Here’s How

Practical Horseman - - Special Sporthorse Health Issue -

How to groom your horse in three min­utes

QOn the week­days, I don’t have a lot of time to groom my horse be­fore and af­ter I ride. I try to make up for that with more thor­ough groom­ing ses­sions on the week­ends. When my time is re­ally tight, is it more im­por­tant for me to groom my horse be­fore or af­ter the ride? Which body parts are a must-groom and which can I skip?


AOb­vi­ously, if you’re rid­ing in a les­son, clinic or show, cut­ting cor­ners isn’t ac­cept­able. But if you board at a low-key fa­cil­ity or keep your horse at home where no­body will be of­fended by your less-than-pris­tine turnout, it’s fine to stream­line your pre-ride groom­ing ses­sion down to just a few min­utes.

Re­gard­less of how much time you have, there are a few things you must never skip. The first is a thor­ough vis­ual ex­am­i­na­tion: an all-body scan for nicks, cuts, lost/loos­ened shoes or any­thing else un­usual. Take a minute or two to do this as you’re hal­ter­ing your horse to bring him in from the pas­ture or out of his stall.

Af­ter you tie or cross-tie him, al­ways pick his feet, be­ing sure to re­move any rocks and dou­ble-check­ing the sta­tus of his shoes. Take ad­van­tage of this mo­ment to in­spect his legs more closely. Be­fore lift­ing each leg, slide your hand down it, feel­ing for bumps, cuts, heat or swelling.

Per­form this in­spec­tion ev­ery time you ride. The ear­lier you catch in­juries and other is­sues, no mat­ter how mi­nor they are, the bet­ter chance you have at re­solv­ing them quickly and pre­vent­ing them from de­vel­op­ing into ma­jor prob­lems later on.

Your next task is to groom any ar­eas on the body that will come into con­tact with the tack—sad­dle and sad­dle pad, bri­dle, mar­tin­gale, etc.—and boots or ban­dages. Any dirt caught un­der­neath tack or boots/ban­dages can ir­ri­tate the skin and cause sores. So pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to the poll where the crown­piece rests, the face area where the nose­band sits, the sides of the neck the reins touch, the with­ers where the mar­tin­gale goes, the girth area—es­pe­cially right be­hind the el­bows—and the lower legs where the boots or ban­dages go. When you groom the sad­dle area, keep in mind that the sad­dle and pad might slip a few inches in ei­ther di­rec­tion dur­ing the ride, so groom those ex­tra re­gions, too.

To get those ar­eas clean in a hurry, fol­low these three steps:

1. Loosen dirt, dried-on mud and dead hair with the curry of your—and your horse’s—choice. Ev­ery horse’s pref­er­ence is dif­fer­ent. More sen­si­tive horses pre­fer softer cur­ries; others like firmer ones. My favorite is the Hand­sOn Glove, which has a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent scrub­bing nod­ules on the fin­gers and palms. It’s re­ally good for get­ting into skin folds—like in the el­bow area and other tricky spots such as the hol­lows over the eye sock­ets. You can ap­ply as much pres­sure as your horse likes. Plus, the gloves come in pairs, so you can curry with both hands at the same time!

2. Re­move all the loos­ened dirt and hair with a dandy, or “flick,” brush. Find one with rel­a­tively long bris­tles that’s soft enough to use on the face.

3. Fi­nally, dampen a cloth with witch hazel and wipe all of these ar­eas clean. This will re­move the last bits of dirt and dust.

With a lit­tle prac­tice, you can com­plete this process in just three min­utes. If you have an­other minute, finger-comb the mane and tail and pick out any shav­ings or de­bris. Spray the tail with a de­tan­gler, but save brush­ing it un­til af­ter your ride. That will give the de­tan­gler time to dry so there’s less risk of pulling out tail hairs.

On hot days, if you plan to hose off your horse af­ter ex­er­cise and won’t have time to wait un­til he’s dry to groom him,

con­cen­trate any ex­tra min­utes you have on your pre-ride groom­ing. Oth­er­wise, I’d pri­or­i­tize the post-ride groom­ing over the pre-ride. Ex­er­cise stim­u­lates blood cir­cu­la­tion and opens the pores in your horse’s skin, mak­ing your groom­ing more ef­fec­tive. Es­pe­cially in the win­ter, sweat tends to dry out clipped coats. A good post-ride curry will help to bring out the nat­u­ral oils and com­bat that dry­ness.

I can’t overem­pha­size the ben­e­fits of cur­ry­ing with lots of el­bow grease. It pro­motes skin health—and many horses en­joy the mas­sage. If you use enough pres­sure and keep an eye on your horse’s re­ac­tions, it’s also an ex­cel­lent way to iden­tify sore spots that you might not have no­ticed oth­er­wise.

Dur­ing your post-ride groom­ing ses­sion, don’t for­get the most com­monly missed places that tend to ac­cu­mu­late sweat and dirt: be­hind the el­bows, be­tween the back legs and on the backs of the pasterns. Ne­glect­ing these ar­eas can lead to dry­ness, ir­ri­ta­tion or even, in the case of the pasterns dur­ing mud sea­son, in­fec­tions like scratches.

An­other pet peeve of mine is leav­ing a sweat mark on the sad­dle area. If you don’t have time to wait for the hair to dry be­fore groom­ing it smooth, rub it with a towel damp­ened with a lit­tle bit of witch hazel or rub­bing al­co­hol. (If your horse has sen­si­tive skin, choose the witch hazel over the al­co­hol.) That will help the sweat evap­o­rate quickly so you can groom the area ef­fec­tively.

These short­cuts will help you keep your horse healthy with­out sac­ri­fic­ing rid­ing time. We all have busy lives. When you’re pushed for time, if you have to choose be­tween rid­ing or groom­ing, I fully sup­port your choice to ride!

Emma Ford grew up in North Devon, Eng­land, rid­ing in the Pony Club and in the hunt field with her fa­ther, who was a Master of Fox­hounds. She jumped in Great Bri­tain’s fa­mous Horse of the Year Show in 1991 be­fore grad­u­at­ing from the Univer­sity of Wales and mov­ing to the United States to groom pro­fes­sion­ally for four-star even­ter Adri­enne Io­rio for seven years. In 2005, Emma ac­cepted a new po­si­tion manag­ing Olympian Phillip Dut­ton’s True Prospect Farm in West Grove, Penn­syl­va­nia. Since then, she has groomed at mul­ti­ple Olympics, World Eques­trian Games and Pan Amer­i­can Games. She was named the U.S. Event­ing As­so­ci­a­tion’s Pro­fes­sional Groom of the Year in 2007 and was awarded the Pro­fes­sional Rid­ers Or­ga­ni­za­tion Liz Cochran Me­mo­rial Groom’s Award in 2012. Emma and Cat Hill co-au­thored the book World-Class Groom­ing for Horses— avail­able at www. EquineNet­workS­— and teach in-depth groom­ing and horse-care clin­ics around the coun­try. For more in­for­ma­tion, go to­class­groom­

To give your horse a quick once-over be­fore a ride, groom any ar­eas on the body that will come into con­tact with the tack with a curry and then use the dandy brush to re­move the loos­ened dirt and hair.

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