Properly grooming a horse can be a daunting task if you’ve never done it before! Luckily, you can break grooming down into multiple steps, one of which is brushing. By focusing on removing dirt and brushing the mane and tail, you can easily accomplish this part of your horse’s grooming routine!
- Secure your horse comfortably in the stall with a leather halter. Make sure the halter is properly attached to the horse and tied tightly to the stall by looping it around a hook or the stall door and tying a knot. The horse should still be able to move its head and body, but will be tethered to the stall.
- Alternatively, you can use “quick-release” snaps attached to cross-ties to make sure the horse stays in place but can break away if necessary.
- You can brush the horse outside of the stall as long as it’s comfortable and secured in one place. If the horse isn't secure, it can potentially run away in the middle of your grooming session. A good place to secure a horse outside of their stall is in the aisle or in a wash rack. Both areas have cross ties to keep your horse still.
- Approach the horse calmly and avoid sudden movements. Horses can easily be scared by new people or frightening noises. To avoid scaring the horse before you start brushing, make sure it sees you approaching. Pet it a few times and talk in a calm and soothing voice to let it know that you can be trusted.
- Sudden movements can cause the horse to kick and fidget. Always be aware of where your body is in relation to the horse.
- Horses sometimes stomp their feet when a new person approaches. Don’t be alarmed! They’re just communicating with you.
- Wear stable-friendly clothing to protect your feet, legs, and head. Horses are large animals and sometimes aren’t aware of their own strength. When you’re first working with a new horse, wear a helmet to prevent accidents from kicking or bucking. In the stall, wear jeans and boots to protect your feet and legs from being stepped on or cut by sharp objects.
- You can wear a short-sleeved or long-sleeved shirt while grooming, but a long-sleeved shirt will provide more protection and keep you cleaner.
- Wearing gloves can protect you from painful hair splinters, but may make grooming more difficult because it's harder to move your hands.
EditGrooming with Brushes
- Brush in the direction of hair growth. Keep in mind that horse hair normally grows in the same general direction and pattern, like it does on a dog or cat. Brushing against the direction of growth can be uncomfortable and stressful for the horse.
- Keep an eye out for any spots in the horse’s coat where they might have some abnormal hair growth. For example, some horses will have hair that grows in a circular pattern on their stomachs or near their legs.
- Brushing with the hair and working in the direction of growth is also more effective for removing dirt.
- Break up large sections of dirt or caked-on mud with a mud brush. A mud brush is an oval brush that has very stiff, synthetic bristles. Wait until the mud has dried completely, then use the mud brush in small, circular motions to break up the dirt. You may have to apply some pressure as you’re brushing especially if the horse has a thick coating of mud!
- Once the mud becomes loose and breaks off, use a lighter stroke to flake off all large areas of dirt.
- Use a rubber curry comb in circular motions to loosen dirt. A curry comb is an oval-shaped comb that has raised ridges that are made of stiff rubber to remove dirt and hair. Work your way from the neck down to the side of the horse and the rear, moving the curry in small circles to kick up dirt from under the hair. Once you finish one side, switch to the other and work from the neck to the rear again.
- Never use the curry comb on the horse’s face or bony parts of the body, like the legs. The stiff bristles can cause the horse to become uncomfortable and unruly. It’s safe to use the curry comb anywhere else on the horse!
- Be sure to pay special attention to the saddle area if you plan on riding. The curry comb will prevent matting and sores in that area.
- Wipe off excess dirt in the hair with a dandy brush. A dandy brush has pliable, short, synthetic bristles that will bend when you touch them, almost like a broom. Using a flicking motion, like you would with a broom, wipe the dirt from the hair. Work from the neck to the rear, using long, sweeping motions.
- You should see a little cloud of dust with each stroke of the brush. If you don’t, adjust your “flicking” motion so that you’re pushing the dirt out of the hair.
- You can use the dandy brush on various parts of the horse, including the neck, body, tail, and even the face.
- Smooth and flatten the hair with the body brush. The body brush has dense, long synthetic bristles that are soft to the touch. Use long strokes to flatten the hair and get the last of the dirt out. It may take you a few strokes to completely flatten and smooth all of the hair from the neck to the rear.
- Avoid using a “flicking” motion with this brush. The goal is to make the hair appear smoother, and flicking the brush causes hair to stand up.
- Brush the face using soft bristle brushes only. Grab your body or dandy brush to brush the facial area, using soft strokes and working slowly around the face. Avoid the eyes, and instead focus on the cheeks, ears, nose, and the top of the head. If the horse moves its head away from your touch, stop brushing for a few seconds before slowly re-approaching with your tools.
- Only work on the face after you’ve brushed the rest of the body to give the horse time to adjust to your touch.
- If you touch the eye with a bristle and the eye is injured, seek care from a veterinarian immediately.
EditTaming the Mane and Tail
- Separate any large tangles in the mane or tail with your fingers. If your horse has unruly hair, they will probably have visible knots. Use your fingers like a comb and carefully untangle the knots. Work slowly to avoid tugging or pulling on the hair, which can annoy the horse and cause it to start fidgeting.
- Be patient while working on tangles. Eventually, with some effort, it’ll come out.
- You should “finger comb” the hair daily to avoid the progression of major knots.
- Groom the horse’s mane with a wide-tooth mane comb. The mane comb is made of plastic or metal and has one row of long, spread-out teeth. Start at the bottom of the mane and work your way up, gently running the comb through the hair. When you come across a smaller knot or tangle, use the comb to gently pick at it until it comes undone.
- Use a detangling spray to help loosen knots and prevent hair breakage. Products like Cowboy Magic are great for detangling manes and tails.
- Combs can break the hair more easily than brushes, but they’re better at removing tangles and knots. Be sure to work slowly to avoid breakage.
- Only comb the hair with a metal comb once per week to avoid excess breakage of the hair.
- Use the dandy brush on the tail while standing to the side of the horse. Start at the bottom of the tail and work your way up to the top. Work on small sections at a time and run the soft bristle brush through the hair after you work out any knots with your fingers.
- Be careful when working behind the horse. Always stand off to the side to avoid being kicked if the horse gets scared or fidgets.
- Apply a detangling product to work out stubborn knots in the mane or tail. If you have a knot or tangle that you can’t get out, apply a quarter-sized amount of baby oil or horse hair detangling solution to the knot. This will coat the hairs and make them easier to pull apart. Once the knot is out, rinse the product out of the hair.
- You can purchase baby oil at grocery stores, and horse hair detangling solution is available at most tack stores or agricultural supply stores. Look for coupons online to help save money!
- If the knot still won’t come out, try wetting the hair and re-apply the baby oil or detangling solution.
- If the horse starts fidgeting or moving away from your touch, step away for a moment to give them time to rest.
- Always be gentle when working on the face, especially the ears and eyes. Injuries in these places are often serious and require immediate medical attention.
- Avoid grooming a horse until you’ve had a chance to get acquainted with it by touching, walking, or riding it.
EditThings You’ll Need
- Mud brush
- Rubber curry comb
- Dandy brush
- Body brush
- Wide-tooth mane comb
- Baby oil or detangling solution
EditSources and Citations
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