural, relaxed manner. Do not over-show your animal. Be a part of the exhibit, but not the major part. Remember, it is the horse that is being exhibited.