That show ring shine we all want our horses to have doesn¡¦t come from a spray bottle . . . it comes from a daily regime of good grooming and will contribute to your horse’s physical and mental well-being.
Stabled horses require a regular grooming program because of the unnatural environment they live in. Strenuous exercise often leads to profuse sweating which clogs skin pores and prevents natural temperature control. The high protein/fat feed programs of many show horses today are also not natural components of the equine diet and negatively affect their metabolism.
The best time to groom a horse is after light exercise when the skin pores have opened, and grooming anytime should be an enjoyable experience for the horse. The first step of correct grooming begins with the hooves. Stand beside the horse and gently pinch the tendons of the lower leg with your right hand.
Support the lifted leg with your left hand and insert the hoof pick near the bulb of the heel ¡V working toward the toe and prying out any wedged in dirt and manure. Take care not to dig in the sensitive areas around the frog and be alert for the telltale signs of thrush (a foul-smelling black spongy hoof disease).
Once all four hooves are cleaned it¡¦s time to start on the rest of the body. Always begin at the horse’s head, working top to bottom, and front to back. Also brush in the direction of the hair using caution around the head, belly, and any bony areas as they are easy to bruise. Suffering through a painful experience won¡¦t encourage your horse to be cooperative for subsequent grooming. It¡¦s a good idea to tap your brushes frequently to remove debris and assure a clean brush.
Dedicating a complete set of grooming equipment to each horse will help in preventing the spread of skin disorders among barn mates.
Brush the horse’s face with a dandy brush (paying close attention to that area under the forelock) and finish up by wiping with a clean cactus cloth. Clean around the eyes, ears, and muzzle with a slightly damp sponge and for an elegant look wipe with a small amount of mineral oil to make the skin shinier. Be careful not to get any oil in the horse’s eyes!
Groom the mane by first brushing from underneath with a body brush ¡V making sure to get completely to the roots. Then brush the mane back down with a wet brush to lay it in place. Hard to control manes can be encouraged to lay properly with a little styling gel held in place overnight with a mane tamer (available at any tack shop, and they come in wild colors).
Starting at the horse’s head, use a rubber curry comb (in a circular motion) to remove any caked on mud and surface dirt. Then use a dandy brush remove the dirt loosened by the currycomb, remembering to always flip the brush upwards at the end of each stroke, or the dirt will fall back onto the coat.
Use the dandy brush again to loosen mud or surface dirt from the heels and pasterns with a circular motion and then brush the dirt away with a flicking motion. Heels are a sensitive area and are susceptible to scratches, chapping and cold so every effort should be made to keep them clean and dry.
Remove the remaining dirt and dandruff from the skin surface. To do this, circular motions with a body brush should remove the last of it, and a final sweep with a soft body brush (with the lay of the hair) will complete the job.
A full, flowing tail is sometimes difficult to achieve but here are some tips that might help. Never brush the horse’s tail without first picking out the tangles by hand – brushing with a stiff brush breaks the hairs and pulls them out. When the tangles are removed use a hairbrush and brush the tail gently starting with the bottom one-third and working upward. When the tail is complete, a quick spritz with a silicon hairspray will eliminate tangles for a few days. If insects are not an issue, using a tail bag will go a long ways toward keeping the tail tangle and dirt free.
„h Any good tack shop will have an array of brushes and labor-saving devices in a rainbow of colors. Equine vacuums are very popular in large stables but nothing can replace the bond that grows when a rider takes the time and effort to groom a horse by hand “the right way”.