As modern day horse owners, we have to budget our income so we can afford a horse, and then we have to budget our time so we can squeeze in as many minutes as possible at the barn. Unfortunately, this hectic scheduling often means that we must scrimp someplace, and grooming usually takes the hit. Here are ways to make the most out of grooming time, whether it’s a grab-the-brush-and-run sort of day or a leisurely hour at the equine beauty salon.
You were late getting off work, the traffic was horrendous and your group riding lesson has started without you. Or your barn buddies have headed out for the trails, thinking you were a no-show. How can you groom your horse sufficiently so you can tack up and get in the saddle without feeling guilty? Focus your speed grooming tactics on ensuring your horse’s comfort and safety. You can save the more luxurious pampering for a less stressful day.
When minutes count, first tend to your horse’s feet and legs. You can’t expect your horse to work if his feet or legs are giving him discomfort. Picking out feet is a top priority. Check for loose or missing shoes, stones lodged in the cleft of the frog or any obvious signs of injury that would warrant a call to your farrier or veterinarian. As you handle each leg, feel for heat or swelling. If everything looks OK, take a moment to wrap or boot up your horse’s legs. Foregoing protective equipment for the sake of a few minutes is never a good idea.
Next, use a brush to sweep away any dust, debris or bedding from the saddle and girth areas. Grit embedded in the sensitive areas of your horse’s skin can lead to saddle sores and girth galls in a short period of time. Though your friends may chide you for riding a horse with manure stains on his coat, it’s far worse to ride a horse that’s forced to wear tack that irritates him.
Finally, add a spritz of fly spray. It will only take a moment and it’ll make your ride much more pleasant if your horse isn’t dodging insects.
Although your time budget might not allow for a thorough grooming after your ride, you can whisk away the worst of the sweat with a sponge that’s been dunked in a bucket of water mixed with a couple capfuls of liniment. The astringent in the liniment will help the water evaporate quickly and thereby add a heightened cooling effect. Walk your horse until he’s mostly dry. Give him a treat and promise him a day sometime soon when you will make a fuss over him.
In order to give yourself ample time for an extreme grooming session, circle a date on your calendar and plan ahead of time. Detailing a horse is similar to detailing a car: It takes a lot of time, but in the end the effort is worth it.
Begin with a thorough currying. Cast off the antique metal curry combs and hard rubber ones and reach for the more pliant designs that feature nubby, rounded “fingers.” Concentrate on the crest of the neck and the shoulders. These are the places where horses naturally groom each other. Your horse will not only enjoy the massaging action, but he’ll also perceive it as a gesture of companionship. As part of your brushing regimen, tidy up your horse’s mane. If necessary, pull the hair to thin it, but use a detached No. 10 clipper blade in a makeshift razor-like action to discreetly shorten its length.
Next, work up a sudsy body shampoo. Now you have the time to see just how well those color enhancing shampoos work, so select the best hue for your horse’s coat. However, use a whitening shampoo for manes, tails and body markings that are silver, white or flaxen.
Once you’ve rinsed out the suds, apply a conditioner to your horse’s tail. After you’ve rinsed that away, take your time in plucking out tail tangles with your fingers rather than a brush. This will result in fewer tail hairs falling into oblivion. An extra finishing touch is to use a hot oil treatment just like you’d get in a pricey salon. Don’t worry. The “hot” oil is merely warm, but it’ll slick down any frizzies in your horse’s tail. Plus, you don’t have to tip the stylist!
When your horse is nearly dry, wipe him down with a coat polish. But don’t use a sponge or rag. Instead, don a pair of cheap knit gloves (you can pick up a pair or two at your local gardening department). Spray the gloves with the product, and wipe them all over your horse, avoiding only the saddle area. While your gloves are moist and soft, gently reach inside the exterior of your horse’s ears and remove the accumulated dust and dandruff. What else can you do with the gloves on? Use them to apply fly repellent, again gently coating the ears so that gnats are kept at bay.
A few zips of the clippers can do wonders to spiff up your horse’s image. Trim overgrown bridle paths, billy goat beards and shaggy fetlocks to tidy up his look.
Before your horse checks out of the spa, make sure he receives a pedicure. Choose the most appropriate hoof dressing, whether it’s medicated to inhibit thrush or primarily an emollient against excessive dryness. Then your horse can head back to his home, looking beautiful and feeling relaxed.
Cindy Hale is the author of Riding for the Blue (BowTie Press) and A Passion for Horses (BowTie Press).
This article originally appeared in the August 2007 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.