Selecting a Show Horse

All heavy horses are draught horses and it is important to bear in mind when selecting one suitable for showing that it should not only look as though it could do a day’s work, but actually be able to do so. The basic principles of conformation are identical for a work or show horse – for showing we should choose the best of our working horses.

First, decide on the type of showing you wish to compete in, i.e. breed classes, gelding or turnout. If you intend to show breeding stock it is advisable to look into the pedigrees of both the sire and the dam of any horse you may wish to buy, as many characteristics are passed on.

The ideal source of show horses is the breeders themselves and the various breed societies can provide you with appropriate names and addresses. You may be able to obtain such a horse from the auctions and sales which exist, or you may visit a horse you have heard of by word of mouth. Great care should be exercised in the choice to avoid any disappointment.


Colour should not be a big issue as long as you keep within the breed society’s guidelines. If in doubt check with the particular society – many people new to heavy horses have rushed in with great enthusiasm and been sorry for their decision later on. With the Shire or Clydesdale it is very fashionable to have four white legs, particularly for turnout classes. Horses with this colouring are also more valuable at sale.


Size is more important for a show horse than for a work horse. Generally speaking, “A good big ‘un will usually beat a good little ‘un”. When selecting a show horse try not to go as far as putting a measuring stick to them, but size is important in any breed. A lot of people believe that, “you need weight to move weight,” but that said, 17.2 hh – 18 hh is big enough for any horse. Many very good horses are much smaller, particularly in the Suffolk and British Percheron breeds.

Try to avoid wall eyes (where the eye has a pronounced amount of white) and look for a ‘kind’ eye. A long neck in proportion to the body, with plenty of neck through the collar, is appropriate. The throat should be clean-cut and lean, leading to deep and oblique shoulders to support the collar. The back needs to be short-coupled for stallions and geldings, and slightly longer for females. It should not be dipped or ‘roached’ and should have prominent loins leading to long sweeping hind quarters with plenty of muscle and a tail set well up.

Hocks should be set at the correct angle for leverage. They should be not too far back but in line with the hind quarters. Avoid ‘sickle’ hocks, which come too far under the horse, and puffiness in the hock area. The front legs need to be as straight as possible down to the pastern, which should slope at some 45 degrees down to the feet. There is a lot of truth in the old saying, ‘no foot, no horse’ so a good sound foot with no cracks and plenty of depth at the heel is needed. As with the hind legs, the fore limbs need to be sound with no blemishes such as sidebone, ringbone or splints.

Next check for movement – have the horse walked and trotted towards and away from you.If you are intending to show the horse in turnout classes it is appropriate to see the horse drawing a vehicle or implement before making your decision.

If you are still interested and it is a valuable horse it is recommended that you call in a veterinary surgeon to examine the horse for soundness of wind, limb, eyes, heart and movement and also the suitability for the job you require it to do. It is also advisable to have blood samples taken for further reference. A few pounds spent at this stage could save you a lot of disappointment and money later on.

Care of the Show Horse

Having purchased your potential show horse, its care will be all-important. You will only get out what you put in. People who prefer Shires or Clydesdales with a lot of feather will need to spend time looking after them to prevent staining. These breeds are also prone to sores on their legs. Manes and tails need to be given attention as it becomes very difficult to plait them if too much rubbing occurs. Excessive rubbing can sometimes be caused by wrong feeding, especially with some of the highly mollassed straw feeds. Your feeding programme needs to start in the early part of the year for the coming show season.

Schooling the Show Horse

The other important factor is the work you will put in at home in schooling your horse, be it for in-hand showing or harness, because a class can be won or lost in the way your horse goes in the show ring.

To get your horse to a show you will probably need to transport it in a box and practice is needed to make sure it will load and unload without problems. General handling of your horse, such as picking up and picking out feet, will not only help to prevent thrush and other problems developing unseen, but will help the farrier when he comes to shoe your horse.

If you intend to show a mare and foals, plenty of practice is needed with the foal. Teach it to walk, trot and stand still. This will apply to all young stock – the more they are handled the better they will go when you get them to a show. With harness horses never ever take them out to any public event until they are absolutely ready. Do not attempt to take horses to shows to break them in.

The more care and attention to detail you put in, the more you will get from your horse or horses.


Preparing your heavy horse for showing.

Show Ring

Showing your heavy horse in the show ring.

Other Classes

Other heavy horse show classes & events.

Vehicle Types

Showing vehicle types & acquisition.

Obstacle Driving

Heavy horse obstacle driving events.

Shire Horse

Shire horse information and breed guide.


Clydesdale information and breed guide.


Suffolk information and breed guide.


Percheron information and breed guide.


Ardennes information and breed guide.


Native and working crosses information and breed guide.