Horse Grooming Basics

A regular routine is part of good horse health care.

From AQHA Corporate Partner Farnam

There’s a lot more to grooming than just getting your horse clean.

Even if you aren’t riding that day, a thorough grooming session provides quality time for both you and your horse. It’s an excellent way to strengthen your bond with horses you can’t ride, such as those that are too young, recuperating from an injury, retired or infirm.

While grooming makes your horse look and feel better, it’s also an ideal opportunity to evaluate his health and attitude.

“You want your horse healthy from the inside out, and I value grooming as a time to look at overall condition,” says AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm. Based in Ocala, Florida, Lynn is a popular clinician with an accomplished show ring record, having won nearly three dozen world and reserve world championships and four AQHA Superhorse titles.

“If there’s something happening related to your horse’s health or fitness, you’ll usually find it when grooming,” Lynn says. “In addition to brushing, you should run your hands over the whole horse. This will allow you to find any filling, heat, lumps, bumps, nicks or scrapes you might not notice just by looking.”

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Your horse will let you know if you hit a sore or tender spot. You can pick up on his mood, as well, and any changes from his usual attitude can clue you in that something may be amiss.

“I’ve never had a horse dislike grooming unless you’re using the wrong tools or being too hard,” Lynn says.

Always brush and rub in the direction the hair grows. The only exception is that when using a rubber curry, you’ll use a small circular motion over the body. This brings dirt to the surface so you can brush it off and stimulates the skin’s natural oils.

Although there’s no single “right” way to groom, you’ll want to develop a routine so you cover the horse from front to back and top to bottom. One major benefit of grooming in the same manner each time is that you’ll notice anything out of the ordinary.

Lynn says the following method works well in her barn:

    • Curry the body (not legs or head) with a rubber curry to lift dirt and dander from the skin
    • Run your hands down all four legs, feeling for any changes
    • Use a soft-bristle brush on legs and face
    • Use a damp sponge to clean around eyes and nostrils, if needed
    • Use a wide-tooth comb or hair brush with widely-spaced bristles on mane and tail (To keep from pulling out hair, you may want to apply a detangler product first and then work through the mane/tail with your fingers before using a brush or comb.)
    • Clean out hooves (Hoof picks with a small brush on one end are great for thorough cleaning. If the horse is shod, check to be sure shoes are secure. If loose, contact your farrier right away.)
    • Pay special attention to the following areas that often get missed when grooming:

        • Under the chin and jaw

        • Under the belly

        • Tailbone and under the tail

        • Front of cannon bone

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      • Behind the pastern
      • Between the teats (mares)
      • “A healthy, well-groomed horse has a natural shine. Grooming stimulates the skin’s natural oils and distributes them over the hair, which is why the hair on a well-groomed horse feels soft,” Lynn says.

Spray-on coat conditioners don’t replace grooming, but they definitely have a place in your repertoire. Some owners like to lightly spray the horse first and then brush, as this can make it easier to remove dust. If your horse has socks or stockings on his legs, spraying them after grooming can help them stay clean longer by repelling dirt and stains and making it more difficult for mud to harden.

Once you’ve finished your grooming session, take a moment to appreciate it. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in knowing your horse looks and feels good. He’s probably going to roll as soon as you turn him loose, so appreciate that spit-n-polish look while it lasts!