Parades and costume classes are a great excuse to have fun and decorate a horse. It's easy to decorate your horse with non-toxic color like waterpaint or drink crystals. This is also an activity that encourages non-riders to interact with a horse in a fun way. Be certain that anything you use on the hair coat will not harm your horse in any way. Some coloring will stain the hair. Most tempera paint and washable markers will not stain. Food coloring will. So do some tests before you dye your whole horse a different color. Also, be sure to keep any colorings away from your horse's eyes.
1. Decorate A Horse With Stencils
An easy way to add colorful designs to your horse's coat is with paint and stencils. This is easy to do with some non-toxic tempera (Compare Prices) and a stencil. Simply hold the stencil against your horse, and dab on the paint with a sponge brush. For real flare, add some glitter! Set glitter with a quick spray of hair spray. Is there such thing as non-toxic glow in the dark waterpaint? Imagine your herd wandering around your paddock at night with glow in the dark stencil designs.
Here's a great example of a horse ready for a Christmas parade with white snowflakes stenciled on its dark bay coat. You can buy premade stencils or make them yourself using the many freely available patterns online.
2. Stencils and Patterns Without Paint
You may recall seeing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police horses with a maple leaf on their haunch. The design looks intricate but is very easy to do with a stencil. To decorate your horse without paint, wet the hair, and with a fine tooth comb, fill in your stencil by brushing the hair the wrong way. After the hair has dried, set it with a quick spritz of hair spray. Some traditional designs are shark's teeth or lightening bolts on the horse’s shoulder or a checkerboard over their haunches. This trick is sometimes used in the show ring to distract the judge’s eye from less than ideal conformation.
3. Decorate A Horse With Color
You can really have a ‘horse of another color’ by using unsweetened drink crystals. I’ve seen people ‘dye’ their grey horses almost entirely. Simply mix up a few packets of unsweetened drink crystals with water and use the solution to paint or pour over your horse. This will stain the coat, so don’t do this if you’ve got an important show coming up! If the weather is cold, don’t wet your horse’s hair, or it may get chilled.
4. Decorate a Horse with Blankets and Wraps
You may have colorful wraps and blankets on hand that you can use to add color or become the base for your decorated horse. There is a multitude or things you can attach or paint on a blanket. Why not tie-dye an old cotton cooler for a 'hippy horse'. Or use it as the basis for war horses, Arabian costumes, or anything else you can dream up. Add color to your horse's legs with multi-colored self-adhesive bandages such as Vetrap or Coban. Be sure not to wrap your horse's too tight as that can cause injury, however you want them done up so they don't come loose.
5. Decorate A Horse With Stock Markers
Stock markers come in several different opaque colors and look like big crayons. They are often used in trail riding competitions to number the horses and of course, to mark cattle. Stock marker is very durable, waterproof and will last for weeks after you apply it. We once turned my daughter’s white pony into a zebra for a costume class (she dressed as the zoo keeper). The stripes lasted for weeks. One time we were out trail riding and met a hiker who asked if my daughter was actually riding a zebra.
6. Decorate With Symbols
Native North Americans used natural paints on their horses, and the marks they made represented the achievements and exploits of the rider. AAA Native Arts Gallery explains some of the symbolism used. Just use your fingers to draw geometric shapes and lines or dip your hand in to make hand prints with non-toxic water paint.
7. Decorate Horse Manes and Tails
Of course, you can braid in all sorts of ribbons, yarns and hang small ornaments from manes and tails. You can also use the drink mix to color mane and tail hairs too. Braiding elastics come in neutral colors to match the color of your horse, or you can buy funky multi-colored elastics (Compare Prices).
8. Decorate A Horse's Hooves
You can use a product like Twinkle Toes Hoof Glitter (Compare Prices) for your horse’s hooves, or mix a packet of glitter into a bottle of clear hoof polish (Compare Prices). Or apply the hoof polish, and before it dries, sprinkle on the glitter. Hoof polish tends to be drying, so only do this for special occasions. You can also use tempera paint on hooves.