In this age of quick fixes and short cuts, many people seem to be turning to products that make their horses look clean – but they aren’t really clean. Horse owners need to remember that there are many reasons for proper grooming, besides just making a horse look good. Good grooming improves circulation, ensures good health, and allows for early detection of disease.
Before you begin, gather the following items: hoof pick, rubber curry comb, dandy brush, body brush, water brush, towel or stable rubber, a small bucket with water (warm if possible), tail detangler and hoof oil. Tie your horse in a safe, quiet area (using a quick release knot) or on crossties, and remove his rugs. If it’s chilly and your horse has been clipped, keep a folded rug or wool cooler over the parts of his body you’re not working on so he doesn’t get a chill.
1. Start by picking out your horse’s feet. Remember to always pick away from you, and make sure you get out any dirt, stones and muck.
2. Next, use your rubber curry comb, in a circular motion, everywhere except the face and legs. This will loosen up dirt trapped underneath the coat, as well as mud and sweat marks on the coat. Use your left hand when on the near (left) side of the horse, and your right hand when on the off (right) side. Press hard – most horses enjoy this part. If you don’t press hard, it may tickle them. Note that some horses (especially thin-skinned types, like thoroughbreds) don’t always like to have their bellies curried.
3. Now that you’ve loosened everything up, it’s time to bring it to the surface of the coat with your dandy brush. Starting just behind the poll, use quick flicks to lift the dirt from the skin to the coat. Remember to brush in the direction that the coat lies. Keep your curry comb in your free hand, and every few brush strokes, run your curry over the bristles of the dandy brush to remove dirt (there’s no sense putting the dirt back on your horse). Some dandy brushes are harder than others. If yours is very hard, be very careful when using on legs or other bony areas. Do not use the dandy brush on the face.
4. The mane and tail: spritz a little detangler in your horse’s tail. Let it sit while you work on the mane. Using the body brush, go to the side opposite that to which the mane lies, and, section by section, brush from the roots to the ends of the mane. It helps to hold a section of mane in one hand while you use the body brush in the other hand to brush away from it (so you are brushing from left to right). When one section is done, move on to the next. Remember – you’re not trying to make the mane look pretty. You’re trying to get the dust and dander out of the roots. This will also bring the natural oils out from the crest and through the mane, making it shinier. Once you’ve done the entire mane this way, use your water brush (dip the ends of the bristles in your bucket of water and then flick the majority of the water off first) to smooth the mane down. Dampening it will help all the shorter hairs lie flat with the rest of the mane.
Hint: I suggest doing the mane before using the body brush over the body, because you will always stir up a little more dust if you are brushing the mane properly.
5. Next, get your body brush again, to continue grooming. Again, start just behind the poll, brush in the direction of the coat, and use your curry comb to help clean the body brush after every few strokes. The body brush will brush all remaining traces of dirt off your horse’s coat. It’s a nice soft brush, so you can use it on any part of the horse’s body. Use it in nice long strokes, leaving the hair lying soft and flat.
6. The face is brushed using the body brush, or a small, soft face brush. It is best to lift the halter off then put it back on over the neck so you still have control of the horse, but you can get his whole face brushed. Be careful around the eyes, and on the bony parts of the face. Pay special attention to the forelock and the area under it. Dirt often collects there. Once the face is brushed, replace the halter in its usual position.
7. Using two sponges (one for the eyes and nostrils, the other for the dock), clean these areas by dampening the sponges in your bucket of water. Do the eyes and nostrils first so the water stays relatively clean. Clean any gunk away from the corners of the eyes, then sponge softly all around the eye (most horses will find this refreshing), then clean as far up into the nostrils as your horse will allow. Switch sponges, and lift the tail, cleaning the dock in a smooth but firm downward motion. Most mares will also appreciate the udder being cleaned as well.
8. Time for the tail. Using your fingertips, run through the tail until all the tangles are out (remember to do this every day so that you keep on top of the tangles). Once the tangles are gone, use your body brush to brush the tail. NEVER use a mane comb or plastic curry to brush the tail. This breaks the hairs.
9. Remove all remaining traces of dust, and put a nice shine on your horses coat, by taking a stable rubber (towel), folding it into a hand-sized pad, and running it all over your horse’s body in the direction the coat lies. In the summer, when days are dusty, you can very slightly dampen the stable rubber for this process.
10. Condition and shine the hooves. Using your water brush dipped in a bit of your water, brush all dirt and mud from your horse’s feet. Then use a hoof oil/conditioner to keep the hooves from chipping and cracking. Please check with your farrier as to how often he or she feels your particular horse requires hoof oil. Not all horses require this every day.
Correct grooming technique takes a little longer than the “once over” you may be used to, but it will become habit soon enough, and your hard work will show in the bloom on your horse’s coat that only comes from elbow grease – and elbow grease doesn’t come in a spray bottle!