With quality brushes sprouting plastic bristles in every color of the rainbow, some horsemen may perceive traditional natural-bristle brushes as simply a pricey luxury item. Not so fast. While an upcoming issue will discuss the best synthetic-fiber brushes we found, we can tell you that without a doubt natural-bristle brushes are worth the money.
Pig bristle and horsehair have been the standard for making quality finishing brushes for years. Natural-hair brushes can put a shine on a horse’s coat that few synthetic brushes can match. And they’re gentle. Granted, it takes more care to keep the bristles in shape, but we think the results they produce are worth it.
Of course, “natural bristle” doesn’t only mean animal hair. Tampico and other plant fibers are also used to make horse brushes. Soft horsehair and pig bristle, or boar hair, have traditionally been used in body brushes, while tampico has been used to make the harder dandy brushes. That said, we found good body brushes made with vegetable fibers and tough dandy-style brushes that also included boar hair and even soft horsehair.
The high-tech world hasn’t passed the natural-bristle brush by, however. The “leather” backs on the elegant body brushes by Haas weren’t leather at all, but a resin carefully dyed and molded to look like leather. And Decker has a great thing going with its molded plastic brush backs. They’re lightweight, waterproof and shaped to fit your hand.
When we started with the natural-hair brushes, we didn’t expect them to break up heavy dirt and dried mud well, but several surprised us: the Grooma #3650, E.B. Rea’s boar-hair body brush (#EB-245613) and the natural-hair body brush from Schneiders (#05483). The neat little Salmon Body Brush #B1447 was a terrific all-around body and finishing brush. It fit nicely in our hands, was gentle on the horses — and it brought up dirt. For a sensitive horse, longer-bristled boar hair or horsehair brushes are the way to go.
The Haas body brushes from German Equestrian Manufacturers are some of the finest finishing brushes we’ve ever used. Most had short horsehair or boar hair bristles densely packed in molded resin backs that looked like leather.
Hair bristles do tend to clog up more than synthetic bristles, so we found it worked best to have a metal curry comb in the other hand while you’re brushing a horse so you can remove the built up hair.
In general, vegetable-fiber brushes are stiffer and, therefore, do a better job of cleaning. We found the longer the bristles, the gentler the brush. Vegetable fibers, typically the creamy-colored tampico, are primarily used in dandy brushes.
The Natural Tampico & English Fiber Brush (#05755) from Schneiders had a molded plastic back, similar to the nice Grip-Fit handles. This medium-size brush had a mix of gentle and stiff fibers that gave it a lot of power. While long tampico fibers can be fairly gentle, we found that when vegetable fibers are cut short they tend to be a little harsher, so care is needed on sensitive horses.
A long-bristle tampico dandy brush and a short bristle natural hair body brush are a must in your grooming box. The dandy brush is for flicking out the dirt and hair you’ve brought up with a curry and for wetting down the mane or for bathing. The soft bristle body brush will remove the last of the dust, lay down the hair and distribute the natural oils to give that clean coat a final shine.
For everyday grooming, we like the midsize Schneiders Natural Tampico & English Fiber Brush (#05755) because its shaped plastic top made it easy to hold and practically waterproof.
For finishing, the Salmon Body Brush #B1447 is a great choice, while The Elite from Equestrian International earned our Best Buy. But the Tail Tamer Soft Touch Pig Bristle (ST310) was our favorite. It worked great, didn’t slip, had a soft rubber top, and best of all this brush solved the problem of a strap handle not fitting by having a two-piece strap connected with hook-and-loop fastener.
For that special final show-ring polish, the Haas brushes were excellent. Of these, the Cavaliere is our favorite and our overall choice due to its size and fringe of polishing bristles.