Whether your horse spends most of his days hauling you on the trail, in the show ring, or just relaxing in the pasture – he deserves a little pampering. Grooming your horse is not only a time to get him clean, but offers a chance at routine bonding and making sure he’s in good health. It may take a little practice and patience, but most horses will enjoy the time spent getting his coat in top shape; as long as you’re using the proper tools correctly. Ignoring the need for grooming, rushing, and incorrect use of the tools risks injury to both you and the horse. Though there is no set-in-stone way to go about grooming, it’s important to get a routine down and stick with it. Gather the grooming supplies listed below, and we’ll go through some of the basics to get you started.
Curry comb – Removes hard-to-get dirt & debris from the coat.
Dandy (Flick) Brush – Medium-soft bristles, used to ‘flick’ the dirt from the coat.
Body/Face Brush – Soft bristles smooth the coat, used for finishing.
Hoof Pick/Brush – Removes dirt & debris from hooves.
Mane/Tail Comb – Widely spaced bristled to carefully remove tangles.
Towel or Polishing Mitt – Any household towel will work for a final polishing rub down.
*Note – there are numerous variations of each grooming product on the market. Your decision should be based on the needs and sensitivity of the horse. The last thing you want to do is make the horse terrified of the process, risking injury to you or them.
As a safety precaution, horses should be tied safely when grooming. Be cautious when grooming around bony parts of the horse, such as the back, shoulders, and from the knee to hoof. These areas are sensitive areas, and tough brushes can cause discomfort or injury. Always keep an eye out for cuts or abnormal skin conditions during the process. Begin with the curry comb (many prefer a rubber-tooth type), avoiding the face, working from the neck backwards. Gently use a swirling motion to loosen dirt. You should be able to judge the amount of pressure needed based on your horses’ reaction. They’ll let you know if you’re causing pleasure or pain. Keep loose hair and dirt cleaned out of the comb regularly, or else you’ll be wasting time and not accomplishing much at all.
Once you’ve gotten through their main body with the curry comb, use the dandy brush to remove any leftover dirt and dust that has been loosened. Consider this tool much like a broom; you’ll use a flicking motion to brush the dirt away from the coat. Use a sweeping motion in the direction the hair naturally grows. Use your curry comb to remove hair or dirt from the bristles as you work. Once you’ve thoroughly worked over the main body with the dandy brush, you’re ready to tackle the more sensitive areas with a soft body brush.
The face, belly, and below the knee should be groomed with a body or finishing brush. The softer bristles used in these brushes won’t cause discomfort to sensitive areas, but will leave them super shiny. You should be sure to utilize the curry comb again here, cleaning hair and dust out of the body brush as you work. Use the towel to complete a final rub-down, leaving the coat shining. If preferred, you can apply a finishing mist or fly spray for a final touch.
I’ve heard many different preferences when working with the mane and tail, so the choice will be whatever suits you and your horse best. It may be best to start out spraying a detangler, depending on how dirty the long hair is, so that you’re not pulling the hair out. Work in the detangler with your hands, separating any large knots or tangles. You can then use a brush or comb with wide-spaced bristles. Start at the end of the tail and mane, slowly working towards the base with gentle, downward strokes.
Next, check and clean out the hooves. Don’t be afraid to contact a local farrier service or vet if you’re a beginner; horses should typically receive routine care every 4-8 weeks anyway. A horse’s hooves are supporting over 1,000 lbs., and are prone to disease and other issues, so it’s vital to make sure they’re taken good care of. Many folks suggest starting with one front foot and working your way around the horse back to the other front foot. Just make sure to keep the routine you start with. Many hoof picks are equipped with a brush on one end. Start picking at the heel and work towards the toe, making sure shoes are secure and no debris is left. Thoroughly reach the frog, the sole, and the hoof wall. You can use a soap and water combination to clean the outer surface of the hoof if necessary. Hooves may need to be filed down if overgrown.
That’s it! If you have gone through each step thoroughly, you should have a well-groomed, happy horse. Check out these great guidelines for more detailed do’s and don’ts of grooming from equine-expert Stefanie Reinhold. TheHorse.com is another great resource for everything horse related. Their set of free fact sheets related to horse health covers many different topics.