Small Things That Make All the Difference: Grooming for Dressage


As a United States Dressage Federation Silver Medalist, Melissa Gallagher of Ardara Sporthorses knows that it takes diligent care to have her horses looking their best as they come down centerline. From bathing and skin care to tack cleaning, read on to hear about the small things that make all the difference for Melissa in the show ring!


As horse and rider enter the ring, first impressions are essential. With a coat that shines, tack as soft as butter, and attire neatly pressed, it lets the judges know you care deeply about your horse’s well being and your presentation. Regardless of how you perform in the ring, proper turnout and horse care is the foundation of horsemanship and professionalism. Being a competitive professional for over 20 years, I have found many products that really highlight the horse’s health and showcase the hard work myself and my team at Ardara Sporthorses have dedicated to this incredible sport and these amazing animals. While proper nutrition is the foundation of our training program there are many products I continue to turn to for that “wow" factor.


According to Melissa, "Proper turnout and horse care is the foundation of horsemanship and professionalism."

Body Washing and Skin Care

During the winter season we are located in Southern Florida at Sunshine Meadows Equestrian Village. Lots of sun and sand is great for our mental motivation but sometimes does a number on the richness of the coat color and can lead to a range of skin funk conditions. All of our horses receive a weekly bubble bath with E3 Tea Tree Oil Shampoo. Aside from smelling amazing, it leaves their coat with a mirror-like shine without the slick feel that some silicone shampoos have. I need sunglasses while looking at my horses! When it comes time for show preparation we stick to this shampoo because of its conditioning properties. This shampoo is also really gentle on hands. Many shampoos leave your hands feeling dry and chapped after a long spa session. E3 Tea Tree Oil Shampoo feels conditioning without the irritation of slippery fingers.

With the sun, sand and humidity comes mutant-sized flies and mosquitos. These are extremely irritating for horse and rider alike. E3 Fly Spray creates an invisible barrier around you and your horse deterring even the most ravenous flying pest. Boasting all natural ingredients is a huge plus and it has a pleasant scent making it enjoyable to use. The spray of this product is on the heavier side so you know your horse is being thoroughly covered, instead of the mist blowing away in the breeze. We use this product daily for schooling at home and for our competition times when distractions are least welcome.


E3 Tea Tree Oil Shampoo makes the horses' coats gleam and the Fly Spray allows them to focus on their job.

The fine sand can house many different bacterias and fungus that cause a range of skin funk conditions. From rain rot, to scratches, allergies and hives we always turn to Coat Defense Trouble Spot Drying Paste. In years past we have tried many remedies that have failed including sulfur powder, petroleum jelly, and various chemical products claiming to eliminate problem spots. Coat Defense has a lovely mild peppermint smell and a fine grainy poultice consistency that really sticks in place on the coat, ensuring it targets the problem area with accuracy and efficiency. We use this any time we see a change in the hair pattern and within 24 hours it has resolved. Coat Defense brand prides itself in using mild ingredients and this really helps keep skin irritations to a minimum. Finally, I love that it says USEF and FEI compliant right on the label. Not only is that great news but the fact that I don't have to go through the drug book or call on every ingredient is awesome!

Tack Care

My equipment is an extension of my body. My saddles are just as important to my success as my own personal training and I care for them as I would my own being. I start with a plain damp cloth and wipe all the dust and sweat off of each saddle and bridle. Removing this dust and salt daily keeps the leather supple and reduces time spent deep cleaning before shows. Plain water is a good way to remove this grime first as it is gentle and prevents the cleaner from grinding into the soft leather. Each bit is wiped down using water and a cloth, focusing on the sides that tend to accumulate green slime and stains in the long run.


Sterling Essentials Leather Cleaner and Conditioner keeps Melissa's tack soft, supple, and strong.

After the quick wipe down, we use Sterling Essentials Leather Cleaner. This stuff smells amazing and works great for everyday use. It does not dry out the leather as many cleaners tend to strip all the oil from the surface. We finish off with using handcrafted conditioner provided by Hulsebos Saddles. It leaves a butter feel and a mild shine that makes even the most well loved saddle look brand new. It has a water repellant characteristic that ensures leather hydration and suppleness. We also use Sterling Essentials Leather Conditioner which smells just as nice as the cleaner. A light essential oil smell that confirms cleanliness and quality. This conditioner has a nice creamy consistency and it is not greasy. It also has a water repellant quality as water beads up on my tall boots during the light sun showers that Florida is famous for.


These products are a few of the things that make all the difference in the show ring.

All of these products really enhance the internal and external shine of my horses! Starting with great nutrition and some daily elbow grease, competition grooming is simple, quick, and the least of my worries as I head down the centerline!
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