How to apply makeup to horses for shows

Updated November 21, 2016

Make-up is used to enhance a horse's natural features or disguise scars and scrapes, or uneven markings. Most breed associations allow the use of make-up as long as it is not obvious. There are however, a few classes that prohibit the use of make-up or artificial enhancement. It takes a while to become adept at applying make-up to horses.

Be sure to practice (a lot) several months prior to starting your show season. You may have to mix colours to get the right shade for your horse. Opt for a lighter colour rather than darker as the lighter colour reflects as a highlight when you apply your last minute silicone shining spray. And just like with people, remember less is more. You are showcasing your horse, his beauty and athletic ability not your prowess with make-up.

Experiment with different products and colours until you have the ones that best match your horse's colour. Do this several months before you intend to show as some products may stain or dye your horse's coat. You may have to mix colours to get your horse's exact shade.

Check with the show organisers to make sure make-up for horses is allowed in the classes you will be showing in. There are some breed associations that ban make-up or artificial enhancement of horses.

Clip, bathe and groom your horse as usual in anticipation of the show. Groom your horse thoroughly before applying horse make-up. Using a horse vacuum can reduce the time this takes.

Cover scabs the morning of the horse show with a thick (1/2- to 1 inch) layer of petroleum jelly. Leave it on for 30 minutes. Gently remove the petroleum jelly and test the scab. If it comes up easily you are ready for the next step. If the scab doesn't come up, apply another coat of petroleum jelly and wait for another 30 minutes before removing it.

Use disposable gloves when applying make-up as some products will stain.

Mix the colours prior to getting your horse out. Set everything within easy reach or have an assistant ready to hand you supplies as you need them.

Apply make-up to a clean cloth, cotton ball or cotton square. Wipe it over the area on your horse you wish to enhance or disguise (scars and scabs). Apply a thin coat working the cloth against the horse's coat to get the colour to the skin and completely cover the hair follicle. It may take several applications before you have the correct coverage.

Run a clean cloth lightly over the areas you applied make-up to to remove any excess. Use a blotting motion rather than a circular scrubbing motion.

Remove make-up that has run or spread beyond the area you want it with a barely moist (wring out as much water as you can) small sponge or cotton ball.

Enhance white socks with baby powder or chalk (the kind made for horses not the kind used on chalkboards). Dampen the existing white markings with water using a small sponge. Dust white socks with the powder using your fingers to work the powder to the skin. Apply a little at a time until you have the coverage you want.

Use a soft finishing brush to flick off excess powder. Wipe the hooves clean of powder and apply hoof blacking or polish now.

Make or cover up white markings using white, black or other colour cremes or gels. Spread a thin layer of the appropriate colour onto the bristles of a toothbrush. Form or cover the spot by applying the creme or gel against the horse's hair. This works the colour into the skin and covers the underside of the hair follicle. It may take several applications to get the coverage you need.

Use the toothbrush to brush the coat in the right direction. Apply another layer of colour to the now flatten coat.

Use a hairdryer to dry the creme or gel when the marking has been made or covered to your satisfaction. Hold the hairdryer at least 12 inches from the marking. It should take 3 or 4 minutes for the creme or gel to dry fully.

Use a silicone highlighter or baby oil to enhance the muzzle, around the eyes and inside the ears of your horse. Apply to a cotton ball or cotton square and gently wipe onto the horse. Use a clean cloth to blot up excess oil or highlighter.

Remove make-up with warm water and a sponge.


Use make-up with added highlighter to enhance features. Use matt (no shine) make-up to cover scars, cover markings or even out markings. If you are travelling across state lines wait until you get to the show grounds to apply make-up. Your horse might be checked and he will need to match the markings listed on his coggins or registration papers. Always bring twice as many cloths or cotton balls or squares as you think you will need. Always use plastic container to mix colours in as glass might become a hazard if it falls and shatters on the ground.


A horse with too much visible make-up looks like he has something to hide. Use the minimum make-up possible. While make-up may look good from a distance up close it looks like make-up and can put some judges off which can lower an otherwise good score. If you like solid coloured horses or horses with a lot of chrome (white) don't buy the wrong colour, then try to cover up or add white. It's frustrating for both you and the horse.

Things You'll Need

  • Horse vacuum (optional)
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Disposable gloves
  • Clean lint free cotton cloths
  • Cotton balls or cotton squares
  • Small (should fit easily in your hand) natural or synthetic sponges
  • Bucket
  • Warm water
  • Horse make-up that matches the colour of your horse
  • Small plastic container if you need to mix colours
  • Baby powder with cornstarch or white chalk
  • Hoof black
  • White, black or other colour creme or gel
  • Toothbrush
  • Hairdryer
  • Silicone highlighter or baby oil
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