As magnificent, strong, and beautiful as horses are, they can be easily injured by incorrect grooming. A little negligence can cause your horse to contract sores, skin diseases, or lameness. Has it been a while since you’ve groomed a horse? Are you a first-time horse owner? If so, here’s simple, step-by-step instructions for grooming your horse.
Make sure your horse is secure in a set of cross ties or some other tie before you start. If you’re unfamiliar with the horse, approach him slowly and be gentle. If the horse flinches at the touch of a brush, pull away and re-approach him slowly.
Horses should be groomed before every ride. After a ride, you won’t need to groom as much; you may brush any loose dirt from the horse’s coat, sponge down sweaty areas, or hose him down if necessary.
Plastic curry combs are fairly gentle (certain parts of the horse’s coat are very sensitive). They can be used on most of the body and summer coats, but don’t go past the knee.
Metal curry combs are for thick winter coats or coats that are caked with mud or shedding hair. They’re not very gentle, so avoid using these brushes on a horse’s stomach, flanks, face and legs.
Rubber combs are very gentle and can be used on the horse’s entire body. Some of these combs are also soft enough to be used on the horse’s face (but you still need to be extra gentle).
Start at the neck, just behind the head, and work your way down and back to the tail, moving in circles with the direction of the hair. Never brush against the grain. Also be sure to use enough pressure to loosen up all the dirt in your horse’s coat. Currying helps break up dried dirt and debris and move it to the surface of the coat where it can be easily removed. Pay special attention to the area where the saddle will sit. During a ride, the saddle will rub any leftover dirt and debris into your horse’s skin, which can cause injury and irritation. Make sure you’re using a brush gentle enough for your horse’s sensitive areas, such as the stomach, flanks, legs and face.
Also called a dandy brush, this is what you’ll use after currying. This will remove all the dirt you loosened with the curry brush. Again, start at the neck, just behind the head, and work your way down and back. Place the brush flat against the horse’s coat and brush with short, firm strokes. At the end of each stroke, angle the brush up and away to flick loose dirt out of the coat. This website has some helpful pictures showing you how to do this. Be sure to always follow the direction the hair grows.
Some horse owners skip this step, but using the soft brush is a good way to sooth both your horse and his coat. It helps settle the hair in the right direction and also removes any last bits of dirt that were left behind by the stiff brush. Use long strokes with this brush and go all the way down the leg.
Grooming the Face
Some horses aren’t going to like you touching their faces whether it’s because of a lack of training or being mishandled in the past. Don’t do anything you or your horse isn’t comfortable with.
Be gentle as you groom your horse’s face. Only use soft rubber curry combs and brushes. Anything stiffer can cause irritation. Avoid the eye area and only use the softest possible brush on the ears. And remember — go with the grain!
To clean the corners of the eyes, the ears, or inside the nostrils, you might want to opt for a damp rag or sponge.
Mane & Tail
This doesn’t need to be done every time you ride, but grooming your horse’s mane and tail often can prevent knotting.
If you’ve ever had long hair, you know this: it’s much easier to comb out knots when you start at the end of the hair. To prevent damaging your horse’s hair, you may want to use detangler or baby oil.
Stand off to the side and comb out small sections at a time. Start at the ends and work your way to the base of the tail and mane. And, unless you want your horse to look weird, refrain from cutting their hair with scissors.
Cleaning the Hooves
If you’re a beginner, this can be the most intimidating part of the grooming process. Nevertheless, it is one of the most important. Failing to pick your horse’s hooves can cause thrush (hoof rot) and eventually lameness. Not to mention that it makes your horse just plain uncomfortable.
Most horses are used to this process and they will anticipate your movements. Start at the front left hoof (or whichever hoof your horse usually starts with) and work front-back, back-front, doing one side at a time.
Stand to the side of the horse, making sure to keep your feet out of harm’s way; if the horse drops his hoof, you don’t want your toes to get smashed. Make sure you have your hoof pick at the ready. Face the same direction as the horse’s tail and bend over, running your hand along the back of their leg just below the knee. Follow the leg down to the chestnut — hard, skin-like structure — and squeeze. The horse will lift his hoof, ready for you to support him. Place your hand under the hoof, careful not to over-extend it in either direction. Be sure to give your horse the support he needs. If you don’t have a good grip, he’ll drop his hoof.
Hold the tool with the metal pick facing away from you. Start at the part of the hoof closest to you, being careful not to poke the frog (the soft, spongy tissue in the red triangle) with the pick.
Scrape around the horseshoe walls, careful to remove all the rocks and dirt. Don’t be shy about scraping the hard part of the hoof; the material is like fingernail and the horse won’t feel the pick. When that’s done, turn the pick and use the brush side to clean off the frog, then slowly lower the hoof all the way to the ground — don’t just let it fall. Then move on to the next hoof.
Once all the hooves are picked, you’re ready to tack up your horse and start riding!
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