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While horse owners take pride in a shiny, well-groomed mount, regular grooming also benefits your horseís health and well-being by promoting circulation, stimulating the skin and massaging the muscles. The routine interaction of grooming helps build a relationship with your horse and can strengthen your bond. From a practical perspective, grooming before riding is a must because the heat and friction of tack on a dirty horse can cause sores and skin irritation.
A well-stocked grooming kit starts with the basics: hoof pick, curry comb, and brushes for the body, usually one soft and one with stiffer bristles. Add a brush or comb for mane and tail and a sponge or two, and youíll be equipped for daily care. Old towels and rags are also useful to have on hand for many grooming tasks, such as cleaning the face and head, spot cleaning, rubbing out sweat marks and more
Horses are creatures of habit that take comfort in a routine. It also makes sense to clean in a systematic manner so that you arenít dirtying what youíve just brushed. As a general rule, work from the top down, front to back, and then switch sides. Youíll eventually develop your own grooming routine for optimal efficiency, but here are the basic steps.
Some horses enjoy having their faces groomed, while others merely tolerate it. Be gentle. A soft, flexible curry can help remove loose hair and dirt, followed by a soft brush. Use a damp rag or sponge to clean around the eyes and nostrils.
With fingers or body brush, gently remove shavings, hay or other large debris from the mane. Any dirt that falls on the coat will then be swept away during your grooming session. If you arenít cultivating a long flowing mane, itís OK to give the mane a quick brush. Use the curry comb in circular motions to lift up dirt and dander from the coat and remove loose hair. Start at the neck and work from front to back on the large muscled areas of the body. Follow the curry with a medium or stiff brush. Use short, brisk strokes in the direction of the hair, with an upward flick at the end to help remove dirt. As a finishing touch, use a soft brush to polish the coat to a shine and remove any fine dust and dander remaining.
Legs & Feet / Hoof cleaning
The soft brush can also be used to clean the legs on a daily basis. A soft, flexible rubber curry or mitt is gentle enough to use on the bony structure of the legs as it conforms to the shape of the leg and effectively loosens dried mud. Itís especially important to make sure legs are clean if you will be putting on wraps or boots. If you see small yellow bot eggs on your horseís legs, you can use a grooming block to scrape off these little parasites. Picking out the feet is one of the most essential grooming tasks and should be done before and after every ride. Ideally, you should clean out your horseís hooves on a daily basis, even when you donít ride. Itís important to remove stones or foreign objects that can cause bruising and discomfort. Packed dirt, mud and manure can create an ideal environment for a hoof infection such as thrush to develop. As you run your hand down the horseís leg to ask him to lift his foot, take a minute to pay attention to the leg itself. This is a good opportunity to feel for heat or swelling, and look for small cuts. Also check the overall condition of your horseís shoes and feet. A gentle squeeze above the fetlock joint cues most horses to lift a hoof. Support the hoof in one hand and with the other hand, use your hoof pick to remove dirt, stones and any other matter. Work from heel to toe in a downward direction, picking out the v-shaped grooves around the frog. Brush off any remaining dirt, and gently set the hoof down.
Many people believe less is more when it comes to preserving a pretty tail. The less you fuss with the tail, the less risk of hair breakage and loss. However, some minimal maintenance is required to keep it tidy. As part of your everyday routine, pick out any large debris in the tail, such as shavings or hay. Burrs can be removed with the help of coat polish spray.For a thorough detangling, start with a clean, conditioned tail. An application of detangling serum or spray will make the job easier. The basic technique to tame a tangled tail is to start at the bottom of the tail and work upward in small sections. When you hit a knot, work through it gently to separate the hairs. Traditionalists favor detangling by hand, followed by a wide tooth comb or pin bristle brush.
A long mane can be detangled just as you did the tail. If you keep your horseís mane thinned and pulled short, plan on regular pulling sessions to keep it at an appropriate length. Some people prefer to do a little bit every day. For daily care, short manes can be brushed out with a pin bristle mane and tail brush.
Post Ride Grooming
Grooming after a ride is also important. Dried sweat left in the coat is itchy and may also cause your horse to develop skin problems. Rinse off sweat and mud if the weather permits, or let it dry so that you can brush it out. Pay special attention to the sweaty areas under the saddle, bridle and girth. Also check between hindquarters for any sweat or lather. In the winter, itís especially important to make sure your horseís coat is completely dry before blanketing him or putting him away. Use a towel to rub down the sweaty areas, working in a circular motion to lift the hair and encourage the drying process. A moisture-wicking cooler can help pull the dampness from your horseís coat while keeping him from becoming chilled.