Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grooming Percherons for Show

Over the years, a low but steady drumbeat calling for information on how to prepare a draft horse for showing in halter and hitch is heard on the draft horse forums. It can be intimidating and frustrating trying to find the information needed to prepare your horse for your first draft horse show.

Having written various replies each year on how to prepare a Percheron horse for the show ring, I was thinking that it might be helpful to write it out. Then it could be posted here, so that I can refer people to it to it when the information is needed.

Preparation really starts with the decision to try to keep your horse black. Keeping a black horse, black means keeping them out of the sun in the summer months. I like to put my show horses in stalls during the day and let them out to pasture at night. This has a number of advantages, other than the obvious black coat. It keeps the daytime flies off of them, it keeps the horseflies away, and keeps the scratches down (here in the South, we have to battle humid, hot weather -which is not the ideal climate for drafts). Furthermore, it allows the horses a cool place to eat their own rations and they are just more comfortable when out of the mid-day sun.

The next thing you really need to think about is shoes. If you want to really succeed in halter, scotch bottom shoes need to be put on your horse. For the show season, that means that in June, a set of "growing plates," (or die 2 shoes) are nailed on. These shoes will allow the horse to grow a larger "foot." Later in the season, these will be switched out for scotch bottom shoes (or die 1s). For some, a set of scotch bottoms put on just before the show will do. This often requires an epoxy to be added around the base of the foot to make it look like the hoof has grown into the shoe. But when that is done, a good judge will spot the difference immediately. For us, because we like to turn out our horses and we do canter work, we do not put scotch bottoms on early in the season, as they will pull them off. We do not shoe for early shows in the spring either. I am sure that this has hurt us in the show ring but the benefits are a horse that can be used without losing shoes. If you are showing in A or B rated shows, and if you want to win or place, you have to get those scotch bottoms on early in the summer. The hardest part may be getting a farrier who knows how to shoe for draft horse shows unless you live in a state where such shows are the norm. Otherwise, you need to either fly down a farrier, learn to do it yourself or pay for your farrier to learn. It is an expensive proposition, no matter what route you choose.

The good news is that if you take care not to overshoe, use a moderate scotch and don't let your horse out in mud, scotch bottoms can be a perfectly safe and fine shoe for the very short show season. A lot of people think that Will Lent makes the best shoes on the market, here is his website (a die 1, is the shoe most commonly used for big shows)

Now, that your horse is black, your shoes are on and your hoof is nice and big, lets look at the actual show preparations!

A couple of days before the show, I give the horse a bath (sometimes two). I like to use a human dandruff shampoo (generic, if you must know) but any good human or horse shampoo will do.

After the bath, I clip. Clipping a Percheron for show is not much different than clipping a light horse for show. The whiskers, ears, stray hairs all must be clipped. A bridle path should be cut. The legs are clipped, but a bit of feather -right behind the pastern joint is left on (although some people remove that too and other people will leave on a little more feather than others). The Percheron is a lightly feathered breed, and the judge will want to see the length and angle of the pasterns. Get those pasterns trimmed to allow the judge to be able to see what he needs to see. If you horse has some thickness around his pasterns from scaring, you may wish to leave a bit more feather on than is normal. Likewise, a lovely long pastern, with great angles is worth highlighting. You always have to work with your horse -you should know what modern Percheron breed type and conformation should be and then strive to perfect your own horse through careful grooming as well as conditioning. You have to work with what you have! That is what showmanship is all about! One way to learn what is proper is to really look at images on the web or go to a draft horse show and study those horses. Shown below is a young colt, note how his fetlocks are neatly trimmed and just a touch of feather is left on.

The tail should be put up in a tail bun. See the mane roll section below for more information. The bun should be neat and tidy. Practice putting in the tail bun (and mane roll for geldings and stallions) before the show. An hour before the class is not the time to learn!

If a tail has a long dock, special preparations have to be made to accommodate the amount of hair. A long dock or an un-docked tail should have a tail bun at the top, placed where it is normally placed. Then there are a number of options on what to do with all that hair! These range from shaving the tail bone to french braiding the rest of the tail.If you choose to braid, practice what works best for your horse before the show! Some options for braiding and finishing the braid include bringing the long end of the braid up through the braid or tied with ribbon to the braid.

Remember, the judge will want to see those hocks, if he/she can't see the hocks, he/she can't judge the hocks and that WILL put you in a disadvantage! It is your job to make the judge able to judge all aspects of your horse and the hocks on a draft horse are a critical criteria for judging.

The yearling below has a full tail, note how it has been braided so that the judge can see her hocks. Note that a full tail is not what judges "want" to see. It is still the rare judge that is not going to mark off for such a tail. This horse is being shown at a fun show in the spring, so no big shoes were put on her.

Hooves and chestnuts should be blacked with hoof black. This can be done the night before and touched up just before show time. If your horse has various nicks and dings, consider getting a can of black horse touch up for such spots.

I like to use Pepi sheen spray just before entering the ring. But don't put such products on too thickly or the dust and dirt will cling to them.

The forelock should have a tight braid with a three stranded ribbon braided through it.

For halter, stallions and gelding have mane rolls with seven stand-ups. Mare do not have mane rolls for halter. For all halter classes, the mane should be trimmed or pulled for a natural look, with a length of about five to six inches. For hitch classes, mares are rolled and have five stand-ups.

There are some good resources for learning how to do a mane roll and tail buns. The first is to volunteer with a hitch at your local draft horse show! Do a good job, ask nicely and they will probably be glad to teach you! There are clinics around the country on how to show draft horses. The Draft horse Journal and the Rural Heritage web sites have calendars that often list such clinics, as will your local draft horse club. The web also has some resources:
There is even a DVD you can buy:

Of course, for a small, local show or a fun show, not all of these things have to be done. But what I have written here is how 95% of all the horses will be dressed at any A or B rated show in this country.

When getting ready to show, don't forget about yourself and your whip. Blue jeans are never acceptable in the halter ring. Most shows and judges prefer either black jeans or dress pants. For women, don't over dress. Sequins, cowboy hats and such like are better left at the AQHA shows! A simple button up or polo is always acceptable. Many people have their farm name put on their shirts or choose matching shirts for their whip. That is always a nice touch.

Finally, showing Percherons successfully means that not a single hair should be out of place! My favorite youth judge, Mr. Ron Mack, has a trick to see just which youth really knows how to show. As he walks along the line-up or when speaking to the exhibitor, he will reach over and "pet" the horse. In doing so, he will knock some of the mane on to the left side. He waits to see which young exhibitor will fix the mane and which will allow it to remain and that can be the difference between first and second place!

A well groomed horse, no matter what the conditions, can only help you win a class!

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