The Competition Compilation • Prepping, Packing, & Pro Tips
Whenever I put the question sticker in my story with hopes that my following will contribute numerous ideas for future blog posts, I never know what I’m going to get. It’s a crapshoot. Sometimes, ya’ll request intimate details of personal experiences, and in other scenarios, ya’ll want light hearted reads such as the one we are talking about today.
It’s May – uh, where is the time going? – which translates into the full swing of spring competition season. Wherever you are in the USA (or world, really), you’ve most likely been privy to the upcoming shows held within the next few weeks. Moving forward with this idea in mind, the responses came flooding in… all centered around show preparation, my warm-up routine, inquires for how I wear my hair in a bun, so on and so forth. Alas, the “competition compilation” is born, and first on the docket? A post that focuses on my preparation routine, the products I pack, and the “pro-tips” I’ve picked up along the way.
Jumping right in…
One might call me slightly obsessive compulsive; others might refer to me as extraordinarily organized. Tomato, tom-aaaaa-toooooeee. I like to say that I’m confident in my routine that I’ve developed over the last three years. Seems super legitimate. Anyhow, what I’m trying to explain in layman’s terms is that I have Leah’s show preparation, and mine, down to a molecular formula.
Backstory: typically, we frequent Great Southwest Equestrian Center as the majority of our selected competitions are held at this glorious venue. Great Southwest, as we fondly refer to the grounds, is located about four and half-hours away from the barn; a straight shot on east Interstate 10. Competition days are Saturday and Sunday, unless at regional championships or the annual CDI during each April, and Friday is our day to school. My barn prefers to leave on Thursday’s, which allows ample time for unpacking without the stressor of riding once all setup tasks have been completed.
• I understand this might not be feasible for everyone, but this is my first pro-tip of many. Honestly, I can’t harp enough about the benefits of arriving to the show the day before schooling. One, it allows Leah to rest after travel, and two, it allows me to have a clear mind for riding, as opposed to a tired-induced fog after packing, loading, driving, and unloading. If you can, talk to your trainer, or whoever is hauling, and consider making updated travel plans!
Now that we have this laid out in black and white, let’s move onto Leah’s stages of prepping.
After our final lesson on Wednesday, I whip out the clippers and prepare to be sprinkled with fine specs of bright bay fuzz. Beginning with the wispy hair underneath her chin, I move onto tidying her bridle path. While I used to buzz away whiskers, I do not anymore. Lastly, I clip the unruly hair away from her ears, being mindful to leave a good amount of protection from gnats or other potential pesky irritants.
Next, I grab the scissors; just a basic pair, nothing major. I have a sneaking suspicion that my process for trimming Leah’s mane is going to be next on the request form, so we will save the intimate details for another day. But, circling back around, I carefully cut small sections ensuring evenness in length throughout. Before you ask, I’ll beat you to it – No, I do not pull Leah’s mane. It is incredibly thin, so taking away more volume would leave her with virtually no hair. This is my nightmare, a simple trim does the trick!
Her tail is what I tackle last. Confession (and a pro-tip?), I never brush Leah’s tail at home. Never, ever! I’ll shampoo and condition, but fight the hankering to brush until we are at a competition or clinic. THE ONLY EXCEPTION is when I am about to bang the bottom, which happens only before horse show weekends. So, I grab my bottle of Cowboy Magic spray detangler and apply liberally, working the solution from dock to end. After I’ve carefully run a brush through, I’ll kneel down and pull the tail until it is taut. Meticulously, I trim the end of her tail until it is ankle length and straight. Don’t worry, it takes me a few times to cut away hair as her tail is relatively thick. This is a process not to be rushed, but also, don’t let yourself get “scissor-happy,” or else you’ll have a train wreck on your hands.
Now, I’ve heard about several different ways when it comes to the skill of tail trimming… methods along the lines of someone holding their arm underneath the dock, or a polo wrap ??? to raise the tail to where the horse would carry it while in work.
I don’t do this. Sue me. I like my “one-person method” juuuuust fine!
In the blink of an eye, Leah is looking show ready. I wait to bathe until we have finished schooling on Friday’s, mostly because I own mare that thoroughly fancies laying directly in her pee.
Show Trunk Tales
Last year, by popular demand, I filmed a handful of Instagram stories that provided a detailed description of each product I keep in my show trunk. You can find these videos under my “Lifestyle” highlight in my bio section. However, I will run through what I keep in my box right here, right now.
First, let’s start with the box itself.
I would love to say that my box is custom crafted, specialty made, formulated for the true equestrian at heart… but alas, my show trunk is a plastic, wheeled, lockable tool box from Lowe’s Home Improvement. And, you know what? It’s flipping amazing! Usually running around $60-$90, these boxes are both affordable and durable. They come with a tote tray, which is perfect for standing bandages, treats, freestyle CD’s, or any other small horse show staples. My only con about this box would be the metal clasps. They are quite fragile and break easily, so don't be like me and walk right into them with your knee when the box is open. Hahaaaaaa...
Every item that goes into my trunk is utilized throughout the weekend, which leads me to my next pro tip.
• If you’re anything like me, clutter drives my anxiety up the wall. There is nothing worse than being in a hurry and having to dig through a mountain of products just to find one item in particular. Pack only what you need, and what you’ve used in the past, whether that is at another show or on the daily at the barn. I believe that competitions are not the time to try something new.
Let me show you what I pack!
If you can, invest in your own set of grooming brushes… You can thank me later. Coming from a larger training/show barn, it’s hard to share one container of brushes with a handful of clients. I use the Oster Grooming Kit in pink, of course. This 7-piece kit includes a fine curry comb, stiff grooming brush, mane and tail brush, face finishing brush, mane and tail comb, and a hoof pick, all packaged in a handy storage case.
Something that does not come in the Oster kit, but one you will want to add? That would be a glorious little seam ripper. This tool is the answer to your un-braiding prayer come Sunday afternoon when, let’s face it, we’re all tired, sweaty, and hot. I now rubber bands braid Leah myself, but when I was paying a professional braider who used yarn, my seam ripper became a tool I couldn’t live without. They generally run under $2 at your local drug or grocery store.
• Pro tip: this past year, Ashley, my best friend and fellow barn mate, taught me how to properly button braid using rubber bands. Game changer! Competing is expensive enough, and I strive to save money in any humanly way that I can. Braiding falls under this category. I highly encourage you to learn how to braid your horse’s mane. To me, saving $60 is worth braiding myself, and it provides sacred quiet time with Leah before we canter down centerline.
I have quite the collection of spray products, but only a few make the cut for competitions. Vetrolin Shine, along with Mane 'n Tail Detangler, is my main choice for taming Leah’s tail.
Shapley’s Hi Gloss Finishing Spray or Silverado Shine is used after I have first curried, then soft-brushed Leah’s coat. Be aware that these two liquids will increase the odds of saddle slippage, so do not spray over the back. I aim for Leah’s neck, hindquarters, legs and tail. Once the product has set into her coat, I go back over the designated areas with a soft brush for a balanced distribution.
Don’t leave home without fly spray! My favorite brand is Pyranah, not the “wipe N spray,” but the aerosol version. This product goes on very last, and simultaneously adds another layer of shine.
Funny side story: I was getting ready for my Intermediate I Freestyle debut last March, and in a nervous tizzy, I accidentally dropped my can fly spray in the middle of the stable isle… which, in turn, caused a huge explosion of said can that echoed throughout the barns. Oops? Control your nerves better than I do, my friends.
Oh, and mosquito spray! This. Is. Important.
Moving onwards, another spray I always keep on hand both at home and at shows is the Eqyss Premier Spray Marigold Scent. For those unfamiliar, this commodity is a natural botanical, equine re-hydrant coat spray. We are no strangers to how much of a sensitive flower Leah is, and I find her skin to easily dry out during the hot Texas months. I apply abundantly after bathing, almost immediately noticing a difference. In fact, I swear by it. Another all time favorite I also use? The Herbal Horse Shine Bright Coat Conditioning spray! Both are great options delivering fantastic results.
Since I touched on bathing two times and haven’t come around to actually talking about what I use, I’m refocusing my attention starting… now! Cowboy Magic Rosewater Shampoo and Conditioner equal my two best bathing friends for the queen bean. I swear by this stuff. After rinsing her body, I apply the shampoo directly onto her skin, massaging the suds into her skin with a basic curry I use for solely bathing. Once her body is clean, and pee free, I repeat the washing process with her tail, rinse, then condition.
• Pro tip: give the tail time to soak in all the yumminess from the conditioner while you wash other areas, such as the face or any areas of chrome.
Allowing her tail to condition gives me time to whiten up her chrome, happily located on her two hind legs and more blatantly obvious, her face. There are multiple shampoos on the equestrian market that target chrome directly, but I find them to be sometimes expensive and unimpressive. Instead, I source out a budget friendly find at the local drug store, such as Shimmer Lights or Jhirmack Silver Brightening Shampoo.
This shampoo is heavily concentrated and time sensitive to the user, meaning, everything white can turn purple if not properly correlated. Don’t ask me how I know… I squeeze a quarter-sized dollop into my palm, apply to both hands, and then work into Leah’s chrome until no purple is noticeable. Don’t be afraid to scrub! Once the space is lathered, allow the shampoo to sit for ultimate gleam. Rinse, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
• Pro tip: do not wash your horse’s mane, don’t do it! You’ll be sorry. A clean mane is very difficult to handle when braiding, and you’ll find yourself in tears and crunched for time. I’ve been there. Just, trust me.
Back to the topic of braiding, there isn’t anything glamorous that goes into this process. I pack a large amount of black braiding bands, and I use Mane ‘n Tail Spray ‘n Braid for extra grip!
Who else is religious about leather conditioning and cleaning? Me, me, me! I’ll admit that I do not condition my tack as often as I should at home, so I sort of… overcompensate… during show weekends. I always keep Farnam Leather New polishing soap spray in my box, along with the BEST conditioner I’ve ever had my hands on, Effax Leather Balm. The spray is perfect for quick cleaning on the morning of, and the Effax is ideal for Friday afternoon polishing. Effax also smells delicious, like baby powder, I think, a solid bonus.
If there were one oddly distinct item I do not leave home without, it would have to be my canvas bag full of rags and small towels. Think about it! This item is like the unspoken blessing that appears at the exact right time. Slobber on your boot before you enter the show arena? Rag. Cleaning off your bits? Rag. Wiping out a slimy horse nose? Rag! I could go on and on, but I’ll rein in my excitement. Pun intended.
• Pro tip: the majority of my rags were prizes that were given alongside a ribbon, but use what you have! I often turn old t-shirts that have seen better days into show rags, or even socks that have holes. Socks make great tack cleaning tools.
I think I’ve harped on the fact that I’m all about ease, and anything that will make my life far less complicated during a higher-pressure situation. This is where an individual saddle rack blesses me with its convenience. Mine in particular came from a local tack store, but they are easily found via online. I hang my saddle, girth, and saddle pad on the front of my stall while I’m getting ready.
• IMPORTANT pro tip: I keep a folder in my trunk that contains copies of Leah’s coggins, flu vaccine proof, breed papers, and our USDF/USEF registration numbers. You never know when you might have to present any of these to the show office. Be prepared, be, be prepared!
Congratulations if you’ve stuck with this post until this point, I commend you! Guess what? We’re still not done.
This is based purely on personal, and horse, preference, but I choose to wrap Leah for overnight while away at shows. Due to the fact that she is older, confined to a stall – minus riding, obviously – without her daily routine of the EuroXciser and turnout, she has a tendency to stock up, especially within her hind legs. Not to fret, it’s nothing severe, in fact quite mild, but still, her comfort is my top priority. I pack the Back On Track No Bow Therapeutic Warmth wraps for every competition, along with basic red standing bandages to secure the cotton.
• Pro tip (and one of my better life hacks): use a “shoe hanger bag” that you would traditionally find in your closet as a perfect organizer for bandages, overnight wraps, polo wraps, sport boots, you name it. I hang this in our tack stall and I love it!
I’m a big Back On Track gal, and I highly recommend their products. The No Bow Therapeutic Warmth wraps are designed to channel the body heat from the horse, which soothes inflamed muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments. I never have to worry about any stockiness, as these alleviate any potential flares.
After I’ve compiled my basic necessities, I throw in my saddle pads. I’ll pack a crisp white pad for competition, and whatever schooling pad my mood so desires.
Leah’s show halter from Perri’s Leather, check. Matching lead rope, check.
Of course, my saddle and bridle travel in the back of my car, properly protected with their designated covers/bags.
We have successfully packed the show trunk, and now it’s time to move onto the caddy, or “tote” section.
Here, I keep Leah’s schooling sport boots from Hufglocken. This is optional, however, my predilection is to use protective boots while in the warm-up arena. Given my luck, the second I didn’t, Leah would inflict self-harm. The only minor detail is you must remember to set aside a few minutes for boot removal prior to entering the show ring. Instant disqualification results from forgetfulness so have someone on the rail to remind you.
My spurs live underneath Leah’s sport boots when they are not attached to my boots.
On the adjacent side of the caddy, you can find scissors, a box cutter (ideal for opening bags of shavings), the ever-holy duct tape, a lint roller, earphones, my locks for the trunk, and my freestyle music if I am showing that particular test.
Last, but certainly not least, I add a few tubes of electrolyte paste into my caddy. My favorite brand is Electro-Plex, and I give Leah one entire tube before dinner feeding time. It is no secret how brutally stifling Texas can be. The majority of our shows are held during hot months! I come prepared to help Leah stay hydrated to the best of her ability, and I find the electrolyte paste is a great additive. Consult with your trainer or professional first, but I highly support this ritual.
• Pro tip: pack an extra tote for ringside items, such as a wet rag, bottle of water, sugar cubes, and a place to throw sport boots. My mom is the official “ringside bag” personnel, and she does a magnificent job!
Packing For The Human
100% of the time, Leah is packed and ready far before I ever am. Isn’t that how it normally plays out? Raise your hand if you’re with me. My packing is far less exciting than Leah’s, and naturally, I require not nearly as many things as she does.
Without further ado, here is what goes into my suitcase…
My show clothes hang neatly in my coat bag. Here, you can find my shadbelly jacket by Euro-Star (I can't find my particular shadbelly online, so consult your local tack shop), two show shirts by Fair Play Equestrian, two pairs of white breeches by Romfh Equestrian Apparel, and my show belt by Romfh as well.
The helmet bag holds my Samshield (recently made the switch from a OneK), along with my white gloves by Roeckl, and my stock-tie, which I don’t remember the brand because I’ve had it for over 10 years!
One can grab a general idea of what items are neatly folded into my weekender tote, so I won’t elaborate on my personal items. I do, however, pack a set of clothes to change into at the show after I’m done riding.
There are a few beauty items I place in a small travel bag that I keep with me while at the competition, such as spray deodorant, bobby pins, extra hair-ties and hairspray. I like to keep Burt’s Bees Facial Cleansing Towelettes handy for a touch of “freshening” before we head out to dinner.
I also throw an iPhone charger, or battery pack, into my purse. First world problems, right?
• Pro tip: I always wear a watch while at competitions. You’ll never see one secured around my wrist in daily life, but I find it to be an incredibly valuable tool in this scenario. I especially use it to keep tabs on how many minutes I have remaining while in warm-up.
Finally, there you have it! My comprehensive “report” of all the items that help my competition weekends run smoothly. This has taken years to build, really, and has been a trial by error process. Components that work for me might not work for you, and that’s entirely okay… I’m just here to guide, help, and provide insight! If there is something I missed that you think I might find beneficial to add to our repertoire, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My inbox and DM box is always open to suggestions, additions, and even more helpful hacks.
In the next post to this series, I’ll be sharing my “horse show hair” tutorial, as well as my picks for makeup application… not that I wear hardly any while competing, but it is favorable to look a smidge put together, right?
Stay tuned, my friends, and happy packing!