When I was showing Fiona a lot, I followed the same procedure with her. Kept her pulled and clipped all the time. Her tail was trimmed and banged, her mane was pulled, her fetlocks were kept neatly clean clipped, and her whiskers were shaved. My concession to her life in New Hampshire was that her ears weren't clean clipped. I folded them closed and got rid of the stuff that stuck out. In short, I kept her very trimmed up and polished. She enjoyed the process and had a stall so it worked.
Now I have Theo. Things have changed. I'm older, have a demanding job, and have been removed from the h/j ring for a long time. He's also a half-yak that lives out 24/7 because he destroys stalls. I started out with keeping him as trimmed and pulled and fussed over as everyone else.
My clipped and braided to within an inch of his life pony.
This is no longer how we do.
When I met Theo, his mane was thick but not unusually so. After four years of careful nutrition and care, Theo now grows a full double mane. Keeping that in shape for standard braids is awful. Theo hates having his mane pulled, I hate pulling it, and it's a weekly chore just to keep up. I have to pull so much we end up with bald spots under his mane and when they start to grow back in? My braids become an epic nightmare.
My braids are so, so bad at this show
Combine this with the fact that he lives out 24/7 in New Hampshire and I've had to make some changes. I no longer pull or shorten Theo's mane at all. He does have a thin bridle path to help keep his bridle on his face. I don't trim the base of his tail. I do bang it because it gets crazy long, but otherwise let it do it's own thing and get as big as it wants. I leave the guard hairs on his belly and under his jowl (he needs those!). I don't trim his whiskers at all. I don't use clippers on his ears or his ankles. I go in with scissors to get rid of the worst of the owl tufts and make sure that his ankles actually have some shape but that's it. His ankles need the protection from rain, mud, and bugs.
I've discovered that he looks just fine.
The real problem here is that my boots are filthy from lunging him right before going in
He's not showing in hand, the judge is stuck in a booth and the closest we get is something like 15 feet. Everyone's too busy staring at his dapples to worry about if his ankles are a bit hairy. Anything that adds volume to his tail game is going to get rave reviews. The scalloped style braids look just as nice and add a bit of height to his neck which is an added bonus.
I spend a lot less time fussing and doing stuff he'd really rather I not do. His mane is kept in pasture braids and taken down once a week to be conditioned and reset. His monster tail gets a full brush out once a week.
His casual at home look
My show prep is now a quick bath and about five minutes with the scissors. It still takes me 30 minutes to fully wash his tail but that's just how life with the best tail in the region goes. It takes me 20 - 25 minutes to braid him and I do it the morning of the show. The forelock is tucked away under an earnet and boom, he looks quite civilized.
In western dressage, we let it all run wild and free.
Snapped this while he was being demo pony for training a ring steward
It's taken a lot of getting used to, I still feel like I'm not prepared enough. Like I'm not a good enough mom because his ears are a bit fluffy and his fetlocks don't look as thin because there's hair on the back. I still worry that I'm not presenting him appropriately. But I'm also realizing I'm the only one that notices. The judges have enough time to note braided mane, shiny coat, and a tail that doesn't quit. They aren't checking to see how well clipped his ears are especially when I usually show in an earnet.
I don't know if I'd let another horse be quite as au naturale, I'm too set in my ways. Theo's a special case and really takes after his Canadian half. All the Cheval Canadians show in natural manes and tails, so he blends right in. I've given up on pretending he's anything other than what he is. He's my unique, PITA, feral wannabe stud with really fantastic hair.