If you get right down to it, you can keep your horse healthy and clean with just a hoof pick, a medium-bristle brush and a rag. It'll take some extra work, but even dried-on mud can be removed satisfactorily. Of course, you can go the other way, too, and end up with grooming-tool overkill: a tote brimming with nifty gadgets that work quite well, at least for the one thing they were designed to do.
To help you find an efficient-grooming happy medium, we've categorized tools into some basic categories. These lists will help you determine what you should have now, what you might want to put on your birthday-gift wish list and which items are likely luxuries in your barn.
We like grooming our horses. It makes us feel good, and our horses seem to enjoy it, too. It's a good bonding time, a pre-ride period where you can begin to gauge the "mood" your horse is in and inspect for cuts, scrapes and swellings. It's also incredibly satisfying to step back and admire a glowing coat and flowing mane and tail.
To make the most of your grooming time, you're going to want two brushes. First, you need a hard-bristle brush that will remove dried-on dirt quickly and stimulate the skin a bit. A hard brush also works well on manes and tails, if you're the type who likes to brush your horse's tail. (Some people don't for fear of breaking the hair and ruining the look or strands for braiding.) A good hard brush, also called a dandy brush, is a horse item, found at tack and feed stores.
When you look for that brush, inspect the bristles, rubbing them on your jeans if you'd like, and determine if they're stiff enough for you to feel the brush but not so hard that they tingle or hurt. This brush needs to remove dirt, but you're not going to use it on the horse's face. You can choose among long-, medium- and short-length bristles, although we think medium-length bristles do the best job, as you can get a good brush-and-flick motion going with that length. The longer and shorter bristles work better on softer-bristle brushes, like finishing brushes.
You can choose between traditional natural-material bristles, like rice root, or synthetic bristles. Natural brushes tend to be more expensive than synthetics, but they aren't necessarily better. Synthetics have come a long way in recent years, and there's no reason not to purchase one. They also come in great color assortments, which can be strictly fun or a solution to keeping brushes separate for horses or from other boarders.
You'll also get to choose between a wood back, normally found on natural bristle brushes, or a plastic/rubber-covered back. Pick the brush up and determine how comfortable it is in your hand - that's the most important element, as long brushing sessions can be fatiguing to wrists. Otherwise, it pays to realize that if you're going to wash your brushes frequently or use them in wet environments, the synthetic back will likely hold up longer.
The other brush you need is a soft brush or finishing brush. These have soft bristles and are used to clean your horse's face and give the horse a final "dusting" or polishing of the coat to bring out the shine. You may also find it useful in bony areas, like the legs, especially on thin-skinned horses.
The same considerations hold for bristle size, texture and materials, although if we were going to purchase one expensive brush, it would be the soft brush. Softer natural bristles tend to bring out the shine the best, and thick, short bristles really do a wonderful job. When you rub the soft brush on your pants leg, you should feel the bristles, but it shouldn't be as harsh or strong as the hard brush. If you brush it on your hand, it should not scratch.
You'll want a rubber curry, too. Actually, it's your horse who will want you to use a nice rubber curry. If you choose a flexible rubber curry, your horse will feel like he's getting a wonderful massage while you bring dirt, dander and loose hair up out of the horse's skin, then brush it away. We like to have a hard curry on hand for removing heavy mud and a softer curry or a curry mitt for faces, legs and simple body massage.
A mane comb is handy for detangling manes and tends to get through the hairs more quickly than a hard brush. It's also fairly inexpensive to have on hand. A human hairbrush with plastic bristles and rubber dots at the ends of the bristles will work as a mane comb, and you can find that at dollar stores.
There's virtually no reason not to have several rub rags on hand. Terrycloth, like an old towel, is excellent because it's durable and also polishes the coat well. You can use old ragged towels from the house or purchase them in bulk at discount department stores, dollar stores or warehouse clubs. A 12-pack of washcloths can be found for around $6 and are indispensable for cleaning noses, eyes and so on. A rub rag also makes a nice massaging tool, and you'll need several larger ones to dry off a wet horse on cold evenings.
Grooming tools need to be cleaned regularly - dirty tools aren't going to get your horse clean quickly and may spread disease. But there's no need to make a huge job out of it. Dishwashing liquid works wonderfully, as it's made to remove dried-on dirt and oily spots. It also rinses clean quickly.
Fill a bucket with warm water and some dishwashing liquid and soak your equipment for 20 minutes or so. Then take each piece and rub it clean with a kitchen dish scrubby or even another brush. Allow the equipment to air dry, in the sun if possible. There's some controversy over whether brushes should be dried bristles up or bristles down. The bristles-down method is to protect the brush back from water damage, but we prefer to protect the bristles themselves and find they stay in the best shape if they are dried with bristles up.
Note: Pricey horse-only rub rags can be purchased at tack stores. These tend to be incredibly durable and do a fantastic job, but they're not necessary, especially if you're pinching pennies.
The last basic is probably the most important: a hoof pick. You'll want to have at least two, and that's affordable. Choose one that's comfortable in your hand but doesn't have an overly sharp end. Some manufacturers overdo that element, and you can end up with something nearly knife-like. All you're doing is lifting the mud, stones or snowballs out. You can brush out the remaining debris with an old barn brush or even a dish brush you might find at the dollar store.
The Wish List
You'll find that different brushes have different feels, and you may decide that it would be nice to have a medium-bristle/all-purpose brush for times when you need to give your horse a quick brush off and don't have time to do any finishing/polishing. Some people also find long-bristle brushes fun to use and sweep away a lot of dirt, while others find them awkward. We especially like those tiny, short-bristle palm-size brushes, which are wonderful for faces and knee/pastern areas.
While you're adding to your wish list, think about baths: a sweat scraper, sponge, washing bucket, water hose and nozzle, shampoo and detangler solution (for tails and long manes) make baths go much more quickly.
You'll also find the odd situation come up where adding just the right product to your grooming paraphernalia could help out. These items include a good sheath cleaner (an essential, periodic part of your grooming), witch hazel for removing stains, a container of generic baby wet wipes and a pair of sharp blunt-end scissors for cutting bridle paths and trimming fetlock hairs and overly long whiskers.
If you're showing, you're probably going to need baby oil for shining muzzles and the eye area, hoof polish, rubber bands for braiding and banding, a good coat polish spray and possibly a tail bag.
If you start with our basic eight-item grooming kit (see chart), you should have a workable setup for $20 to $45. Once you've dug into the process, you'll find the "wish list" items appealing, and by the time you're done purchasing, you'll have a gleaming horse who feels as good as he looks. PH*