Encourage a bond with your horse while grooming. Taking care of your horse's coat, hooves and hair provides an opportunity for you to check for injuries or irritations. Ideally, grooming should occur daily, but it's a must before and after riding. Grit beneath the saddle or girth or cinch will be uncomfortable for your horse and could cause saddle or girth sores.
Preparing to Groom Your Horse
Gather and arrange your grooming tools in a convenient, safe place. A wide bucket may be cheapest and easiest to put your brushes in, although there are lots of grooming boxes on the market that keep your tools organized and handy.
Don’t set your bucket or box too close to your horse where he could knock it over, or where you might trip over it as you move around your horse. Tie the horse securely and safely with cross ties or with a quick-release knot.
Equipment / Tools
- Curry comb or grooming mitt
- Body brush with fairly stiff bristles
- Mane and tail comb (plastic causes less breakage than metal)
- Fine soft bristled finishing brush
- Hoof pick
- Scissors or clippers (optional)
- Clean sponge or soft cloth
- Grooming spray (optional)
- Hoof ointment if recommended by your farrier (optional)
Clean Your Horse's or Pony's Hooves
Slide your hand down the left foreleg. Gently squeeze the back of the leg along the tendons just above the pastern and say "up," "hoof," or whatever word your horse responds to.
Hold the hoof and with the hoof pick pry out any dirt, manure, or grit lodged in the frog or sole of the foot. Check for any injury and signs of thrush, grease heel, or other problems, and take note of any cracks in the wall of the hoof, so you can consult with your veterinarian or farrier as to what should be done. Gently place the foot back down on the ground and continue until all four feet are done.
Curry Your Horse or Pony
Starting on the left side, or "offside," use your curry comb or grooming mitt to loosen the dirt in your horse’s coat. Remove any mud, grit, dust, and other debris before trying to put a real shine on your horse’s coat.
Curry in circular sweeps all over the horse’s body, but be careful over the bony areas of the shoulders, hips, and legs. Many horses are sensitive about having their bellies and between the back legs brushed (although some love it). If your horse reacts by laying back his ears or swishing his tail in agitation, he is telling you that the brushing is too vigorous.
While currying, look for any skin lesions or wounds. If you find anything, assess the injury to decide if you want to treat it yourself or if you need a veterinarian.
Comb out the Tangles
A flowing, shiny mane and tail are a joy to behold. Get that full, healthy look by being gentle and patient as you groom your horse's mane or tail.
Start with a mane comb or brush at the bottom of the strands and brush downward in sections until you can smoothly comb from the top to the bottom. When brushing the tail, stand to one side and pull the tail gently over to you, making sure you are out of the way should the horse kick.
A grooming spray that detangles hair is nice to have, as it makes brushing out the long strands easier while cleaning, shining and protecting the hair. A grooming spray may also help prevent the hairs from tangling too much between groomings.
Use the Body Brush to Whisk Away Dirt
After currying the body to get rid of the coarser dirt, it's time to go to work with a body brush. This longer-bristled, stiff brush will get rid of what the curry comb missed.
With the body brush, whisk out the dirt brought to the surface. Start on one side and move around the horse brushing in sweeping strokes following the direction of the hair growth. Some people find the body brush is more useful for cleaning the legs than the curry comb. This is a good time to check for lesions and skin irritations on the legs, knees, and pasterns like small cuts and nicks, or perhaps even problems like grease heel.
Use the Finishing Brush
A finishing brush, which has shorter, softer bristles, helps to bring out the shine on your horse’s coat and can be used on your horse's or pony's face if you don’t have a special brush just for that.
Gently whisk away dust from the broader areas on your horse’s face, ears, and throat. With sweeping strokes, whisk away any dust missed by the body brush. The finer bristles help smooth out the body hair and leave your horse looking more finished and glossy.
When you think you are done, apply a grooming spray. Depending on the type, these can provide sun protection and add shine to your horse’s coat, but they aren't necessary.
Clean the Ears, Eyes, Muzzle, and Dock Area
So far, you have cleaned up your horse’s body, mane, and tail—now it’s time for detailing. With a damp sponge or soft cloth, wipe around the horse’s eyes and muzzle and clean away any dirt or chaff. You may prefer a soft cloth, as it can be more easily laundered between uses.
At this point, check your horse’s eyes. A bit of tearing at the corner of the eye is not uncommon, but take note of excess tearing, redness, or swelling. Eye infections need to be treated promptly.
Check ears for lodged seed heads or dirt. Some horses are fussy about having their ears handled, so go slowly and be careful not to pinch or pull hairs. Eventually, your horse may come to love having its ears groomed. When you are done with the face, use the cloth to wipe around the dock and tail head.