Thursday, April 15, 2010

Grooming for Yourself

For those of us who show on a tight budget, hiring someone to groom for you is not always feasible and it's not always possible to have a friend help you out. Is it possible to do everything yourself?

The answer is a definite yes! It will be tough, and you and your horse might not end up looking as spotless as you might like, but you can get away with doing everything yourself if you work hard and plan ahead.

Hold your horses

If you ride in the jumpers, you will probably have more problems with timing than you would in the hunters because you need to walk your jumper courses. On days when the order of go is sign-in rather than posted, this isn't much of a problem. You will learn how much time you need to get ready after walking the course and put yourself later in the order to accommodate that. If your horse doesn't roll in tack, you can often put everything on except the bridle while you go and walk so that there is less to do when you get back.

When it comes to posted order, you are likely to run into the occasional problem. Odds are that you will sometimes be put near the beginning of the order, requiring you and your horse to be at the ring and ready to go before the course walk. If you do have a friend who is willing to come out every so often to help you, ask him to come out on the days when you are likely to be under posted order so that he will be available to hold your horse. You can also ask other riders from your barn who show in other divisions to hold your horse for a few minutes. One of the least stressful ways of dealing with going early in a posted order is to check whether any of the earlier classes in the day are using the same course as yours. If you can walk it ahead of time, you can ride your horse during your own class's course walk.

Keeping clean

One of the most difficult parts of grooming for yourself is not getting dirty! When you're doing stalls, bathing and grooming your horse, you're bound to get some dirt on your clothes. The obvious solution is to change into your show clothes at the very last minute, but this isn't always possible  If you can, do the dirty chores early in the day when you can wear jeans. This includes bathing and grooming your horse. Hopefully your horse will stay clean until your class and then all you will have to do is pass a towel over him to remove dust, keeping your clean breeches free of flying dirt and hair. Some riders wear sweat pants over their breeches to keep them clean, but that can get hot in the summer.

I suggest not putting your field boots on until the very last minute. I put mine on just before I bridle my horse. Walking around in a stall will put dust on your boots, so minimizing that will keep those boots as shiny as possible. Try to have a towel waiting near the mounting block so that you can give the lower part of your boots a quick wipe right before you get on. It's always a good idea to clean and polish your boots during a quiet part of the day so that you have one less thing to worry about when getting ready for your class.

I also keep my jacket off until the last minute, usually right after I put the bridle on (as long as I have somewhere clean to put it near the stall). If you're grooming for yourself, you probably won't have the luxury of having someone hold your jacket for you while you warm up.

Your horse

Luckily, horses tend to stay pretty clean in the barn. I find that if I groom all of the horses first thing in the morning, most of them don't need much more of a grooming before they head out to the show ring. I always run a towel over them before tacking up, though, because a lot of dust gets kicked up in the barn.

The earlier you can oil your horse's hooves, the better it will stay on. Dried hoof oil won't attract as much dirt as wet hoof oil and therefore won't need to be re-applied as frequently. This is easiest if you have some sort of grooming stall or cross-tie area where your horse can stand on clean ground.

If your coach is willing, hand him or her a towel before heading off to the ring so that they can give your horse a quick cleaning at the in-gate. Make sure that you always apply plenty of fly spray at the barn since there won't be anyone at the show ring to put more on if the flies are worse than expected.

Your warm-up

Before going to your first horse show, make sure that your coach is comfortable setting jumps alone in the warm-up ring. Some coaches like having one or more grooms to do that dirty work, so it's best to know ahead of time what will be expected. A considerate coach should be willing to set the jumps unaided.

If you are showing without a coach and have no one else on the ground with you, you will need to ask another rider if you can share their jump. Be polite and be prepared for them to potentially say no; another horse could slow down their warm-up or disrupt their routine, especially if they like to take the jump back and forth.  

Grooming for yourself is tough work. The days will be long (the professional grooms will give the morning feed between 6 and 7 am and your horse will expect to be fed then, too) and you will need to be very organized, but don't feel that you need to hire a groom. You can do it!

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