Horse grooming is an essential part of being a passionate equestrian. It is such a mundane routine that it sometimes comes off as a no-brainer part of the whole package, but there are horse owners out there who are merely scratching the surface when it comes to maintaining their four-legged pals. In this guide, we break down everything you need to know about horse grooming—from the basics to the slightly complicated.
Why is Horse Grooming Important?
Grooming your horse should go beyond just keeping them beautiful and majestic. Some of the advantages of keeping your riding partner well-kept are the following:
- It keeps their coat in top condition.
- It helps improve blood circulation and muscle mass.
- It lets you spot check any health problems before they get worse.
- It makes you build a stronger connection with your horse.
Having a regular horse grooming routine cuts you a lot of work when it comes to keeping them healthy and impressive. But before we drill down on the specifics, what exactly do you need in your kit to do this?
The Horse Grooming Kit: The Essentials and the Extras
One thing you need to know about building a horse grooming kit is that you have to build it around the personality and physical characteristics of your four-legged pal. Different breeds may have specific sensitivities to certain grooming tools and you may also need to make adjustments depending on your riding practices. Are you doing competition or are you more of a freewheeling rider? Do you ride your horse every day or do you only take them out on a run a couple of times a month?
In this list, we will provide all the basics and some extras that you might find helpful:
THE BRUSHES - a huge chunk of your horse grooming tool kit will be made of different kinds of brushes because you’ll be spending most of your time tending to their coat. These brushes will differ in materials as well as the length of their bristles.
- Body Brush - a soft-bristled brush made with natural hair that can be used for a variety of uses like removing dirt, light dust, and grease from the coat. Their texture and composition also make them useful for brushing areas of the head where your horse can be a little bit sensitive.
- Curry Comb - this tool can come in rubber or metal, though we personally prefer using rubber-made ones because they have gentler edges. Curry combs are used to dislodge deep-seated grime and dirt from the coat and also help in massaging and spreading natural oils over the body. They are also very helpful if your horse has a particularly wild mane.
- Mane and Tail Brush - an important tool for dressage and competition horses alike, mane and tail brushes help you easily work through the knots and tangles of your pet's crowning glories without causing breakage on the hair fibers. You can also get a metal mane comb that can help you section hair easily if you are planning on plaiting.
- Dandy Brush - a stiff brush that can be made with synthetic bristles or natural rice root. Dandy brushes should be exclusively used on the surface area of the coat—to remove dirt that has gotten loose from the deep brushing—because they can cause pain on the sensitive parts of your horse’s body.
- Face Brush - you can use a body brush for your horse’s face but you can also opt to have a specific face brush made with extra soft bristles if they are particularly sensitive in that area.
- Finishing Brush - from its name, this is simply a brush that is used for final touches. They are made with natural bristles that can help to smooth everything out after your brushing routine.
- HOOF PICKS - these tools are used to get rid of dirt and pebbles that are embedded in your pet’s hooves. They can be made with metal or plastic, though we do recommend you get one that comes with brushes for easy cleaning.
- BATHING SPONGES - from its name, you can use sponges for giving your horse a bath or gently washing their sensitive areas like the nose and eyes.
- SWEAT SCRAPER - these tools go hand-in-hand with bathing sponges and are used for removing excess water from your horse’s mane after giving them a bath. They are made with rubber and a half-moon arched head to wring out the water from the coat.
- MANE AND TAIL CONDITIONER AND SHAMPOO - having a go-to mane and tail conditioner for horses can help keep your animal’s coat at its best condition. Choose products that are specifically formulated for horses for the best results.
How Often Should I Groom My Horse?
Probably the second most asked question about grooming a horse is how often you should do it. Different owners will always have varying preferences—some like to do it once or twice a month, a few times every week, or even every day. The answer, however, will always be “it depends.” Here are a few factors to consider when planning out your grooming calendar.
- Season - your horse may have different grooming needs depending on the time of the year. Summer can require more shampooing to rinse off sweat while spring focuses more on combing because this is the time that they heavily shed their winter coat. The cold season, on the other hand, is a good time to go easy on the grooming because of the temperature of the weather, though you may give them a quick rinse after they’ve frolicked on mud or water.
- Activity Level - if your horse has a regular work schedule, then it’s good practice to groom and prep them before and after every ride. Not only does this allow you to give them a close inspection for injuries, but it’s also a great bonding time for you and your animal so that you build more trust and confidence during your rides. This doesn’t mean you should give them a complete grooming overhaul every day. A simple brushing and hoof picking will do the trick. Competition horses, on the other hand, need to be given a full grooming session at least two days before an event to make sure that they look and perform their best.
- Medical Conditions - does your horse have any health problems? Skin and mane problems may require a different grooming schedule to help your horse heal and recover. Always ask your vet first about this especially if you’re going to administer treatment on your animal.
Common Horse Grooming Mistakes
There are so many different opinions about horse grooming that it’s common even for some experienced equestrians to make mistakes here and there. Correcting these slips are necessary because they can greatly affect your horse’s overall health and comfort. Here are a few that you should watch out for:
- Washing your horse too often - this will vary from animal to animal but as a general rule, horses with darker coats do not need as much washing than those with lighter ones. Too much washing can easily strip off natural coat oils which can affect its vibrancy. And while we’re at the topic, do NOT use detergents or other harsh chemicals when doing so. Darker horses can make do with a full wash monthly while lighter ones can have it a few times every month to keep their coats clean.
- Clipping them without doing a nice, full clean - if you want to erase lines on your animal, make sure that they are free from all dirt and dust before pulling out those clipper blades. Not only does grime create and tug lines, but they can also break your clippers!
- Using dirty horse tacks - here’s one thing most equestrians often forget. Grooming a horse also involves making sure their tacks are clean. When using saddle pads, for example, make sure that they are free of dirt that can get stuck on your animal’s coat during your ride—or worse, embed on their skin and irritate them! Better yet, use gel saddle pads that you can easily clean and dry after every use.
- Wetting the mud while bathing - it is better to brush off the mud, dirt, and grime off your horse’s hair while they are dry than removing them with water. Doing the latter will only spread the debris and make it stick stubbornly on their coat, which in turn can cause hair loss since you have to scrub harder.
- Sharing grooming tools - this one may sound like a given, but there are many horse owners who actually make this mistake! Sharing grooming tools between horses can easily spread infection to the other so it’s best to keep your horse grooming kit to yourself and your partner. If you have more than one animal, make sure that you clean and disinfect your tools properly first before using it on another.
Horse Mane and Tail Care
Proper horse mane and tail management are important, regardless of whether your horse is for dressage or for some casual riding. Similar to us, their manes and tails are considered their crowning glory so you should give it some tender loving care if you can.
According to the US Equestrian Organization, there are a few simple ways that you can do these. Check out some of the pointers below:
- Concentrate on the right areas - when washing, give extra attention to the roots where the mane grows. You can gently massage the area to break down the oil deposits and dirt and help increase blood flow. Don’t forget to flip their mane since this is where the sweat mostly accumulates.
- Use your hands to comb through tangles - or use a wide-toothed comb to prevent breakage. If there are a lot of knots left on their tail or mane, apply a gentle leave-in conditioner that can help you easily work through the tangles.
- Skip the sulfates - having a quality mane and tail conditioner is key. Products with sulfates break down natural oils so opt for natural and gentle ingredients instead like coconut oil. Also, choose products depending on the weather. Your animal might need an extra moisturizing kick if you live in a dry climate.
- Bag and braid - did you know that there’s more to braiding than just making your horses look spiffy? Braiding your horse’s mane can actually reduce breakage while bagging your animal’s tail can prevent tangles. Another helpful tip: Use electric tape instead of regular elastic bands when keeping a braid in place if it's only for maintenance. The former can pull and tug at hair strands while the latter can be easily removed since they don’t stick too much.
The Best Horse Braids to Try
Different types of horse braids have various purposes for the horse and the rider. In addition to keeping the mane and tail at their best condition, horse tail braids can also be classified according to breed and usage of the animal. Below are a few horse mane styles that you can try depending on your riding profile.
- Hunter Braids - used on typical hunter breeds like thoroughbreds, this type is done on manes that are four to six inches long by adding a yarn into the usual three-strand braid style. A surgeon’s knot is used to keep the braid flat on the horse’s neck. Hunter braids are ideal if you want to keep the mane out of your way while riding. They should also be unbraided each day and rebraided again to keep them in their best condition, especially during competitions.
- Dressage Braids - this style looks similar to hunter braids, except that they are larger and are made to look like rosette buttons. They are used for dressage events because they highlight the muscles on the topline of the horse while performing precise movements. They can also be used on light-driving horses.
- Western Banding - though not exactly a type of braid, banding is a popular style for western horses. It involves separating small sections of the mane and banding them using elastics to keep the mane flat on the neck. Western banding is used to show off an elegant neck or to improve the appearance of a thicker neck.
- Running Braid Horse Mane - also known as the french braid, this type runs down your horse’s neck in a single or dual row and can also be used on tails. Running braids are ideal for horses with thick manes and is one of the most common braiding styles for horses. One of the advantages of using this style is that you don’t really need to trim your animal’s mane before pleating—in fact, the longer the hair, the better it is! If your horse doesn’t have enough volume, you can also add a bit of hairspray to improve the grip of the style.
Knowing the do’s and don’ts as well as the in’s and out’s of horse grooming is essential for any passionate equestrian. With these ultimate guide, you can raise a well-groomed and healthy horse that can match up your love for riding.
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