Most of us don't give much thought to our grooming tool pur-chases. After all, brushes, combs and the like are relatively inexpensive compared to other items at the tack store. And, though sizes and prices may vary a bit, the differences between items generally seem minimal.
However, says Susan Harris, author of the classic text Grooming to Win, a little time spent comparison shopping can pay dividends in efficient and economical grooming. "I've spent hours trying out grooming tools and thinking about which ones are the best choices for my horse, myself and the job I need them to do," she says. "The right brush gets the job done quickly and well. If it doesn't, it's a waste of money, no matter how much you paid for it."
Buying the right grooming tools requires weighing several factors, including exactly what you need it to do, how much you want to spend and your own personal preferences. If you've never given this much thought to the purchase of brushes before, never fear: Here's what you need to know to select the best tools for your basic grooming kit.
Materials: rubber or plastic Cost: $2 to $14. Retractable combs, which release trapped dirt when the handle is twisted, are more expensive. Shopping tip: Look for a comb that's firm enough to do the job but not so hard that it will injure your horse's skin.
A good rubber or plastic currycomb is essential to any grooming kit. Several different designs and sizes are available, but all will help loosen hair and dirt while massaging the skin and stimulating oil production.
When selecting a curry, the teeth are key. If they are too soft, you won't get the proper dirt-busting, skin-massaging action. But extremely hard teeth can cause discomfort for the horse or even break his skin, providing an entryway for infections such as rainrot.
"On most horses, I use the old- fashioned heavy, rubber currycomb with the concentric circles of teeth," says Harris. "I like how they bend slightly in my hand and that the rubber is slightly 'tacky,' which helps remove loose hairs. I've found that smooth plastic currycombs don't always do this as well."
Your horse will also likely have a clear preference. "Many horses simply cannot tolerate a hard curry, and they shouldn't be expected to," says Harris. "If your horse makes faces or snaps or stomps every time you curry him, he's got an honest complaint. If you think of the curry as a massage tool as much as a grooming tool, you'll select one that's comfortable for him. Try it out on your own skin first!"
For sensitive horses, Harris goes with a model that has flexible fingers: "These types of curries can be great, but those with longer 'fingers' may not massage as well as firmer ones. You may be moving the curry in a circle, but since the fingers bend so much the ends never move against the horse's skin." Another option for very sensitive horses are the rubber "pimple" mitts.
Metal currycombs and even some extremely hard plastic curries can do more harm than good, warns Harris. "A very harsh material can create small nicks in the skin, particularly over areas like the hipbones," she says.
Harris says metal currycombs are best reserved for cleaning brushes as you groom; to tackle a mud-caked winter coat, she recommends a shedding blade applied with a light hand.
Hard (Dandy) brushes
Materials: synthetic (plastic) or natural fibers (bassine, palmyra, rice root or union fiber) Cost: $7 to $14. Brushes with comfort grips are usually the more expensive option. Shopping tip: Focus on the diameter of the brush bristles--that will tell you the size of dirt particles the brush will remove most effectively.
These brushes, which typically have oblong handles and stiff, large-diameter bristles, are the workhorses of a grooming kit. "Brushes only remove dirt particles that are close in size to that of the bristles," explains Harris. "So hard brushes with large, coarse bristles are for removing dried dirt and heavy mud."
When purchasing a hard brush, consider your climate and the type of dirt your horse usually collects. If you live in an area where caked-on mud is common, go for a firm brush with large bristles. If mud is less of a problem, you can opt for a "medium" hard brush. "You don't want a brush that's coarser than you need because some thin-skinned or sensitive horses can really object to a very hard brush," says Harris.