Horse Grooming Tips

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How should I care for my horse's hooves?

Healthy Hooves

Your horse grooming kit is not complete unless you have the proper tools to clean those hooves. To properly clean your horse's hooves, stand next to the animal, facing his rear, not his head. Then, slide your hand gently and slowly down the back of his leg before grabbing and raising each foot—this will give him fair warning so that you will not take the horse by surprise.

Next, remove all debris and mud from each hoof using a hoof pick. To do so correctly, start with the heel and make your way towards the toe. Be sure that you remove all caked mud and dirt that may have made its way into any nook or cranny of the hoof. Take extreme caution around the frog (the soft, sensitive tissue in the middle of the foot). Then, scrub away any leftover dirt with a good hoof brush.

Examine the foot looking for black and chunky areas, cracks, or foul smells that could indicate thrush. Also make sure that none of the shoes are loose. Finally, feel for any abrasions or lumps on the legs and feet that might indicate a health problem.

What do I need to properly groom my horse?

Grooming Checklist

Before you get to work beautifying your equine, gather all of your horse grooming supplies. Keep in mind that for health reasons you will need separate horse grooming kit for each animal—this will lessen the risk of spreading disease and infection. It's also a good idea to keep all supplies in one location so that you're not scouring the barn or stable in search of every tool (a tote can be quite helpful). Here is a list of grooming supplies that you will need to properly maintain your horse:

• Rubber currycomb
• Metal shedding blade
• Soft brush
• Grooming mitt
• Grooming sponge
• Soft body brush
• Soft face brush
• Dandy brush
• Body brush
• Plastic comb
• Detangler
• Mane Tamer
• Bot knife
• Sunscreen
• Hoof pick with brush
• Hoof dressing
• Fly repellant
• Shine spray

What is the correct way to brush a horse's body and legs?

Brushing Does a Body Good

Brushing is obviously an essential part of the horse grooming process but are you going about it in the correct way? If you're rubbing your horse the wrong way you could do more damage than good.

Starting with the horse's body, use circular, smooth strokes to remove dirt and debris from the coat with a grooming mitt or rubber currycomb. In order to loosen mud, brush against the hair shaft with the your chosen grooming tool. Next, use remove debris and dirt from the body of the animal using a dandy brush and brushing in downward stokes. After you feel that you have removed the majority of the dirt from the animal, brush the animal's body using a body brush and moving in long strokes. Use a metal shedding blade to eliminate excess hair between strokes.

When you begin grooming a horse's legs, be extremely careful not to frighten him. Alert him gently of your presence by rubbing your hand on his leg before you begin brushing. Also, be careful not to brush harshly as this may bruise or scrape his skin. Use a soft body brush for this area as it tends to be sensitive. While grooming, be on the lookout for abrasions, lesions, bumps, or spots that might indicate a health problem.

How should I wet my horse before bathing him?

Don't Sweat Getting That Horse Wet

Before washing a horse you, of course, have to wet him down. Depending on the horse and his temperament, this task can be extremely difficult or a synch. Luckily, even the most nervous of equines will become more at ease once they are completely saturated. Before you aim that hose at your horse, it's a good idea to lather his feet with a specialty ointment containing sulfur, iodine, and petroleum; this will prevent them from drying out or absorbing the water—which will lead to brittle feet.

Once your equine's feet are protected, spray the horse down, except for the head. Make sure that the water is a comfortable, lukewarm temperature (too hot or too cold may startle the horse) and that the nozzle is set on a “shower” setting. Start the wetting process at the feet, allowing the animal to feel at ease with the water, and work all the way up to his neck and mane. Then, run the stream of water down his back, along his hind legs and then to his underbelly and genitals. To finish the wetting process, gently raise his tail, keeping in mind that this is a sensitive area, and wet his anal area.

How should I clean my horse's face?

Clean Your Equine's Mug with Care!

Cleaning a horse's face is a key part of horse grooming and is delicate business - go about it with care. After you have cleaned the body, the horse should be used to being bathed and a face wash should go without incident. You never know, however, so be attentive.

To begin, rinse and wring out the sponge that you used to scrub down the rest of the horse. Then, climb atop a stool or ladder so you are even with the animal's head. Rub the sponge over the horse's face and head, wetting it completely. Start under the eye then up to the forelock (be careful of the eyes). Get the cheeks and the chin. Want a hint? Clipping the strap directly to the top ring on the right of the halter is often an effective way to clear the under area of the jaw without affecting the eye with the strap. Rinse the sponge again, wring it out to avoid drippage, and remount your ladder or stool. Then, scrub the facial areas a second time—minding the eyes.

It's not necessary to use a ton of soap unless your animal is filthy. Follow up the sponge with a rub down using a rubber mitt. Get every area of the face, as well as behind the ears, and underneath the jaw. Then, rinse a fresh sponge in clean water, wring it out, and rub down the head and face again, avoiding dripping into the eyes. Frequently rinse the sponge as you go to remove any soap. Finally, wring out the sponge until it is just about as dry as it can get it, and give the face one more scrub down. Finish off the job by wiping out the nostrils.

How can I make my horse look his best on show day?

Shining on Show Day

Want to get that horse to really shine on show day? To lighten a white horse, apply either a whitening shampoo or a rubbing alcohol and allow it to dry. Then, apply a layer of baby powder and brush it in (this really makes a white coat glisten). If the horse is darker (chestnut or red) you can feed him paprika to heighten highlights and reduce whitening. Then, polish that beauty with a dryer sheet, baby wipe, or “Swiffer” cloth to make him sparkle. A lot of people like to use baby oil to make a horse appear shinier but it has a tendency to heat on the horse. Instead, try a specialized shine product (like one from Cowboy Magic) or even Vaseline.

Keep your horse clipped, shampooed, and conditioned to maintain a beautiful a professional appearance. It's in your best interest to invest in good products, as cheaper ones tend to do a lackluster job. Additionally, you can get those hooves to shine like that shimmering coat by using a dish soap—but not a harsh one. To finish the job, spritz the horse with a quality fly spray.

How can I groom my horse's mane?

Tame That Mane

Horse grooming is essential for your horse's health. Keeping your horse groomed will keep the coat looking shiny and lustrous. Grooming can also bring to your attention potential diseases and ailments that your pet may be suffering from (infection, injuries, skin conditions).

Careful grooming removes loose hair and dirt and pulls natural oils to the surface of the animal's coat—this will make it appear shiny and healthy. But, the mane can be tricky business. Before grooming the mane, spray it with a detangler. Once the detangler has set into the hair, work through it with a plastic grooming comb—do not pull out any hair in the process. Then, using a a stiff body brush, work the mane from underneath. Finish off the job by running through the mane off with a soft brush.

How can I remove knots and tangles from my horse's mane?

Don't Let Knots Drive You Nuts

Most horses won't object to being groomed, which makes it easier for you. One of the first things that people will notice about your horse is his mane, how does your horse's mane look? Before you comb a horse's mane, assess the situation. How long is the mane? Is it knotty or matted?

If you fail to groom a horse regularly he may have twisted, knotty hair that is a nightmare to untangle. If your hose's mane is not in this condition (which hopefully is the case) start combing the mane from the top of the animal's neck and work your way down. If you should happen to encounter any knots, stop combing, hold the area of the neck at the top of the mane with one hand for support, and work the knots out. Pull hard but not too hard—you don't want to injure the animal. Huge tangles and knots will take much more work and you will probably have to go at it strand by strand. Comb downward from the neck towards the feet. Make sure that you go in the natural direction of the way the hair hangs.

What is an effective way to shampoo a horse?

Make Your Shampoo Work for You

When you start shampooing your horse, keep in mind that the suds are what clean the animal so you'll want to make a lot of them. Select a quality shampoo put out by a reputable horse grooming supplies company. Put some shampoo in a bucket and add running warm water in order to create a multitude of suds. Then, soak a large sponge in the suds and work the mixture into the horse's skin by making circular motions with the sponge. Go both against and with the growth of the hair and rub it into the skin. Start at the neck, then move to the front legs (both the fronts and backs of them as well as the elbows), on to the flanks and underbelly, and down the back legs. When it comes to the sensitive genital and anal areas, it's a good idea to use a fresh sponge (make sure you rinse these areas well).

To wash it thoroughly, submerge the tail completely in the bucket and massage the soap into it with your hands. Run your fingers from the top of the tail to the tip and add water as needed to work up a good lather. When you get to the mane, put some shampoo in your hands and massage it into the hair—all the way to the roots (add water as needed).

How should I clean my horse grooming brushes?

Keep Those Bristles Clean as Whistles

You may use a horse grooming kit to keep your equine looking spotless, but it's just as important to groom your kit. In other words, if you want to keep you horse clean keep the grooming kit clean! If you frequently use the curry to remove dust and dirt that might otherwise accumulate in the brushes, you won't have to clean your grooming tools that often.

In order to clean your brushes, you'll need to fill a sizeable bucket or container with warm water and a mild soap. DO NOT use a harsh soap or detergent that might later irritate your horse's skin. Instead, use a natural soap that is free from dyes and scents. Soak your brushes in the mixture until you have removed or loosened all dirt and build-up. Then, rinse each brush under clean water to remove any leftover debris. Let the brushes dry bristle-side down on a flat surface.

*If your brushes are wooden, take care not to completely submerge them in water or to leave them to soak for a prolonged period of time.

What do these horse grooming tools do?

Know Your Grooming Tools

If the coat of your horse is lackluster, it can be helpful to apply a horse grooming product to give it a gleam (like Show Sheen). This can be an effective way to make that equine shine but be careful when using this kind of product. While these products can make your horse sparkle, it can also make the coat slippery. The problem that this leads to is saddle slippage, which can be dangerous—especially in shows.

Another very useful grooming tool is a "Mud Brush.” This is the tool you want to use if your horse has been rolling around in the mud and grass. Before using it, however, let all of the mud dry or you will only smear it further into his coat and skin.

Come Spring, your horse will likely shed excess hair and a Shedding Blade is the perfect tool to use to loosen the hair. This is super sharp, so be attentive when using it. It's in your best interest not to use this tool on the legs or face of your animal as these are sensitive areas and this could lead to injury.

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Guru Spotlight
Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.