Saturday, January 21, 2012

Turnout Critique #1

This is the very first instalment of our new Turnout Critique feature! In Turnout Critique, I'll present one or more photos sent to me by readers and give constructive criticism on the turnout to help point out ways in which the turnout could be improved to better flatter the horse.

Today we have three photos that were submitted by a reader. I've decided to use all three of them because I think that there is something to be learned from all of them.

Our first photo shows very good turnout for a hunter schooling show:

While I always prefer a braided mane, this horse's mane is evenly pulled to be about four inches long and is lying nicely on the horse's neck. It is not messy and won't detract from the horse's performance.

The clouds aren't allowing us to see this horse's shine, but I suspect that he would shine in the sun because he looks to be in very good condition and has the deep colour of a well-groomed horse. His socks are clean and his hooves are nicely oiled. His tail has been brushed out and is free of any bits of hay or shavings. You can also see that his legs have been trimmed so that his fetlock area looks smooth and tidy.

All of the tack is clean and in good repair. The excess stirrup leather is nice and short so that it won't flap about against her horse's side. The saddle pad fits the shape of the saddle nicely but is about as large as I would like to see a pad in the hunter ring. Any more than about two inches of pad showing and it can start to draw your eye away from the horse.

The rider is very neatly and conservatively dressed in typical hunter attire. If she wanted to look really sharp, she could style her hair over her ears, but her hair is very neatly and acceptably contained in a hair net as it is and the "hunter hair" style is not comfortable for everyone. Her boots have been polished and wiped off to remove any dirt or slobber from mounting and the warm-up ring.

Her horse has also been wiped with a towel to remove warm-up dirt and slobber on his legs and body. His mouth has also been wiped clean, as has his nose.

Overall, this horse and rider would give an extremely positive impression entering the ring at a schooling show. They have clearly worked hard so that they can look their best.

Our second photo shows slightly less polished turnout for a schooling show:

In this photo the mane is again unbraided, but it is sticking up and looks quite messy. If this horse's mane tends to stick up, I would rather see it braided even for a schooling show. Alternatively, training braids could be used in the days before the show to encourage the mane to stay over on one side of the horse's neck.

Here you can clearly see the shine in his coat from good daily grooming. His socks are again clean and white, but the hooves are in need of oiling to add a final touch. His tail looks like it was last brushed out hours before his class; the clumped pieces of hair underneath tend to appear in a dirty or unbrushed tail.

The tack is clean again for this horse show, but the standing martingale is distractingly short. The judge will likely notice its length, usually used to hold a horse's head down when it is so short, and judge accordingly. The white fleecy girth cover, which tends to be distracting on a dark horse, appears to be dirty.

Jackets were excused for this show, so the rider can't be faulted for not wearing one, although she should have kept her sleeves buttoned up. Her boots are dirty and don't appear to have seen polish for this show, a sharp contrast to her boots in the first photo. Her helmet also appears to have slipped back so that the brim is pointing upwards.

The horse appears to have been nicely wiped clean across his body again (I suspect that the slobber around his mouth was produced while he was in the ring).

These first two photos showed what a big difference a few small details can make in giving a very good, polished first impression to a fairly "rough and ready" one.

Our third photo appears to me to be older than the other two, showing this horse and rider before they found their well-fitting tack:

This time the horse is neatly braided. I can't see the braids themselves well from this side of the horse, but they appear to be well done. This type of horse with a short neck tends to look best with many small braids as they give the impression of more length.

The horse doesn't have the same deep colour this time, but it may just be from the time of year rather than quality of grooming because he looks to be well groomed in all other respects. The tail has been brushed out and the socks look clean but slightly greyed from the footing. The fetlocks could use a fresh trimming as there are tufts are hair showing. With all of the effort put into braiding this horse, the un-oiled hooves are disappointing.

Again the tack is clean, apart from some marks at the top of the girth, but there are minor details that detract from their appearance. We can see a twisted rein and a long, flapping length of excess stirrup leather. A wedge pad has been used on top of the ill-fitting shaped pad in order to make the saddle fit. Using a properly-fitted saddle would allow the rider to remove the bulky pads and probably help the horse perform better, too.

The rider is neatly and suitably dressed with clean, polished boots.

This photo shows how consistently good this rider is at having her horse wiped off before she enters the ring.

I think that as a whole, these three photos show what a difference good turnout can make in the show ring appearance of a horse and rider. This is not a sloppy rider, but an accumulation of little missed details can have quite a noticeable effect.

Thank you very much to the reader who sent in photos for this week's Turnout Critique! I won't identify you here but you're welcome to introduce yourself in a comment if you'd like.

If you're interesting in taking part in a future Turnout Critique, send your photo(s) to


  1. This was interesting to read! I will be watching for more!

    I don't tend to see many if any people braid for schooling shows so it's interesting that you mention it should be done.

    Again I look forward to reading more.

  2. I wouldn't necessarily say that it SHOULD be done, but I like to see it. Braiding shows respect for the judge and the horse show and if you're going to learn how to do it, a schooling show is a great opportunity to practice without worrying about them not being absolutely perfect.

    If the mane is neat and tidy and lies flat as in the first photo, I think that's a nice turnout, even without the braids. If the mane is long or sticking up, it really takes away from the rest of the horse.

  3. How do you feel about the fleeceworks show pads for the hunter ring? Are they distracting?

    1. I assume that you're referring to the newer style where the sheepskin finishes just before the bottom of the flap? I can understand why some riders would prefer to use them, as sometimes the sheepskin pads can feel bulky, but I do prefer the look of a traditional pad. I wouldn't go so far as to call it distracting, though, and to me they look far better than a half pad.

  4. I am taking my anglo arab mare to a training showing show in 2 weeks and would love to have any advice you might offer, this will be our first show together and as I have never owned a chestnut I am at a loss as what might best suit her. I have a light blue, almost a blue grey tweed jacket with a tweed collar and cream breeches. my tack is unfortunately black as that was the saddle that fitted best although I would have preferred brown on her. She is a very pretty mare with a thinnish stripe all the way down her face and one white sock and a small white pastern behind. Please let me know what you advise in terms of shirt , tie, helmet, browband etc.

    Thank you in advance!

    1. Are you showing in a hunter division? If you're competing in the jumpers then you're free to wear what you feel looks best. If it's a hunter division, you should use a plain browband (raised /padded depending on the rest of your bridle). I would use a dark brown bridle even if your saddle is black. The bridle colour is far more noticeable and the black would really stand out against the chestnut colour.

      Check the rules of the federation governing your show because rules do vary from country to country. If you're being judged subjectively, try to stay conservative and remember that anything that stands out as a little bit different can make you memorable to the judge in either a good or a bad way (little mistakes can be more easily remembered). If you're riding in the jumpers, all you need to do is stay within the rules and anything beyond that is just to your personal tastes.