Developing a Body Grooming Schedule For Your Horse

It's not that hard to groom your horse if you develop a system of grooming that works for you. Learn how and what to include in this article.
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It's not that hard to groom your horse if you develop a system of grooming that works for you. Learn how and what to include in this article.

Supplies for Basic Body Grooming

  • Large-tooth Rubber Curry
  • Small-tooth Rubber Curry
  • Rubber Curry Glove
  • Dandy (stiff flicka) Brush
  • Soft Body Brush
  • Horse Vacuum

Basic body grooming for your horse is easier than you think. You can increase your relationship with your horse with a regular grooming schedule. Learn how easy it is to develop a basic body grooming schedule for your horse with our simple tips.

Basic Body Grooming
Choose a place that's comfortable for you to work and for your horse to enjoy his grooming. Put a halter and lead on the horse, and resolve to make this a positive experience for both you and him. If he moves around a little, don't scold him, but reposition him and pet him, letting him know that's where you'd like him to stand. When he learns what a nice experience you have planned, he'll relax and look forward to grooming time.

Start with a rubber curry with larger cone-shaped teeth to loosen dirt and old hair. Using a circular motion with overlapping circles, work against the grain of the hair. If you divide your horse in half and work one side at a time, you'll be sure not to miss any spots.

Don't be afraid to put some muscle into it. Try touching your arm lightly and you will feel almost ticklish, but if you rub the skin, it has a massaging feel. This is true for your horse, too. However, be gentle on sensitive, bony areas, like the withers and underbelly.

Start behind your horse's ears and continue down his neck, shoulders, back, belly (particularly the girth area) and hindquarters. Frequently clean your curry by banging it against a hard surface or rinsing it in water.

Switch to your curry glove or mitt and massage down the front and hind legs.

Now, using a stiff "dandy" or body brush, start behind the ears and follow the same sequence on both sides. This time you will use shorter, firm brush strokes in a "flicking motion" in the direction of the hair. Some horse may be more sensitive to the stiff brush, so you may need to find a softer brush or use less pressure.

Repeat this again with a soft finishing brush, but this time use long, smooth strokes. You will begin to see a shiny, glossy hair coat. The next step is either a good bath or you can go directly on to the finishing touches.

Supplies for the Bath

  • Hose with Sprayer
  • Bucket Sponge
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Baby Shampoo
  • Dandruff
  • Shampoo
  • Curry Brush
  • Curry Glove
  • Scraper
  • Cooler
  • Towels

It's Bath Time
If you have access to hot and cold water, that's great. But if your water comes right from the hose, fill your bucket with water and set it aside. This will be used later for the face, so allow the sun to warm the water a bit while you're washing the rest of your horse.

When you go swimming, you start by putting your feet in and gradually walking in further and working your way up, thus allowing your body to adjust to the water temperature. Starting at the legs is a good way to get the horse accustomed to the running water, too, so that he's not surprised by a blast on his body right away.

Allow the hose to run over your horse's feet and lower legs. After that, go to the upper neck and work your way back toward the hindquarters. It's not a big deal when you're wetting the horse down, but you're going to use the same sequence when you rinse him. This way you're letting him know the routine.

Apply a horse shampoo to your horse's wet mane and tail and work it in well with your hands. It may not suds much right away. If that's the case, add more water, rinsing out the heavy dirt as you do. Then shampoo again. The second time will lather more.

Be sure to separate the hairs and rub deep down into the base. Equine skin is often more sensitive than ours. While many human products work fine on horses, the various fragrances and other ingredients may irritate and dry the horse's skin.

Next you're going to add shampoo to your horse's body. Some people use an old shampoo bottle, fill it two-thirds full of water and then add shampoo to it. This way they can easily squirt the diluted shampoo over the horse's body. That saves on shampoo and helps you get the shampoo to all parts of the body.

Using a rubber curry and circular motion, work the shampoo into the hair coat. Use a curry mitt - like a glove - to scrub the legs, since it conforms better in the hard-to-reach spots. Don't forget about the horse's belly, udder, outside sheath area and under the tail. He'll appreciate your using a sponge, rather than a curry, in those areas.

Next, with your gloved curry or your hands, use your "no tears" baby shampoo to wash your horse's face. Avoid getting the soap inside your horse's ears. We'll be cleaning those when we get to the finishing touches.

Rinse the soap off of your horse's face by using the sponge and the water you have put aside. Rinse the rest of the body, starting again with upper neck and working your way back. If your water doesn't rinse off clear, your horse may still have some ground-in dirt. You may need to shampoo him again to get him really clean.

Now you can add conditioner by using your rubber curry to work it into the hair coat. This will leave your horse with a soft, shiny, great-feeling coat. Scrape the excess water off to allow for a shorter drying time, and if it's chilly or breezy, put a cooler over your horse until he's dry. Use a towel to dry your horse's face. (Most horses love this.)

Supplies for the Face

Cotton Balls

  • Mineral Oil
  • Vaseline
  • Clippers
  • Rubber
  • Curry Glove
  • Face Brush (small and very soft)
  • Wash cloth

Finishing Touches for the Face
Starting with your curry glove, massage your horse's face. Most horses enjoy having their faces cleaned and will actually lean into the mitt. Your horse will tell you just how much pressure to apply as you rub in small circles. Avoid using hard-bristled brushes that could irritate or injure his eyes. Follow up with a soft face brush, going with the hair to lay the coat down.

To get that great show look, clip your horse's whiskers and the long hairs over the eyes (but not the eyelashes). If you will be showing your horse, you'll want to trim the hair inside the ears to give the ears a clear definition and accentuate the face. But if your horse will be turned out most of the time, you may not wish to clip the inside of his ears because this will reduce the natural protection from biting flies and other insects.

You may also want to clip a bridle path. The standard is about an inch wide. This allows the bridle to lie comfortably behind the horse's ears without the bulk of excess mane.

Specific breeds of horses, such as Arabians, Saddlebreds and Morgans, who show with a full mane, are usually clipped with more than an inch of bridle path. The rule of thumb for this type is about three or four inches, or the length of the horse's ear laid back. Check with your breed's registry for its standards.

Use the soft face brush to brush the excess hair away from the horse's eyes and ears.

To clean your horse's ears, soak a cotton ball thoroughly with mineral oil. Squeeze out the excess and gently rub up and down inside the ear. Clean only the part you can easily see, and never use anything (cotton swab, Q-tip, etc.) to reach into the ear canal. Be careful not to rub too hard as you can do more harm than good by rubbing the ears raw, leaving a nesting ground for bacteria and ultimately infection. Wipe any remaining oil residue off the ear when finished or it will collect dust/dirt.

It's normal to have dirt buildup in the corners of your horse's eyes. The body's defense is to gather dust particles that the eye comes in contact with and push them toward the corners of the eyes. Horses remove these accumulated dust particles when they rub their face.

Clean your horse's eyes with a water-moistened cotton ball or with a soft, wet washcloth, as you would your own. Do not put anything in the eyes unless recommended by your veterinarian.

Lastly, if you want to give your horse's muzzle that show-ring shine, use Vaseline as a lip balm and massage your horse's lips and muzzle with your hands.

Clipping the Ears for a Turned-out Horse

An easy way to give your horse's ears a neat appearance is to gently bring the edges of the ear together and run the clippers down the edges. This leaves the hair inside the ears, but still gives your horse a neat, trimmed appearance.

Finishing Touches for the Body
Using a clean towel, start behind the ears and, rubbing in large circles, follow it up one more time, rubbing in the direction of the hair coat. This last step takes just a few moments, but it gives your horse a "buffed, polished" look.

A damp towel is great for touching up white spots or smoothing out a spot of hair that has dried standing up. It is also gentle enough to wipe the sensitive areas that are sometimes neglected during a "quick" grooming. Wipe the anal area clean, as well as the soft skin on the bottom side of the tail dock, the skin between the back legs and the mare's udder or stallion/gelding's outer sheath area.

Many people use baby wipes instead of a damp towel, but we don't recommend them because the fragrances and even lotions could cause irritation in sensitive-skinned horses.

Finishing Touches for the Feet
Pick out your horse's feet and take an extra minute after you've pried out any packed debris or small stones to gently clear the V-shaped frog and brush the sole's entire surface, as you do each day. Some hoof picks come with a brush, or you can use a small, stiff brush separately.

When getting ready for a show, some competitors use fine sandpaper or steel wool to buff any rough areas on the hoof wall. We don't recommend this, as it removes the hoof's own natural protective coating.

Some competitors also apply hoof polish just below the hairline. If that's expected in your classes, remove it with rubbing alcohol after every show and condition the hooves with a conditioning hoof dressing. We recommend that you avoid any hoof polish that has to be removed with a chemical, or that contains acetone, alcohol or any pigments.

For those who must have that nail-polish-like look, we suggest using Keratex Hoof Gel. Once dry, it can be buffed to a high shine with a soft cloth.

Finishing Touches for the Mane and Tail
Using a mane or tail conditioner, dampen the mane and tail. Brushing and combing can cause a lot of breakage, so work from the bottom and start with small sections, using a tail brush or wide-tooth comb.

If you need to train your horse's mane, loosely braid the hair, using large sections of hair and adding a braiding band while the mane is wet. As it dries it will begin to lay over.

If you're going to a show, start with a warm, moist towel laid over the mane. This "steams" the mane down. Then you can use styling gel to hold the hair in place. Apply small amounts to the palm of your hands, rub your hands together, then run your hands over and through the mane and forelock. This way, when using a comb you can evenly distribute the gel without getting large clumps.

If you use gel, be sure to wash it out thoroughly after the show. Gel dries and flakes, and is likely to make the mane itchy.

A tail bag is handy if you need to keep your horse's tail clean, protect it from other horses or grow additional length. Once his tail is completely dry, loosely braid it and fold it gently upward. Wrap it a bit with Co-Flex or Vetrap, making sure not to apply the bandage material over the tailbone itself. Blood supply there is easily
shut off, and the tail can be lost. Using a tail bag, weave the ties through the top of the braided tail. Tie a knot.

You can develop a great relation-ship with your horse by extending your grooming session. You'll bond with him while making him feel physically and mentally healthy and happy. Plus he'll look really great.

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Supplies for the Mane and Tail

  • Spray-in Conditioner
  • Hair brush
  • Braiding bands
  • Tail Bag (optional)
  • Styling Gel

Finishing Touches for the Mane and Tail
Using a mane or tail conditioner, dampen the mane and tail. Brushing and combing can cause a lot of breakage, so work from the bottom and start with small sections, using a tail brush or wide-tooth comb.

If you need to train your horse's mane, loosely braid the hair, using large sections of hair and adding a braiding band while the mane is wet. As it dries it will begin to lay over.

If you're going to a show, start with a warm, moist towel laid over the mane. This "steams" the mane down. Then you can use styling gel to hold the hair in place. Apply small amounts to the palm of your hands, rub your hands together, then run your hands over and through the mane and forelock. This way, when using a comb you can evenly distribute the gel without getting large clumps.

If you use gel, be sure to wash it out thoroughly after the show. Gel dries and flakes, and is likely to make the mane itchy.

Supplies for Finishing Touches on the Body

  • Fly Spray
  • Towels
  • Vaseline
  • Hoof brush
  • Hoof pick
  • Conditioner
  • Keratex Hoof Gel
  • Applicator brush
  • Soft cloth

A tail bag is handy if you need to keep your horse's tail clean, protect it from other horses or grow additional length. Once his tail is completely dry, loosely braid it and fold it gently upward. Wrap it a bit with Co-Flex or Vetrap, making sure not to apply the bandage material over the tailbone itself. Blood supply there is easily
shut off, and the tail can be lost. Using a tail bag, weave the ties through the top of the braided tail. Tie a knot.

You can develop a great relation-ship with your horse by extending your grooming session. You'll bond with him while making him feel physically and mentally healthy and happy. Plus he'll look really great.

Check out some great horse grooming supplies at www.horse.com