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A guide to horse grooming

 

Grooming your horse can be a therapeutic activity for both you and them but, if it's something you don't have a lot of experience with, it can sometimes be tricky knowing where to start with it all. From dirt and debris that can build up in their hooves to a tangled mane, there is plenty to contend with, so you'll need to make sure you're fully in-the-know to keep your horse happy and healthy.

Horse owners will want to show as much care and compassion to their horses, whether they're new or an old companion. And, this includes knowing how to groom them properly. Here, we'll be sharing our top horse grooming tips and hacks, covering:

The benefits of grooming a horse

Just like other pets, horses plenty of attention, and part and parcel of this is often treating them to a nice groom. Grooming is a beneficial activity for both you and your horse, and here's why.

It helps you to assess your horse's health

Grooming your horse frequently is one of the most effective ways of spotting any physical problems including lumps, sensitivity, rashes, or scratches that may need to be seen to by a vet. Finding these early is more likely to result in successful treatment, too.

It can reduce the risk of illnesses

Grooming your horse can also increase blood flow to their skin's surface, release tension from any large muscle groups, and prevent common hoof issues. Your horse may develop aches, pains, and injury, whether they've been in the yard or you've gone out riding with them, which means carrying out daily horse grooming is important.

It gives you the chance to bond with your horse

The majority of horses will enjoy being groomed as it gives them some downtime and makes them feel relaxed. If you're a relatively new horse owner, this will be a great opportunity to become more familiar with them, too. Taking good care of your horse — and helping them if you do realise that there are any physical problems — can also help to cement a trusting relationship.

It can make it easier to secure your horse tack

Horses should be groomed both before and after they are ridden. Clearing and detangling their mane beforehand can ensure your saddle or harness will rest on your horse properly when you're riding, while giving them some TLC once you've returned them to the stable will remove any sweat or debris that's accumulated on their skin, mane, or hooves.

It helps to settle them

Some horses may become unnerved when they're led out of the stables, especially if they are unfamiliar with you. But the more you practice doing this and reward them for standing quietly while being groomed, the more comfortable they are likely to be when you saddle them up to take them out.

How often should you groom your horse?

 

How often you need to groom your horse will typically depend on where they reside. For example, if your horse lives in a field with others and isn't covered with a horse rug, they're likely to be being groomed by others in the field, so won't need grooming until just before you take them out horse-riding. It's important to do it at this stage to ensure your tack sits securely on your horse.

If your horse stays in a stable on its own — and especially if it is regularly rugged — it will require more frequent grooming. This can result in a build-up of skin and hair which, in turn, can cause discomfort and skin problems for your horse. To avoid this, you should be grooming stabled horses at least once a day.

Horse grooming kit essentials

Grooming can make a world of difference to how your horse looks and feels, so having a complete horse grooming kit will be important. All horse owners' kits will be slightly different but should contain the same basic horse grooming brushes and tools, which we'll outline here.

Hard/dandy brush: These brushes are stiff-bristled and fantastic for removing stubborn build-ups of dirt. However, it's important to use these on the less sensitive parts of your horse, as they can be too rough on their face or ears.

Body brush: A body brush is perfect for removing any grease, dust, or debris from your horse's coat and, unlike a dandy brush, it can be used on the more sensitive parts of your horse due to its soft bristles.

Curry comb: Curry combs are available in a range of materials, and any good grooming kit should have a selection. While metal curry combs are used to remove build-ups of dust and dirt from your horse body brushes, one made from a softer material like rubber can be used to remove mud and loose hair from your horse's mane: both are horse grooming kit essentials.

Clippers and trimmers: A good pair of clippers and trimmers will help you to keep your horse well-groomed and comfortable, and means you can trim down any problem areas to apply skin medication.

First aid products: Having the first aid products to act quick when your horse has an injury can help to prolong more serious problems down the line. Whether they've been bitten by an insect, have injured their leg and need it bandaging up or need a wound soothing, you'll want to ensure you have the correct kit to deal with these problems.

Fly repellent and protection: Fly masks and hoods important for keeping flies away from irritating your horse's face, ears, nose, while fly sprays can offer protection against biting insects. We stock all of these products in our range of fly protection products.

Grooming sprays and ointments: Having a selection of grooming sprays and ointments in your kit will ensure your horse always looks and feels good. Finishing sprays will give their coat an extra sheen while ointments can support the skin in wet and muddy weather, soothe the skin from insect bites and promote healthy skin.

Hoof pick: A hoof pick is an essential when caring for your horse's hooves, and is effective in removing dirt and stones.

Mane and tail brush: Wind, rain, and general daily activities can all take their toll on your horse's mane and tail, so it's important that you invest in a good brush to detangle these and remove any build-ups of dirt and debris.

Mane comb: As well as a mane brush, you'll need to make sure you have a mane comb. These fine-toothed grooming tools will help to undo any tight knots in your horse's mane.

Sponge: A large horse care sponge should be used to gently clean the horse's eyes, nose, and dock area.

Shampoo: Horse shampoo will be essential to carry in your grooming kit, as it will not be irritating or harsh on their skin. However, be aware that using this on their coat more than once a week is likely to be too frequent and can remove the natural skin oils from their coat, leaving it dry and flaky.

Before you shop for a shampoo, you should make yourself aware of any problems your horse may have. Whether they have something gentle for their sensitive skin, a medicated shampoo for any skin problems or their coat needs degreasing with a tea tree solution, you're sure to find an appropriate one.

Showing and plaiting: If you're entering your horse into shows, you'll need to make sure they look the part. This includes having everything from hair polish and plaiting kits that'll keep their manes looking presentable, to chalk powder that will add a brilliant shine to their coat. You can find all of this in our range of showing and plaiting products.

Sweat scraper: Your horse's coat will absorb plenty of sweat and water each day, especially if you've been out with them. A sweat scraper has an arched head with rubber edges, and can be used to effectively wipe away any moisture from your horse's coat after it's been washed.

Grooming kit bag: You'll need something to store all your horse grooming essentials in and a grooming kit bag will offer all the storage space you need to keep everything together and in good condition.

You'll find all of the products you need to keep your horse looking its best in our extensive range of horse grooming and care products.

How to groom a horse: Step-by-step instructions

 

A full horse grooming session will consist of many different steps which we will be covering below:

How to clean a horse's hooves

Step 1: Approach your horse from the side so it can see you coming, rather than from the back as they may get spooked. Once you've made contact, giving them a stroke or scratch will help to settle them.

When you feel your horse is calm enough, tie your horse up to stop them from bolting away, as this could result in injury for both of you. You can do this with a rope that's clipped onto their headcollar and using quick-release ties for an added safety precaution.

Step 2: Start at the front hooves and make sure you are facing towards your horse's tail, so you're protected if it does try to kick. Run your hand over the horse's shoulder and down the leg and gently cup your hand around the fetlock, the part just underneath where the leg bends towards the hoof. Gently squeeze this part so your horse lifts it and you can see the bottom of the hoof.

Step 3: Start at the heel of your horse's foot and use a hoof pick to move through the sides of the frog (the part of the hoof that's shaped like a V) in an upwards motion towards the toes being very careful of the frog itself. This will clear any stones, dirt, and debris from your horse's hooves, but be careful not to dig too deep as this could damage their hoof and cause them pain.

Step 4: Remove any remaining dirt with a stiff bristled brush. If your horse is wearing shoes, remember to also clear away any dirt that is lodged between the hoof sole and underside of the shoe with your pick.

Step 5: Apply a hoof oil or dressing to protect and strengthen your horse's hooves. We have a wide range of horse hoof supplements where you will find these products.

How to clean your horse's coat

Step 1: Use a rubber or plastic curry comb on your horse's coat from the head down. Use gentle circular motions in the opposite direction to the way their hair grows to gently loosen any dried mud.

Step 2: Use a hard-bristled dandy brush and make short, straight flicking motions to encourage any built-up dirt to come out. You should start at the neck (missing the mane, as this will need combing separately) and work down the body, stopping just before the tail. This process removes heavy dirt or sweat marks. However, you should avoid using this technique on a horse that has been clipped or has sensitive skin, as it can be too harsh. You should also avoid using these brushes on your horse's face.

Step 3: Once you've removed any built-up dirt with a hard brush, you should use a soft brush on your horse's face and legs. These are two of the most sensitive parts of your horse, so using a gentler brush will keep them comfortable while you groom them.

You can also use this type of brush over the rest of your horse's body to add extra shine.

Step 4: When it comes to washing your horse's coat, you will need to assess how best to do this, considering your horse's character. Some are fine with being lathered up with a horse-friendly shampoo and hosed off, but others will be much happier with you using a bucket and sponge.

If you're doing the latter, it’s best to bathe your horse in sections, starting with their midsection and going onto the legs, and finally the head and dock area — we will discuss how to clean your horse's mane and tail later on.

Once you're done, you should always use water to wash off any soap residue, which can irritate your horse's skin. You can find flexible tub buckets that are great for this in our selection of stable and yard equipment.

How to clean your horse's face

As well as using a soft brush on their face to sweep away any dirt, you'll also need to pay attention to your horse's eyes and nose.

Using a damp sponge, carefully wipe the corners of your horse's eyes and their lashes to remove any debris. You should also clean out their nose with the corner of a damp sponge — just avoid getting too much water up their nostrils, as this can be distressing for your horse.

How to groom your horse's mane

Step 1: First things first, you'll need to detangle your horse's mane. This can be a tedious process but will make things easier further down the line.

You'll need to find where the beginning and end of the matting starts and add a mane and tail conditioning spray — you can find these in our range of equestrian sprays and ointments... You can then use a mane comb to pick the hairs apart and unravel any knots that may have looped together in your horse's mane.

Step 2: Once you've gotten rid of any knots, begin by brushing the hair flat with a mane brush or comb. If your horse’s mane is particularly dirty it may need to be washed with horse shampoo as you would wash your own hair. If you want to give it a little extra sheen, you could also use a conditioner.

Step 3: Comb your horse's mane once wet, using the same process as above if any knots have developed during the washing process. Once dry, you can either plait it or brush it to lay flat on one side of your horse's neck — our collection of mane care for showing and plaiting will help you do this.

How to groom your horse's tail

There are a couple of recommended methods for this, but we would advise using the bucket method.

Step 1: Fill a bucket with warm water and add a blob of horse shampoo the size of a ten pence piece.

Step 2: Dunk the tail into your bucket up to the tail bone and then use a sponge to add some of the soapy shampoo mixture to the top of the tail where the bucket may not have reached.

Step 3: Rinse off your horse's tail, being sure to get any suds off the skin at the top of the tail. If left on, this can be an irritant to your horse.

Step 4: Use a detangling brush to get rid of any knots. This can be done while their tail is still wet, or you can wait until it's dry — whatever's easiest for you.

How to clip a horse

Clipping your horse can have many benefits, with the most important being to keep them healthy and comfortable. Horse owners usually do this if their horse seems to get too hot during exercise or their coat takes a long time to dry. The latter is particularly important if winter is on its way, as you don't want your horse to get a chill.

When you clip your horse you affect their ability to keep themselves warm in the cold winter months. So, before you do so, it's important to carefully consider what type of clip your horse needs depending on factors such as how hard they work, if they can be stabled and how sheltered their turnout is. As a general rule, you should always go for minimum hair removal — you can always take more away later.

Typically, September is the best time to clip your horse as their winter coat begins to grow in.

There are five main types of clips you can give your horse:

Bib clip: This removes a little hair from the underside of neck and chest and is particularly useful for horses which are lightly exercised but spend the majority of their time outside.

Trace clip: This removes the coat from the belly and underside of the neck to allow your horse to be exercised without overheating. This is a very popular and versatile clip as it allows your horse to keep the majority of his coat. And, it's particularly useful for horses and ponies who work hard at the weekends in winter.

Blanket clip: This removes the coat from the head, neck, and flanks. The leg hair is kept for warmth and protection. A horse who is working nearly everyday may benefit from this upgrade from a trace clip. However, be aware that this is only suitable for horses who are stabled at night or turnout in a very sheltered location.

Hunter clip: This is similar to the blanket clip, but takes off all the hair from your horse's hindquarters, leaving only a patch where the saddle would go over. Again, the leg hair is kept for warmth and protection. This is suitable for competition horses, hunters and racehorses who are living in a stable the majority of the time.

Full clip: A full clip removes all of the horse's coat, including the hair from its body, legs, and head. This is usually used for competition horses as they are in full time work and usually stabled the majority if not all the time. But, if you do choose this clip style for your horse, you need to be aware that the horse will need to be stabled at night, have a sheltered turnout and will require rugging at all times.

Clipping can seem like a complicated process, but it can be done in a few simple steps and all you’ll need is a good pair of clippers and some chalk. If your horse is anxious, it might be less distressing for them if you use finishing trimmers, as these make less noise than standard ones do. If you have never clipped your horse before, or don’t know how they will react, take your time and introduce them to the noise before proceeding. If you aren’t sure about clipping yourself there are people around who can be paid to clip your horse.

Step 1: Wash your horse a day before clipping. Horses should be clipped when their coats are dry to help prevent the hair clogging the clippers however a good spray of coat conditioner can help to get a clean cut.

Step 2: Use chalk to mark out the sections you will be clipping.

Step 3: Turn the clippers on and run them flat over the coat. Pressing too hard will cause a tram line effect. It’s best to start from the top of the head and neck and work downwards. Don’t forget to use clipper oil on the blades to ensure a smoother cut and longer lasting blades.

Step 4: Clip against the hair when clipping the legs and face, as these parts of a horse's coat tend to be shorter.

Step 5: Rug your horse up and give them a well-deserved treat! We have an extensive range of horse rugs including turnout rugs, stable rugs and fleece rugs and coolers, so you’re bound to find the perfect one for your horse here.

We hope the tips we've shared in our guide to horse grooming have given you the knowledge you need to take care of your horse properly. 

Here at Houghton Country, we specialise in equestrian equipment, which includes everything from horse grooming and care products, to saddlery and horse rugs, so you're sure to find the essentials you need to start out in the equine world.

Want to learn more? Visit our knowledge hub for more horse care advice. And, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us to speak to our passionate, expert team.

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