The Miniature Horse's small size and
inherent cuteness sometimes leads to its being overlooked as a serious
competitor. But given proper attention to detail, handling, and turnout,
even the smallest horse can have big success in the show ring.
Ray Carroll, president of the New England Miniature Horse Society, says
fitting, showmanship, grooming, handling, and conformation are the same for
Miniatures as they are for full-size horses. "No matter what the size, if
it's fit, trim, conditioned, and conformationally correct, why can't it
compete against a big horse?" says Carroll. "It can."
Carroll says a handler must display expertise in controlling an animal to
have a chance of impressing a judge. But the fine line between control and
domination is easily crossed and should always be closely considered. "If
the animal is well-behaved, you don't have a problem," says Carroll. "If the
horse is acting up, you have to be careful of how you handle them ...
inhumane treatment of any kind is not only inappropriate, but it's also
grounds for expulsion."
Carroll says handlers should keep 18 to 24 inches between their hand and the
halter, not only to avoid crowding the horse but also to show underlying
"When you're being judged and showing a horse, you don't want-to crowd him,"
says Carroll. "You want to give him room so the judge can see every part of
the horse. And you don't want your hand up next to the chin, so it's obvious
the horse is obeying you without solid control. That's what judges like to
Carroll also believes an animal with a polished look, no matter what the
size, will always fare best with the judges.
"We do use a coat enhancer in their grain all season, which helps them to
shine," says Carroll, "and we condition and exercise the whole body six out
of seven days a week. The more conditioned they are, the better they look,
no matter what else you do in the ring."
Keeping the animal clean and its appearance sharp, he says, are two
important factors judges look for.
"Horses can be shown in full-growth hair or clipped, but most people prefer
clipped," says Carroll. A clipped horse's neat appearance has an advantage
in the show ring.
Carroll says owners usually clip anywhere from one week to two days before a
show to insure a clean, finished look in the ring. Sanded and polished
hooves also add to the overall effect. Razoring the facial features the day
of the show, with the help of a little make-up, can add emphasis and
expression to the horse's face and improve the total presentation.
Carroll recommends using a mane tamer approximately two weeks prior to a
show so the mane goes to one side and stays there.
He adds, "A little vaseline or some sort of hold on the mane and forelock
will make sure it stays together and on one side, but you have to make sure
it's just a little, because you can overdo it."
Possibly as important as the look of the horse, Carroll says, is the look of
the handler beside it.
"There's a basic protocol for the ring," he says. "What's appropriate is
black pants, a contrasting blouse or shirt, and a jacket. Belts and buckles
are common. Women usually wear some type of necklace, and men wear ties or a
bolo or something, but no open collar. And, of course, hats and gloves are
required in the showmanship class."
No matter what a handler chooses to wear, Carroll says the horse must be
taken into consideration.
"Whatever you wear, it has to look nice but not take away from the horse,"
Laura Lavallee, a professional trainer, NEMHS and American Miniature Horse
Association member, and owner of Show-M-Off Farm in Thorndike,
Massachusetts, agrees that the handler's appearance is an important part of
"You need to look good," says Lavallee. "You need to have your hair brushed
and look bright-eyed, like you've just had a good night's sleep. And it's
important to coordinate the color of the horse with what you're wearing so
you don't detract from the animal."
But, she says, the handler's appearance is only a small part of the overall
presentation to a judge.
"You want to professionally present your horse to the judge," says Lavallee.
"You want to go in like you've never seen the judge before and that you have
the best horse on the end of a lead rope, whether you do or not. How you
present yourself is something the judges will remember. And if you do happen
to see a judge again, they're going to remember if you can lose as
graciously as you can win."
Lavallee says sportsmanship is an extremely important factor, but one that
is often sadly overlooked.
"I've seen people who were really poor sports, kids who will cry and pitch a
fit and swear at the judges if they lose," she says. "But you're not helping
yourself at all by behaving that way. Judges will remember, and you do
sometimes see the same judges again. You have to be gracious and present
yourself well, no matter what happens during a show."
Lavallee believes downplaying an animal's faults and emphasizing its
strengths can mean the difference between a win and a loss in the show ring.
"It's all in presentation," she says. "There have been times when I've taken
a horse to a show and not expected to win. But I set the horse up, hid his
faults, and ended up winning the class. That's in the handling, and it
definitely comes through sometimes."
Lavallee also believes in accentuating the positive when it comes to the
horse's appearance. Show halters similar to those used with Arabians can
enhance a Mini's appearance in the ring. Conchos, she says, can also
brighten up a look, but they're not always necessary.
"If a horse has a beautiful head, you don't need a Concho," says Lavallee.
"You just have to look at the individual animal and play on its own
strengths and weaknesses."
Some of those weaknesses, she says, can be easily corrected with shine,
consistent grooming, and a bit of color enhancement..
"It's not like I spend an hour a day grooming them, but I do brush them to
keep them soft, silky, and tangle-free," says Lavallee. "I use a coat
conditioner, as well, and the manes and tails get conditioned."
The day before a show, Lavallee says her Minis are shampooed and
conditioned, then sprayed head to toe with a coat sheen product. Facial
grooming with shaving cream and a razor gets the animal prepared to face a
judge. And the day of the show, accenting the horse's natural color and
features will pull the entire look together.
"I'll take markers or highlighters and [add color to] the parts I need
blacker, like above the eyes," says Lavallee. "Any white parts I need
whiter, I'll spray them with touch-up white. It just makes the horse look
more polished once you have everything together. I've always believed in a
very well-polished horse."
Lavallee says she uses baby oil gel above the eyes and on the muzzle to give
them extra shine. A bit of human hair gel in the mane will keep it lying
flat, and sprays on the body and tail will help enhance the shine. But more
important, she says, is the condition of the horse when it arrives in the
"You can use all kinds of spray, but if the horse is not conditioned well or
[has not] had the proper nutrition, you can tell," says Lavallee. "You can
definitely tell. If the coats are' dull, I can spray and spray and spray,
and it just doesn't do any good. Nutrition has a lot to do with a well
turned out horse in the ring."
Beauty From Within
Jackie Crockett Hooks, World Class Miniature Horse Registry (WCMHR) member
and owner of Little Wonder Horse Farm in Topping, Virginia, believes success
for Miniature show horses begins long before the animal ever enters the
"The trick is getting them fit and keeping them fit," says Hooks, a member
of the World Class Miniature Horse Registry. "It's hard with these little
guys because you can't ride them. You need to start at an early age,
drilling them to keep them fit and flexible, just like an athlete. That's
really what they are - little athletes."
Hooks says a bitting rig is crucial to building a Miniature Horse's rear end
muscles and raising its head to improve its stance in the ring.
"You just can't bend them as much as a full-size horse because you can't
ride them," Hooks says. "Some of my best show horses are 15 or 16 years old,
and that's always a challenge just because they're older and stiffer. Once
they've learned the routine, it's not so much drilling what you want them to
do in the ring but keeping them flexible so they can do their job well."
But Hooks believes understanding the animal you're showing can be the most
valuable asset of all.
"I know when I first got into Minis, it seemed like many people were showing
them like show dogs," she says. "They are horses, and you have to show them
like horses. Every horse is a little different, but you always have to
evaluate each animal and show each animal's strong points off in the ring.
Every Mini has an area they excel in. You just have to choose where to put
them based on their individual talents."
The size of the animal is obviously a consideration when choosing a category
for show. But Hooks says knowing the animal's individual strengths and
weaknesses is as important as its physical attributes. '
"Some enjoy the performance more than others, and there are some that are
just natural driving horses," she says. "If you figure out what they're good
at and what they enjoy, they'll do it really well all the time. If you
figure that out and keep them fit, they won't burn out on you."
In training Miniature Horses, Hooks has found the owners often need as much
attention as the horses do.
"Sometimes they don't have horse sense - they can't read them, they don't
understand them," says Hooks. "Once you show somebody how the horse displays
how he feels through movements or gestures, the owners can become very
attuned to the animal and know them very well. A lot of them don't pick up
on the little signs, and sometimes it takes a little bit more service or
keener eye from someone who has done it before to get them to that point."
Hooks says her philosophy has always been to train the animal and the owner
"I won't train horses and just send them home," she says. "It's not going to
do any good without training the owners, too. I'll just end up getting the
animal back because they've lost what they've learned without someone to
continue reinforcing it. I just won't do it."
Hooks says she gets the most enjoyment from facing her former students in
the show ring.
"A lot of times, the people in the pen to go up against are the people I've
helped to train," she says. "If I can go against them and they win, that's
wonderful. That's competition, and what's the point of going in there