Horse Grooming Essentials - Part 1 - Tricks and Tools of the Trade

One might think that the topic of horse grooming is actually a simple one and that it can be explained in a few words. Well, at least that is what I thought until two things happened.

Grooming as a bonding experience

Grooming as a bonding experience

Your horse needs to learn to stand still at grooming time, so this is a good training lesson. New window.

I did some research and then really took a look at the way I'd been going about grooming my two horses, Nan and Misty, and realized that grooming is a two-part process.

So, part one is about the tools needed and the basics of grooming, and part two deals with the why of the ritual that every equestrian absolutely loves, and no, I am not being sarcastic. As much as I enjoy riding, what I truly love, and come away from with a sense of peace, is the grooming ritual… but that will be part two.

Your horse grooming tool box

Here are the basics. In the beginning, you may feel as if you need to buy every new doodad on the market. My piece of advice... DON’T! You will end up cluttering yourself silly. I did invest in a really nice, heavy-duty plastic carry-all grooming tote. Ten years later, I still have it, and in one piece.

  1. A carry-all tool box: Buy it from wherever you like, but make sure it has the handle in the middle. SPLURGE on this item and make sure it lasts.
  2. Curry comb: This is used for loosening caked dirt and mud from the skin. The choice of rubber or plastic should be based on your horses’ skin sensitivity. Some horses are really thin-skinned and need the soft rubber, some are as thick-skinned as they come. It should not be too hard or too sharp. I have a metal, rounded-edge curry comb, BUT I only use it when the horses are shedding winter coat (especially thick-coated Misty who seems to just molt white hair everywhere) and only on Nan where she is heavily coated in mud and I need to get it off without wetting her.
  3. Dandy or Stiff brush: This is for long-coated horses and horses who have rolled in mud and had it dry on them. Again, a thin-skinned horse is not going to be happy about this, so please use lightly. If you get a lot of skin flinching or pulling away, stop using the brush because it is causing pain.
  4. Body or Soft brush: This is used to remove sweat and dust. I use the soft brush only after all the tough stuff is off and it then finishes the brushing job.
  5. Hoof Pick: This is one item I say buy many of - one for the trailer, one for the tack room, and one to carry when you ride out on trail. It is used to pick out mud and, ummm, well, poop from horses feet. (Sorry, no polite way to say that one.)
  6. Mane comb or hairbrush: Because I go through so many of these, I go to either the Dollar Store or Walmart and find a good-quality brush, usually about $4 - $5, which is usually cheaper than buying from a “tack store.”
  7. Towel: I do keep a towel around, washed on a weekly basis, as both mares get all kinds of nasty gunk in their eyes and noses and I do wipe those off.
  8. A Bath Poof or Sponge (not sure what everybody else calls it): I use it when I am washing my horses. Hands, for me, never really seem to suds up a horse like these big round poofies that you find at Walmart or Dollar Stores for about a buck. I usually buy them in bulk when I get them; they do not necessarily last a super long time, but I usually get a couple of months of washes out of them.
  9. A Bot-fly knife: These you will find in a tack store or farmer's-type co-op. They are designed to take off the yellow eggs of the Bot-fly that you usually see on horse’s legs and shoulders. The Bot-fly likes to lay it’s eggs in a place where the horse will lick or bite at itself, allowing the larvae to mature in the gut, or will burrow into the flesh to grow.
  10. Fly repellent: I have several spray bottles in various places (trailer, stalls, grooming area) and invest in really good, long-lasting bottles.
  11. Show Magic: Let me let you in on a little secret... Avon Skin-So-Soft, Original Blend. I buy six or so bottles every 6-8 months (when they are on special) and I add about 2-4 ounces to every bottle of fly spray that I use. It helps keep the flies off and it keeps them a wee bit on the slick side so stuff does not stick. You can always get a bottle of Show Magic, or a similar brand, and add a spritz. It absolutely helps detangle those long manes and tails

How to groom your horse

Before you start the grooming process you should have your horse tied securely or cross-tied.

Making grooming pleasant and safe

Making grooming pleasant and safe

Before you start the grooming process you should have your horse tied securely or cross-tied. New window.

It is not recommended that you do your grooming on the loose. You may not have the control that you need, and every horse needs to learn to stand still at grooming time, so this is a good training lesson as well.

  1. Facing the rear, pick a side to start on (I suggest varying that side all of the time, repetitive habits become training) and start with the feet. Pick all four feet, going heel to toe, clean out the hoof and make sure it is free of all debris.
  2. Starting with your curry comb and the top of the neck, work in light circles and begin the process of cleaning their skin of all mud and debris. You may not need this step if they are not hairy or muddy. Work your way down the body all the way to the tail region, being careful of sensitive skin areas.
  3. Follow this with the body brush and don’t forget to clean their head (there are specific brushes with very soft bristles for this area). This is your body finishing brush.
  4. Next comes the mane and tail. You can use the repellent mixture that I suggested above or some form of detangler spray. Work your way through any tangles you may find.
  5. I end with wetting a rag down and cleaning the face and nostrils. Check the interior of the ears as well.
  6. I clean my mare’s udders and under the tail area, as this area gets the loose, pill-like dirt buildup and it actually becomes an itching point for the horse. It is like toe crud for us… sorry, had to find an analogy. My mares actually enjoy me cleaning these areas and often will tilt a hip and completely relax themselves. I always use WARM water. (I know I would not be happy about cold water in any of my parts.)

So that covers the basics of grooming. Now you are prepared for Part 2: Why consistent grooming is not just a plus, but is essential for you and your horse.

In the meantime, Happy Trails.

About the author

After a lifetime of loving horses, Miriam had her first horse at age 41. With Nan she has learned about breeding, foals, health issues, hoof issues, eye issues and is still learning how to become a better riding partner with Nan. She works on this with Nan while riding in Texas Trail Challenges.

With Misty, her second horse of the herd, she gained confidence on the trail riding in NATRC(North American Trail Ride Conference) and Misty is her go to girl. Her horses are her Zen place in life.

Miriam has been writing her entire life and began getting published in her early 20's. All of her work has been of the informative article type and always on topics she has become familiar with in the personal arena first. She currently lives in Central Texas but is looking at a state address change in the near future. She loves writing for Equimed and looks forward to a long future with them.

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