Grooming your horse is important for a number of reasons. Not only does proper grooming help keep horses looking and feeling healthy, but it is also a key factor in building stronger bonds between horses and their owners. A regular grooming schedule is critical for maintaining healthy skin, which is a horse’s primary barrier to disease. Grooming also helps distribute oils evenly across the horse’s body, protecting the coat and promoting shine. In addition, grooming stimulates a horse’s circulation by massaging its muscles.
While professional grooming is often important, owners should undertake much of their horse’s grooming work themselves, if possible. Beyond its role in building an important connection, regular grooming gives owners the opportunity to notice any lumps, irritations, or injuries on the horse’s body as soon as possible.
Below is a guide to the basic steps involved in grooming a horse.
Start with the hooves.
Using a hoof pick, ensure that the horse does not have anything stuck in its hooves that could injure it over the course of the day. Many people choose to tend to the hooves first so that they can inspect for missing or loose shoes, as well as any other problems that could cause issues while riding. Run your hands down the length of each leg before lifting the hoof to calm the horse while also inspecting for lumps, scrapes, or signs of infection, such as hot patches.
Begin brushing by currying.
A curry brush has a number of benefits for a horse. The process of currying helps loosen dirt and shedding hair for easier removal, while also massaging the skin and stimulating blood flow in the muscles. In addition, a curry brush plays a key role in spreading natural skin oils around the animal. Proper currying technique involves circular motions against the grain of the horse’s hair, across the fleshy parts of the animal. Many owners tend to start at the upper neck and then work toward the tail.
Be careful when brushing the horse’s flank or belly, as these are sensitive areas on some horses and they may react defensively. On bonier areas, such as the legs, use a rubber mitt with small fingers or other texture in lieu of a traditional curry brush. Always pay attention to your horse’s response when currying to ensure that you’re not applying too much pressure or causing discomfort.
After currying, use a stiff-bristled brush.
The stiff brush should be used in a quick, flicking motion. Again, most people typically move from head to tail. With this tool, push in the direction of the hair with medium pressure that does not make the horse uncomfortable. Firmer brush strokes will remove more hair and debris than light ones; an effective brush stroke will pull a cloud of dust and hair from the horse. After a few strokes, clean the brush by pulling the bristles against a curry or a shedding blade. Repeat the process until you’re done.
You should avoid using the stiff-bristled brush on especially sensitive areas of the horse, which often includes the face. However, the stiff brush is safe for the legs, the backs of the pasterns, and the points of the hocks. Some horses with thin skin or sensitive coats may not like the stiff brush at all. If that’s the case, you should default to a medium-bristled brush.
Finish body grooming with a medium or soft brush.
While the stiff-bristled brush does a great job removing hair and dirt, the bristles of a soft or medium brush are spaced closer together to get even more out. A medium brush is a great precursor to the soft brush because it is designed to remove dirt rather than smooth the coat. With this tool, short, flicking strokes are best. The soft brush catches the finest particles of dirt while smoothing the horse’s coat to leave it sleek and shiny. The soft brush requires long, smooth strokes. Both these brushes should be cleaned frequently. With many horses, the soft brush is the primary tool for removing dirt from especially sensitive spots, like under the belly and the jaw, as well as inside the gaskin.
Use your hands or specialized tools on the mane and tail.
The hair in a horse’s mane and tail is often fairly brittle, so using normal brushes on it can cause the hair to break or simply rip out of the skin. When grooming, you can simply use your fingers to separate the hairs. Specialized wide-tooth brushes are also available. If you find any particularly troublesome knots, you may want to try detangling products made especially for this purpose.