Assess, Help Your Horse's Health While Grooming

A grooming routine that will help keep your horse healthy. Written by Jayne Pedigo for Equisearch

Every time you groom your horse you have the perfect opportunity to assess his health, check him over for injuries and to use your grooming techniques to help ensure that he stays healthy and catch any problems while they are still minor.

First of all, gather together the items listed below. This is a basic list. If you are going to be showing you will probably want and need a selection of body brushes of differing stiffness, which you would use in progression to remove every last speck of dust from your horse's coat.

  • Dandy brush
  • Body brush.
  • Small, soft face brush.
  • Rubber curry comb -- for raising the dust and loose hair in the horse's coat.
  • Metal curry comb -- to be used only for cleaning brushes.
  • Mane and tail comb -- either a wide-toothed plastic one, or one with rotating teeth, such as the ones made by Grooma that won't break the hairs.
  • Hoof pick -- I prefer the ones with a brush on one end and the Hoof pick on the other.
  • Hoof dressing.
  • Kitchen Towel -- for giving the horse a final rub and removing any dust remaining on the coat and face.
  • Show Sheen
  • Fly Repellent

I keep my grooming kit in a wire basket in my tack cabinet -- this allows any dust that I haven't removed from the brushes to fall through. Small items such as the hoof pick and mane and tail comb go into a plastic container which is kept in the basket. Plastic totes are also useful for carrying grooming kit.

Each horse should have his own grooming kit, to reduce the risk of the spread of skin fungus etc. The kit should also be kept clean.

Get Into a Routine
Getting into a routine that you follow every time you groom your horse will lessen the chance that you leave something out. For instance -- I always start with the feet because once, many years ago, I spent 30 minutes grooming a horse ready for a clinic session, only to discover when I was almost finished that one of the horse's hind shoes was dangling off it's foot, held on by only two nails. But whichever way works for you is fine. A lot of people typically start at the head and work backwards.

As I said, I always do the feet first. Starting with the near fore, I pick up each hoof in turn (actually, Annapolis lifts his hooves for me -- as soon as I am done with one, he picks up the next one). Using the hoof pick I remove any caked in mud etc, making sure to clean the crevasses on each side of the frog. Allowing mud and muck to remain in these crevasses will increase the chance of a thrush infection. If the hoof appears free of mud, I use the brush to scrub the sole and remove any small particles that may be stuck in the crevasses.

Once I have done all the feet, I check Annapolis' body and legs for lumps and bumps and heat using the flat of my fingers. Doing this on a regular basis will allow you to become familiar with what is normal for your horse. For instance, Annapolis has a few old scars and bumps that have been there for ages. As soon as there is a new one, I notice it immediately.

I usually begin the actual grooming process on the left hand, or near, side at the neck. If Annapolis is fairly clean I simply use a medium soft body brush, using sweeping movements of the brush in the direction of the hair. After every other stroke I use the metal curry comb to remove the dust and hair from the brush -- banging the curry on the heel of my boot every so often to clean it. The repeated strokes of the brush bring a nice shine to the coat, as I understand that the oil glands are stimulated by it.

If Annapolis is caked in mud (after turnout, for example) I use the rubber curry comb in a circular motion, going against the direction of the coat to loosen the mud. (Of course, sometimes you have no choice but to hose the horse down.) Once the mud is loosened I will use a dandy brush to remove the worst of it, following the direction of the hair and using the metal curry after each stroke to clean the brush. Then I am able to continue with the body brush as normal.

I use the body brush again on the legs, using the dandy brush around the fetlocks if they are muddy. While going over the front legs I look for bot eggs (small yellow dots attached to the shafts of the hair) and use a bot knife to remove them if I see any. I used to see a lot of those on the horses I rode in England but I have to admit that I have rarely seen more than one or two on Annapolis. If they are left on the horse there is the danger that the horse will ingest them by biting at his front legs. This apparently stimulates the eggs to hatch inside the horse's mouth and perhaps someone will correct me if I am wrong. They eventually pass through the horse's system but I understand they can do a considerable amount of damage on the way.

While brushing the fetlocks, I inspect the hollow at the back to make sure that Annapolis isn't getting any fungus or scratches in that area. If I notice any I will immediately begin the appropriate treatment.

After finishing the legs and body I move on to the mane and tail. First of all, I give a few good sprays with Show Sheen or some other detangler. I leave it to dry for a few minutes and then begin separating the hairs of the tail using a comb with rotating teeth. I find this type of comb is far less likely to break the hairs than a metal comb -- which I only use when I am thinning the mane. I usually spend a fair amount of time on Annapolis' tail, which I trim at the top rather than pull (we're not showing anymore so I am not so concerned about "correctness") I start at the bottom, making sure that the comb will go through each section of hair easily before moving on to the next. By the time I am done, the comb will glide easily through the entire tail, from top to bottom, without so much as a snag.

Then comes the mane. After spraying a little Show Sheen, I like to use a stiff brush to brush the hair up off the neck. This helps remove the scurf that collects at the base of the mane. A quick going over with the mane comb is all that is required.

I use the kitchen towel (or an old retired hand towel) to wipe Annapolis' neck, body and quarters and give them a final rub.

Once I am done with the body, I apply some hoof dressing. Once a week I use Cornucrescine, an English product, which is now available here in the United States. I massage it in to the coronary band on each hoof. I have been told that this massaging action promotes hoof growth and encourages the growth of stronger, healthier horn. I'm not sure if that is true, but I have to say that my finger nails have never looked better since I started using it! A quick brushing over the hoof wall with hoof oil, and his feet are done.

The final step in my grooming routine is a generous application of fly repellent. Whether Annapolis is heading back to his pasture, his stall, or out on a ride, during the summer he needs fly repellent at all times, especially down here in Texas where the mosquitoes are so big.