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Groom a Horse


There are many benefits to grooming a horse every day. First and foremost, your horse will be healthier and happier. Brushing removes dirt, sweat residue, dead skin cells, parasites, and shedding hair. It also stimulates blood circulation to muscles (to help prevent strain), unclogs pores, and stimulates oil glands (oil softens skin and conditions hair). Plus, you’ll be able to detect any hitchhikers such as fleas, ticks, or lice.

But perhaps the most powerful reason to groom your horse daily is the special bond that develops between you.

Horses should be groomed at least once a day, and always before a ride to prevent saddle sores and strains from stiff muscles, and after exercise to remove dust and sweat and check for pests.

You’ll also want to establish a routine, which will calm the horse. For example, you might start grooming on the same side each day, or alternate sides regularly. Groom your horse at the same time each day, if possible, and always when it’s cooled-down (dry), not wet. Never let a wet horse stand in the cold–blanket it or walk it until it’s dry. Note: If your horse is not used to grooming, start with Step 1, then go directly to Step 4. Work up to longer grooming sessions that use the currycomb and dandy brush.

These instructions assume your horse is already trained to the halter and is comfortable being tied up.

Step 1: Prepare the grooming area

To limit trips in and out of your tack room, store and carry your brushes and grooming supplies in a grooming pail (it looks like the removable tray in a tool chest, but it’s made of plastic and has a handle). Place your supplies in the pail in the order you expect to use them, balancing the weight equally by placing brushes of equal weight on opposite sides, if possible.

The grooming area should be a clean, flat, open space, free of distractions. It should be a secure area that’s separate from loose horses.

Using a halter, tie your horse securely to a post or fence, at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from any debris. Make sure your horse is far enough away from any other horses that may be tied up nearby, so they can’t kick each other.

Step 2: Scrub the dirt

When grooming your horse, rest one arm over the horse’s back to let it feel where you are at all times. Move slowly and gently, but deliberately. Watch your horse’s facial expressions as you work: Notice what it enjoys and spend extra time doing that.

When crossing to the other side behind the horse, move further than kicking distance away from the horse’s hind quarters. If you must pass within kicking range, keep in mind that the closer you are to the horse, the less impact its kick can have–stay close. Drape your arm across the horse’s rump as you cross over so you don’t startle it.

Beginning at your horse’s neck and working your way down its body loosen caked dirt, sweat, and hairs by scrubbing in large circles or back and forth with a rubber currycomb. The currycomb brings dirt to the surface of the horse’s coat, stimulates the oil glands in its hide, and massages the hide and muscles.

Use the currycomb to cover the entire body except the head, below the knees, and any other particularly boney part. The currycomb is meant for the fleshy, muscular areas only. Knock the dust off the currycomb every three to five strokes by striking it against a hard surface. Note: If your horse doesn’t like being currycombed–or if it isn’t shedding or crusted with dirt–you can skip the currycomb until your horse is dirtier.

Step 3: Remove the dirt

Now that you’ve loosened the dirt and brought it to the surface, remove it using a dandy brush, a handful of straw, or a rough cloth like a burlap sack or empty grain sack.

Following the natural direction of the hair growth, sweep along the horse with short, vigorous strokes. Flick your wrist at the end of each stroke to pull dirt out. Don’t use too much pressure on the belly, though, and avoid the horse’s head and its legs below the knees.

Note: You can combine Steps 2 and 3 by holding the currycomb in one hand and the dandy brush in the other, then alternately swiping the same area with first the curry and then the dandy.

As you work your way over the horse’s body, clean the dandy brush by rubbing it with the currycomb every three to five strokes. Don’t forget to also clean the currycomb as you go by striking it against a hard surface.

Step 4: Buff and polish

Once most of the dirt is off, you can remove smaller particles of dust and dead skin cells by using a soft brush (any brush with long soft bristles will do) or a clean towel. This brushing smoothes the coat, leaving a nice shine. Hold the brush in the palm of your hand and use arm-length, sweeping strokes. Flick your wrist at the end of each stroke to push any remaining dirt away from the horse’s body. Clean the brush with the currycomb as you go. Brush the entire body, including the face and below the knees.

Next, wipe your horse’s entire body with clean, damp, warm rub rags, towels, or your clean hand. If you’re using a towel, rinse and refold it often to keep a clean side out, so you don’t redistribute the dirt.

Check to see if your horse is clean by running your fingers against the direction of the hair’s growth. If you see gray dust, your horse is still dirty. Start the brushing over again from Step 2.

Step 5: Clean the hooves

Cleaning a horse’s hooves is a very simple yet important part of grooming. If you ride a horse that has a rock lodged in its hoof, the horse can become lame and take weeks to heal. Other problems like infections or disease can develop if wet manure is left to fester.

To clean a horse’s hooves:

  • Face toward the horse’s rear, and stand alongside its leg with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees so you can run your hand down the full length of the back of the leg. Press your elbow into the crook of the horse’s knee to encourage it to lift its hoof. If your horse doesn’t lift its foot, lean your shoulder against its shoulder, causing the horse to shift its weight to the other foot. When the horse picks up its hoof, slip your hand under the hoof wall and hold it up so you can see the bottom.
  • With the hoof pick, carefully and gently scrape debris, rocks, and caked manure from the soles, working from heel to toe. Be careful of the sensitive frog (the hoof’s raised middle section), and be alert for bruises (redness, soft spots, tender areas), cracks in the walls, signs of infection (like inflammation, pus, a foul smell, blood, or an abscess), loose shoes, and anything else out of the ordinary. If you find any of these things, consult your veterinarian or shore.
  • Using a paintbrush, oil the entire hoof (even the sole) with a commercial hoof product, lanolin, or baby oil. This prevents the hoof from cracking, splintering, or becoming brittle, discourages crud from collecting in the hooves, and helps prevent water, urine, manure, and other moisture from soaking in.
  • Gently place the hoof back down on the ground. Never drop it.

Step 6: Give a facial and hairdo

Once your horse’s body and hooves are clean, it’s time to concentrate on its face, mane, and tail. It’s a good idea to clean the face, mane and tail every day to prevent tangles, accustom the horse to being handled in these areas, and to prevent dirt and sweat buildup.

Pick any debris out of the mane and tail. Untangle strands with your fingers, starting at the ends and working up to the roots. Be careful not to break the hair. Brush the mane and tail with the soft brush you used in Step 4, dampened with some cold water. Cold water stimulates the mane and tail to grow, and since the hair is longer here, the horse won’t feel the cold temperature.

To help loosen tangles or burrs, saturate the hair in baby oil, mineral oil, or neat’s-foot oil, wait an hour or so, and try to dislodge the snarl again with your fingers. When you’re done, wash the oil out with horse shampoo to prevent dust buildup. To help prevent tangles from reoccurring, loosely braid the tail with strips of material.

Unfasten the lead rope(s) or untie your horse before grooming its face, in case the facial tickles and the horse tosses its head. Use a soft, clean brush, towel, or sponge to wipe the horse’s face, following the lay of the hair and cupping your palm over the horse’s eyes to protect them from airborne dust particles.

Wipe the eyes with another clean, warm, damp sponge or towel. Wipe right down over the lids (the horse will close its eyes), taking special care around the tear ducts. With a third clean, warm, damp sponge or towel, gently wipe the outer surfaces of the ears and nostrils (leave the inside cavities to the vet).

Finish the horse’s grooming regimen with a commercial fly spray once a week (or every day, depending on the population of flies), following the product directions. Cup your palm over the horse’s eyes (first one side, then the next) as you apply it to protect them from the mist.

Step 7: Wash the horse (optional)

After a ride, you may need to wash off the sweat that accumulates just under the saddle. At other times (maybe once a month during hot summers) you may want to wash your entire horse. Choose a spot that’s free of drafts and, using a warm water hose (warm water loosens salt, dirt, and shedding hair, and is more comfortable to the horse than either cold or hot water), get your horse wet. Start at the front legs and work the water first up the neck to just behind the ears and then back down, toward the rump.

Using horse shampoo diluted in a bucket of water (follow the directions on the bottle) and a sponge or rag, lather the horse, working from the neck behind the ears and down the entire back. Once the horse is completely lathered up, rinse it thoroughly with warm water.

Rub your horse with clean towels to remove most of the moisture from its skin, then walk the horse until you’re sure it’s completely dry.

Note: It’s not a good idea to wash your horse during cold weather, unless you keep it blanketed or house it inside, because its natural skin oils help keep it warm and dry.

In time, your horse will begin to look forward to this regular pampering. Not only will it look better and be healthier, but it will grow to see you as a trusted, loyal friend.

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