Grooming a Horse
It is necessary to regularly groom your horse not only to keep him clean but also to inspect him to ensure that he is healthy and not injured in any way. You should groom, or at least, check your horse every day even if you do not ride. He must be clean before he is ridden or tacked up, to prevent sores caused by the tack rubbing against his dirty or muddy skin. Over the years many new products have been introduced to the market that horse owners feel they just have to buy for their ever-expanding grooming box. However, we have listed below the essential items that every grooming tote should contain.
Basic Items of a Grooming Kit
- body brush - a soft bristled brush used for removing dust and scurf from the coat, mane, and tail. It usually has a flat back and broad, material handle. I particularly like the flexible type of body brush as it contours to the horse's body better than a regular kind. Do not use on grass kept horses as it removes too much of the natural oils that keep a horse warm and dry.
- curry comb - the metal type of curry comb is used for cleaning the body brush and should never be used on a horse. Plastic curry comb and rubber curry combs are also be used for this purpose but can be used on a grass kept horse to remove dry mud.
- cactus cloth or all-purpose grooming mitt - this is a slightly abrasive cloth that is used to remove dry mud or sweat marks
- dandy brush - a hard bristled dandy brush is used for removing heavy dirt, dried mud, and sweat marks. It is most useful on a grass kept horse. Do not use on a clipped horse, a horse with sensitive skin, or on any part of their face as it is too harsh. Some of the modern dandy brushes on the market have soft bristles and do not work well for this purpose.
- hoof pick - used for picking out the feet. If you get a hoof pick with the bristles opposite the pick it can also be used to clean the outside of the hooves.
- hoof oil and brush - hoof oil is used for oiling the hooves to protect them from cracking and splitting (usually in summer) or too much moisture (usually in winter).
- mane comb - use a mane comb to pull and braid manes. I like this style of mane comb with a long handle as I find it easier to hold. Do not use combs to de-tangle tails as they break the hairs.
- massage pad - used to massage your horse's muscles, especially after exercise, and to promote circulation (see strapping below).
- sponges - you will need, at the very least, two sponges. One for cleaning around the face; eyes, nose, and muzzle, and one for cleaning the dock.
- sweat scraper - to remove surplus water or sweat. These aren't used in everyday grooming. There are two types to choose from. The half-moon style or, my favorite, the metal sweat scraper.
- water brush - a soft bristled brush to dampen down the mane and tail and wash the feet. You could also use a sponge for this job if you prefer.
There are other items you may need in your grooming kit depending on the time of year and discipline that your ride, and area of the country you live, for example - fly repellent, elastic bands or needle and thread for braiding, scissors and clippers for trimming, etc. The list could go on and depends very much on what you feel you need. Horses that live most of their lives in a stable should be groomed thoroughly every day. Horses kept at grass do not need that much attention as too much grooming will remove the grease naturally present in the horse's coat. The grease helps to keep them warm and dry. You should wash your grooming kit once a week in warm soapy water. A mild disinfectant may be added. Once you have washed the dandy brush you should dip the bristles in cold water. This helps to keep them stiff. It is important to keep your grooming supplies clean as you can not clean a horse with dirty brushes. Before you begin to groom your horse he should be tied up correctly as described in the previous blog post Correctly Handling Horses. Do not try to groom a horse who is loose in a field or stable. If they try to get away from you, you will have no control over them. If you do groom them in their stable be sure to remove all food, water, and buckets to prevent them from becoming contaminated with dust and dirt.
How to Groom a Horse
There are four different types of grooming. Whenever grooming a horse make sure that he is comfortable at all times. If the weather is cold and he is wearing a blanket unbuckle it and fold it in half keeping it on his rear end. Brush the forehand on both sides before replacing the blanket, then fold it up over the forehand and brush his hind end. This prevents him from getting cold.
This process is a quick brush with a dandy brush and curry comb to remove stable stains and make him presentable and clean enough to ride. Horses that are clipped have sensitive skin. A cactus cloth instead of a dandy brush as it isn't as harsh. Sponge his eyes, nose, and dock, and pick out his feet. Quartering is adequate for a horse that lives outside in a field. Depending on which part of the country you live in or what time of year it is you might also need to check him for ticks and spray him to repel flies in summer.
A full groom is best done after exercise and is described below in the Method of Grooming section. Grooming is more effective when the horse is warm as his pores will be open. Full grooming is not recommended for grass kept horses as it removes too much of the natural grease that keeps the horse warm and dry.
This is a massage used to harden and develop muscles on stabled horses in consistent work. It invigorates the blood supply to the skin and makes the coat shine. Originally a wisp made of woven hay or straw would have been used but nowadays most people use a soft massage pad with rollers (see the image of Basic Items for a Grooming Kit). Slap the muscles in a regular rhythm in the direction the coat lays. Only massage the muscles on the neck, shoulder, quarters, and thighs. Do not use on an unfit horse as their muscles aren't strong enough for a vigorous massage.
Bush-Over or Set-Fair
For a stabled horse, at the end of the day, you should lightly brush him over when you straighten or change the blankets. This is the time that you also remove any droppings from his stall and tidy his bedding to make him comfortable for the night.
Method of Full Grooming
- picking out the feet - using the hoof pick, pick up his feet one at a time. First, talk to him then face his tail. Start with his front leg and run your hand, closest to his body, down the back of his leg. When you reach the fetlock say 'up' and squeeze the joint. Catch and support his leg under the hoof. If he doesn't lift his leg you may need to lean gently against him with your shoulder to push his weight onto this other leg. Pick the hoof from heel to toe making sure you avoid the frog (the softer triangular, center of the hoof). Make sure you carefully clean the cleft of the frog (the groove down the middle), and the bars down the side.
To pick up the rear foot stand next to his hip facing his tail. Speak to him and run your hand, nearest to him, down the back of his leg to the point of the hock. Then move your hand to the front of the cannon bone. When you reach the fetlock say 'up'. When he lifts his leg place your hand under the hoof from the inside. Do not lift it too high or pull it too far back as this will make him unbalanced. If he doesn't immediately lift his foot you may need to lean slightly against his hip to push his weight onto his other foot. Most well-trained horses will anticipate the next leg you need him to pick up and raise it slightly ready for you.
Look for any signs of injury or thrush. Save time by picking into a skip (small, low container). This keeps the dirt out of the bedding if you are in the stall and saves you from having to sweep up no matter where you are. Tap on the shoe to make sure it is not loose.
- dandy brush - for a grass-kept horse you should use the dandy brush all over his body to remove dried mud and caked on dirt. It can be held in either hand. Start at the poll on the left (near) side and work over all the body and down the legs. Use short, flicking strokes to get all the dirt out from the long hair. Do not brush too hard on sensitive areas. On a stabled or clipped horse, the dandy brush is only used where his coat is long. With the introduction of the rubber and plastic curry comb, some people prefer to use them at this point in the grooming process.
- cactus cloth - this can be used on a stabled or clipped horse, instead of the dandy brush, to remove stable stains, dirt, and sweat marks. It can also be used on horses with sensitive skin.
- body brush and curry comb - the body brush is the main brush used on a stabled horse. It's used to remove dirt, dust, and scurf from the skin. The curry comb is used to keep it clean.
Start with the mane. Throw the mane over to the opposite side of where it would normally lay. Brush the crest and exposed neck area. Then gradually pull the mane back a little at a time and brush through each section.
Once the mane is done work on the rest of the neck and progress down to the shoulders. Use short movements with enough pressure to penetrate through the hair to the skin. After every few strokes scrape the body brush against a curry comb to clean it. When you are grooming the left side of the horse the body brush should be in your left hand and the curry comb in your right. Switch them over to the other hands when you groom the right side. Use the body brush all over the horse including the legs.
The body brush can also be used on the head and forelock. When brushing the face untie the horse. You don't want him to suddenly pull back and feel like he can't get away. You can leave the lead rope threaded through the breakable string and hold onto the loose end. If you are using cross-ties unclip them and clip the lead rope onto the 'O' ring. Unfasten the halter and temporarily place it around the horse's neck. Hold the lead rope with one hand and gently brush his face with the other hand.
The body brush can also be used on the tail. If the tail is very tangled use your fingers to tease out the knots before brushing. Never use a metal comb on the tail as it breaks the hairs. Stand to one side facing backward when brushing the tail. The only time you should ever stand directly behind a horse is when applying a tail bandage.
- sponges - dampen one of the sponges and clean his eyes, nostril, and muzzle. With the other sponge wipe underneath his tail and the dock area. It's a good idea for the sponges to be different colors so that you don't get them mixed up. They must be cleaned regularly.
- water brush - use the water brush to 'lay' the mane and tail. Dip it in a bucket of water and shake off any excess. Dampen down any stray hairs on the mane. You can also use it to lay down the hairs at the top of the tail. This would be the time you would apply a tail bandage if necessary.
- hoof oil and brush - when the feet are clean and dry you may paint them with hoof oil. It is beneficial in summer when hooves tend to be dry and brittle and also in winter when the ground is wet. This also helps with the overall appearance when a horse is being formally inspected.
How to Wash a Horse
Although we all do it, it is not recommended that you wash your entire horse. Shampoo, no matter how mild, strips the coat and skin of oils that naturally provide protection against wind, rain, and flies. If you must wash your horse he will need to be blanketed for about a week until the oils return if he will be outside in inclement weather.
Washing the Mane
Before you begin to wash the mane you should brush it thoroughly with the body brush (see the body brush and curry comb section above) or a human hairbrush. Wash stalls are becoming more popular and make washing the mane much easier. If you do not have access to a wash stall you can use a bucket of warm water and a large sponge or water brush. Either way, wet the mane thoroughly starting at the withers.
If using a hose run the water onto the horse's front leg first and gradually move up his shoulder to the withers. This way it doesn't come as too much of a surprise to him. Pull the forelock back through his ears to join the top of the mane. Use a sponge or water brush to help the water to penetrate deep into the mane. Once the mane is thoroughly wet use a mild shampoo and work it into the mane. When you have washed the entire mane rinse it thoroughly starting at the poll.
Be careful not to get soap or water in the horse's eyes or ears. Make sure the water runs clear and is free of any shampoo. Use the sweat scraper to remove the excess water from your horse's neck. Some people like to also use a conditioner. This gives the mane a soft fluffy appearance but doesn't work well if you plan to braid.
Washing the Tail
As mentioned above this is easier if you have access to a wash stall but can still be done with a bucket and large sponge or water brush. As with the mane, make sure that the tail has been brushed through thoroughly with a body brush or human hairbrush before you begin to wash it.
Wet the tail thoroughly either with the hose or by submerging it in the bucket. You need to know your horse well and how he will react before attempting either of these procedures. Whenever the dock of a horse is thoroughly wetted the horse usually buckles slightly with their back legs and appear as if they will fall down. This passes quickly and helps if you speak gently to them to reassure them that everything is ok. If you are using warm water this is less likely to happen as it won't be too much of a shock to the horse.
When the tail is completely wet, shampoo and rinse thoroughly. Squeeze out excess water with your hands and swing the tail gently to remove any remaining water. If you want to apply conditioner to the bottom of the tail you can do so and rinse it thoroughly. Do not apply it to the top as it will give it a 'fly away' look. While the tail is still damp apply a tail bandage.
Washing the Feet
Do not wash your horse's feet too often as overexposure to moisture is not good for them. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to remove excess mud. Use the water brush dipped in warm water. Using the thumb on your hand, that is holding up the foot, press it into the hollow of the heel to prevent water from seeping in there. If your horse's feet need to be washed in winter or if they are likely to be wet regularly smear petroleum jelly onto the heel to help prevent cracked heels or scratches.
Washing a Horse
If you really must wash your horse make sure it is on a warm day when he won't become chilled. Start with the mane and work down one side. Wet, wash, rinse, and use the sweat scraper as you go. Do not allow him to stand completely wet or allow the shampoo to dry on his skin. Finish with his tail. Be sure to offer extra protection until the natural oils return.
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