Grooming: More Than Just a Pre-Ride Ritual

We tend to think of grooming as something we do before riding, but there’s a whole lot more to it. It’s really an important aspect of horse health care.

In addition to relaxation, bonding time and making your horse look and feel better, a grooming session gives you an up-close-and-personal evaluation of your horse from nose to tail.

“This is important because it gives you the opportunity to get your hands on your horse, which gives you a much better chance of finding any injuries or issues you need to address,” says Tina Anderson — Equine for Farnam.

This hands-on time helps you find (and promptly treat) cuts, insect bites, ticks, swelling, heat and tender areas that you might easily miss if you were simply looking at him.

Grooming is also an ideal excuse to spend quality time with horses you never swing a leg over. This includes that sweet old retired gelding, the stall-bound horse rehabbing from injury, the nervous weanling who needs extra handling to gain confidence, and the yearling you’re prepping for a sale.

“I don’t know who it benefits more, me or my horse,” says Anderson. “To spend time grooming is my ‘happy place,’ and most horses enjoy it too.”

Grooming Basics

A visit to your local tack store reveals an overwhelming supply of equine grooming products, but you only really need the following to do a great job:

  • rubber curry comb
  • stiff-bristled brush
  • soft-bristled brush
  • hoof pick
  • grooming towel (also called a “rub rag”)
  • detangler/shine coat conditioner

Hmm, if you noticed there’s no comb on the list, Anderson has a reason for that. “For me, using a comb on a horse’s tail is a personal pet peeve,” she explains. “Combs pull out hair and that’s not what you want if you’re going for the thick, flowing-tail look. I prefer not to comb tails and will rarely even brush one.” Anderson relies on a good detangler product to keep her horses’ tails and manes in great shape.

She recommends applying a detangler to the tail and mane and letting it soak in for several minutes. Then, starting from the bottom of the tail and working your way up, use your fingers to separate the hairs and loosen any tangles and knots. Once the tail is free of any tangles, run a soft brush through it if needed.

“A detangler is not only helpful for helping maintain fullness and length, but it’s also really good for repelling stains,” notes Anderson. “A shine spray applied over the body also helps repel dust and dirt, in addition to adding shine.”

Some people resort to scissors when a tail or mane are knotted, but Anderson strongly discourages this. You may need to apply a detangler product for several days, but avoid using scissors at all costs, as this won’t give the look you want.

“For manes, old-fashioned pulling is the best method to shorten a mane,” she notes. “You have to do it in small sections and it takes time but pulling gives a much more natural look than using scissors, and the mane will also lay flatter using this method.”

Simple Process

“There are a ton of grooming tools on the market, but if you could only have one, it would have to be a rubber curry comb,” says Anderson, who notes that every grooming session should start with a rubber curry used in a circular motion. (Skip the metal curry combs; they’re not made for the horse’s sensitive skin and can also damage hair.)

Once you’ve loosened the dirt, any dried-on mud and shedding hair with the curry, brush it away with your stiff brush. Run your hands up and down the legs to check for anything out of the ordinary, and brush them with your soft-bristled brush. Don’t use a curry or stiff brush on the legs, and even if you don’t plan to ride, be sure to pick out each foot.

An old towel makes a good grooming towel if you don’t want to buy one specifically for that purpose. It’s a good final touch to run it over the horse’s entire body to remove any dust, dander and loose hair and to bring out shine in the coat. It’s also ideal for horses who don’t like to have their faces brushed, as well as for cleaning inside ears and nostrils.

If you have a mare, use a towel to gently clean her udder, including between the teats. For male horses, check and clean the sheath weekly, or at the very least, monthly. Your horse will be much more comfortable, and you’ll avoid having to do a major cleaning job.

There are excellent products on the market that detangle or add shine — or do both at the same time. Using a shine product will repel dirt and stains; it can also help speed up your post-ride grooming if you spray it on any sweaty places and then follow up with a good brushing. Applying a detangler every few days can keep the mane and tail tangle-free. If you use a combination shine/detangler product you can accomplish both tasks quickly and easily.

What about those crazy busy days when you barely have time to ride, let alone get in a long, leisurely grooming session? For a scaled-down grooming routine, at the very least you should pick out his feet and curry and brush the areas where your tack will be on the horse.

“And no matter what, always pick the feet!” says Anderson.

Courtesy of Stable Talk by Farnam