Mindful Grooming

Grooming can be a mutually enjoyable and relaxing way to share space with your horse.

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Now that we’re deep into spring, it’s time to “zhuzh” up your horse. Why not make it an enriching mindfulness experience for you both? Enter mindful grooming.

Body, Mind, Equine retreat participant practices mindful grooming with a horse
Body, Mind, Equine retreat participant in Pennsylvania enjoying a mindful equine grooming session. Her smile says it all!

It’s not uncommon for horse owners to become complacent about grooming amidst the many other tasks involved with having horses, especially when combined with finding the time to ride. But a dedicated, mindful equine grooming session can be quite relaxing and yet another way to share space.

I’m an advocate of letting horses be horses, but to be honest, sometimes mine look downright feral as I slack on their grooming. I often find myself doing a quick “cowboy groom,” focusing on just the areas that need direct attention, paying little attention to anything else. The reality as horse owners is sometimes that’s all we have time for.

Often, equestrians can become task-oriented or fixated on the ride, skimming over the true joy of simply being around horses. Mindful grooming is a nice way to connect beyond riding. Your horse will thank you, because after all, who doesn’t love a good spa day and quality time with a friend?

Cathy Woods bonding with Dan
Cathy and Dan deeply connecting during grooming time. Photo by William Skinner

As part of my Body, Mind, Equine retreats, I include a mindful equine grooming segment. This session often includes some of the sweetest and most memorable aspects of the program. When I take the time to do this with my horses, I’m reminded of how rich the experience is.

What are the Benefits of Mindful Grooming for You and Your Horse?

◆ Slowing down and an opportunity to practice present-moment awareness.
◆ Spending quality, quiet time with your horse.
◆ Relaxing and soothing both horse and human, lowering stress levels.
◆ Getting hands on your horse to inspect anything that might be missed at a glance, such as tenderness, weight loss/gain, and hoof issues.
◆ An opportunity to observe energy and to be aware of what energy we are bringing to our horsemanship, such as calm, rushed, scattered or centered.
◆ An occasion to bond, build trust and connect.

A Body, Mind, Equine retreat participant practicing mindful grooming with a horse
A Body, Mind, Equine retreat participant at C Lazy U Ranch in Colorado and one of the ranch horses enjoying some extra attention through grooming.

Benefits for Senior Horses and Non-Riders

Since my horses are now seniors, I find we spend more time doing tranquil, simple activities, such as unhurried grooming sessions, compared to how we spent time during our many years of long, challenging trail rides. As we move through the various seasons of our lives, we find new pathways to partnership.

A woman brushing a pinto in a barn
Cathy Woods decided to pass up a trail ride when she was having an off day in order to stay behind and groom Sampson instead. Photo by Carol Engan Borrelli

Maybe you no longer have interest in riding, or you or your horse has an injury, preventing saddle time. Or perhaps your friends are going riding, but you’re having an off day and you’re just not feeling it. In either case, there’s nothing wrong with staying behind and spending time with your horse in another way.

Sometimes, it’s nice to just be with your horse.

How to Practice Mindful Grooming

A Body, Mind, Equine retreat participant practicing mindful grooming with a horse
Author and blogger Heather Wallace sharing space while experiencing her and her horse’s energy interconnecting at Body, Mind, Equine Retreat at C Lazy U Ranch.

Mindful grooming can be approached in several ways, depending on personal preference and your setup.

◆ Make the session feel special, much like you would when setting up for any special occasion. Your horse will sense the difference. Maybe it’s playing relaxing music in your barn, or thoughtfully setting out your grooming tools. I like to start and end my session by giving my horse a peppermint.

◆ Sessions can be done in complete silence, which can be a nice break and a counterbalance from all the noise in our lives. Horses live in a nonverbal world; sometimes it’s nice to join them there!

◆ Soft music can also be pleasant. Choose something soothing. I like to play Native American flute music; I find the sounds peaceful and ethereal.

◆ Before greeting your horse, take a few moments to become centered: be still, close your eyes, and breathe deeply, collecting and gathering yourself. Your horse will detect the difference when your energy is centered versus fragmented.

◆ Before grooming, take a moment to breathe with your horse. Stand next to him with grounded feet and place a hand on his chest, side, or near the nostrils, and breathe deeply—see if you can sync up your breathing. Not only does this calm and connect horse and human, but helps us become keenly aware that the same life-force energy flowing through us also flows through our horse (and all living things), interconnecting us on a deeper level.

◆ Begin your grooming regimen in whatever way you like, while staying attentive to what you’re doing. When your mind wanders from your task, notice that you’ve come out of the moment and bring your attention back. Use two tools to stay harnessed in the present: breath and bodily sensations. When you catch yourself mentally drifting, come back to those two things—they’re always there.

Often, we operate on auto pilot, but learning to stay in the present moment is a gift—that’s why it’s called the present.

A Body, Mind, Equine retreat participant practicing mindful grooming with a horse
One of the favorite segments of the Find Your Inner Cowgirl Retreat with Cathy Woods each May is mindful equine grooming.

◆ Pay attention to your horse’s response/body language. Is he showing signs of relaxing and enjoying the experience? Detect if there are specific areas where your horse likes or dislikes grooming, and adjust accordingly.

◆ See how much you can notice. When grooming, pay attention to the subtleties, smells, sounds, sensations and breath. Use this time as a meditative experience—a waking meditation.

◆ If you groom with others in a shared barn or with a riding group, perhaps suggest this as a group activity. Group energy can sometimes enhance the experience for all.

◆ The session can be as long or short as you’d like. It’s not about the quantity of time, but rather the quality of presence.

◆ In closing, thank and appreciate your horse for being part of your life and for being a “creature teacher.” We can learn so much from them by simply being in their company.

I hope you’ll give mindful grooming a try and continue to seek new ways to connect with your horse and the world around you in a deeper way.

Happy grooming! Your horse thanks you.

This article about mindful grooming appeared in the May 2023 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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