Grooming Guide


There are several reasons to groom your horse, but the most important one is for his well-being. A daily routine is necessary to maintain the health of his skin, coat and hooves. Grooming also allows you to bond with your horse and become familiar with his normal demeanor so you will be able to notice the first sign that something may be amiss. Here are some tips to make sure your horse gets the most out of your grooming sessions.

Picking a Hoof

A Daily Routine

Move the curry comb in a circular motion with vigor to bring dirt, hair and scurf to the surface of your horse’s coat.

  • Flick the hard brush up and away from your horse’s body at the end of each stroke to remove the dirt and hair you loosened with the curry comb.
  • Periodically swipe a curry comb or another brush across the brush you’re using to clear it of dirt and hair so it will work more efficiently and not just spread the dirt through your horse’s coat.
  • If your horse is caked in wet mud, let it dry before grooming him. Otherwise, you’ll just spread the mud through his coat. Or, if it’s warm enough, it may be easier to rinse it off.
  • Pick your horse’s feet every day to remove dirt, manure and any stones or other sharp objects that may have gotten stuck. Move the hoof pick from heel to toe, cleaning the grooves in the middle and on either side of the sensitive frog.
  • To keep long manes and tails tangle free, apply a detangling spray or gel and then use your fingers to pick through any large knots. When you can easily run your fingers through the hair, use a wide-tooth comb and start at the ends, working your way up to the roots to minimize breakage.
  • If you want to shorten and thin your horse’s mane for braiding (or just a neat, tidy look), you’ll need to pull it. Using a metal pulling comb, grasp a 1-inch section of mane at the ends and tease the hair back toward the crest. Wrap the remaining long strands around the comb and sharply pull downward. Continue pulling the rest of the mane until it is about 4 to 5 inches long. Never use scissors, as this gives the hair an unnatural, chopped look. If your horse is unfamiliar with having his mane pulled and gets agitated, you may need to complete the task over a few days.
  • Use a face brush or soft towel on your horse’s head and a soft-bristle brush on his legs, as these areas can be sensitive.
  • For grass and manure stains on gray horses or those with white markings, apply a spot-remover and towel off for a quick clean-up.


Use an equine shampoo formulated for a horse’s skin and coat.

Bathing a Horse
  • After wetting your horse’s body with the hose, using warm water if possible, scrub shampoo into the roots of your horse’s mane and tail to remove any deep down scurf that has built up. Then apply shampoo to a damp sponge and work the soap into his coat, starting at the top of his neck and moving down to his hindquarters. You can also dilute the shampoo in a bucket of warm water and sponge the soapy water onto your horse’s body. In fact, some concentrated equine shampoos are intended to be diluted before you use them.
  • Rinse your horse’s mane first, and then work from the top of his neck downward and back to be sure you remove all of the soap. Rinse thoroughly, as any soap residue can irritate his skin.
  • Use a damp cloth or sponge to clean your horse’s face. Most horses don’t appreciate being sprayed in the face with a hose, and applying soap could irritate his eyes.
  • If you use a detangling spray in your horse’s mane and tail after a bath, let his hair dry before brushing through it with a wide-tooth comb.
  • Don’t bathe your horse too often, even in the warm spring and summer months. This will strip his body of the natural oils that condition the coat and prevent the skin from drying out. Rinse off sweat and mud as needed.
  • In cold climates, horses shouldn’t be bathed during the winter unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you want to keep the dirt in check, soak a towel in hot water and wring it out, then rub his coat against the hair growth. Next, use a dry towel to smooth out his coat and put a cooler on him until he dries. Keep him in a stall or on the cross-ties where he’ll be out of the wind, and wait until he is completely dry to blanket him.

Show Grooming

To get your horse looking show ready, ramp up your grooming routine with extra currying and brushing to bring out the shine.

Clipping a Horse
  • Bathe your horse the day before a show. Wash gray horses and white markings with a whitening shampoo. Applying coat polish spray while the coat is still damp helps kick up the shine a notch and repels dust and stains. Avoid the saddle area with silicone products, which can make the coat slippery. Use a spot-remover the day of the show if your horse acquired any new stains. A stable sheet can also help keep him clean overnight.
  • To make white leg and facial markings really stand out, apply a light coat of baby powder, using a damp towel to wipe away any that falls outside of the white markings.
  • Before heading into the ring, run a soft brush along your horse’s body, followed by a fleece grooming mitt or dry towel to pick up any fine dust left behind and bring out the shine in your horse’s coat. Use the fleece grooming mitt or towel on his face as well.
  • Trimming the long hairs on the lower legs, ears, muzzle and under the jaw will refine your horse’s appearance.
  • When clipping your horse’s lower legs and under the jaw, clip with the hair growth for a natural look.
  • To clip the ears, cup your hand around the back of the ear, bringing the edges together, and move the clippers downward from the tip of the ear to the base in one quick stroke. This will clean up the edges and get rid of the tufts sticking out from the ear without clearing away all of the hair that protects the inside of your horse’s ears from dirt and insects.
  • Pull your horse’s mane well ahead of time so you don’t have to do it all the day before the show.
  • Braid your horse’s mane the night before the show, and use a stretchy hood to keep him from rubbing the braids out overnight. (Visit for braiding help.)

Follow these tips to help you horse look and feel his best. Don’t forget the elbow grease!

Further Reading
Grooming for the Health of It
On-the-Go Horse Shampoo

This article originally appeared in the 2012 issue of Horses USA.


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