Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer Content

Tips for an Effective Horse Grooming Routine

Grooming is an important component of maintaining a healthy horse. A regular, methodical grooming routine helps your horse's natural disease barrier— his skin— to remain healthy. It stimulates his circulation and massages his muscles, while it distributes the oils in his skin to create a gleaming coat.

Proper horse grooming makes you familiar with all aspects of your horse's physical attributes, from his skin to his unique conformation. You then can't help but notice lumps, scrapes, skin irritations, ticks or other abnormalities in a timely way. Grooming is also essential prior to tacking up your horse. If his hair is clean underneath your tack, his skin is less likely to become chaffed from wearing it. Your horse will feel more comfortable working for you, and of course another benefit is that your tack is cleaner at the end of the ride. A fully stocked kit of horse grooming supplies is essential for any rider.

Horse grooming is also a great way to build a trusting relationship with your horse. Most horses appreciate the extra attention and care they receive during time spent in grooming before and after a ride- and even on days when there's no riding.

Suggestions for an Efficient Horse Grooming Routine:

  1. Clean out your horses hooves first with a hoof pick. By tending to the feet first, you can look for problems that require attention or that may prevent you from riding that day- such as a loose or missing shoe. As you run your hand down each leg to lift each hoof, feel for unusual lumps, scrapes or heat that may require treatment.

  2. Tip: When cleaning a horse's feet, your rear end should point toward the front of the horse, and your toes should point straight toward the back.

  3. Next comes currying. Starting at the upper neck and working toward his tail, use a curry comb in circular motions on the fleshiest parts of your horse. Currying offers many benefits:

    • loosens shedding hair and dirt
    • stimulates and massages the skin and muscles
    • spreads natural skin oils that protect hair and produce shine

    Curry in circles against the grain of the hair. When you're on the left side of the horse, curry with your right hand; alternatively, on the right side of the horse use your left hand. Avoid currying bony areas with a hard or inflexible curry, and press only as hard as the horse will tolerate. Be careful on ticklish areas such as the flank or belly, as touching these areas can trigger defensive behavior in some sensitive horses. A soft and pliable curry with tiny, flexible fingers or a textured rubber mitt may be used gently on the legs and possibly the face depending on the horse's tolerance.

    Some people hold a curry in one hand and a stiff brush in the other to work on one patch of hair at a time, currying and then brushing each area. Others curry one side or the entire horse before using the first body brush. Whichever method is more comfortable for you, be sure to knock the teeth of your curry against the back of a brush occasionally to clear debris.

    Tip: Many horses have a favorite area or two that they like to have curried. Try to find a special location on your horse. You'll know it when his upper lip quivers or he leans hard into the curry to scratch an itch.

  4. Follow currying by using a stiff-bristled body brush. Again, start at the head and work toward the tail.

  5. Note: If you have access to a horse vacuum, you could use it in place of the stiff brush. Or, in shedding season, you could run the shedding tool along the horse's coat to remove lots of excess hair with each swipe.

    Use the stiff brush in a quick, flicking motion, pushing in the direction of the hair and only as hard as the horse will comfortably tolerate. The firmer your brush stroke, the more you'll accomplish. If you're brushing effectively, you'll see a cloud of dust and hair flip from the horse with each brush stroke. Every few strokes, scrape the tips of the brush bristles against a curry or the teeth of a shedding blade to clear away debris.

    Avoid brushing your horse's most sensitive areas with a stiff brush— a mare's udders, a gelding's sheath and possibly your horse's face, depending on his personal preference. Stiff brushes are safe to use on a horse's legs, just be somewhat gentle. Be sure to brush the backs of the pasterns and points of the hocks to remove dirt that collects there. The more elbow grease you use in brushing, the more natural shine you'll bring to your horse's coat.

    Tip: When brushing your horse's face, stand slightly to the side rather than directly in front to protect your face from impact if the horse suddenly raises his head.

    If your horse is extremely sensitive or thin-skinned and does not tolerate the coarseness of a stiff brush, look for a medium-bristled brush that still provides enough rigidness to pull dried dirt from his coat, but is slightly softer and more comfortable for his skin.

  6. After using the stiff brush (or vacuuming) you could move on to either a medium brush or a soft brush. Medium brushes are often a good interim step to take on a dirty horse between using the stiff and the soft brush. Their bristles are often somewhat closer together than those of a stiff brush, so they can pull another layer of grime from the horse. They are always handy to use after vacuuming a horse. Use it in short, flicking strokes.

  7. The last body brush to be used in the grooming routine is the soft brush. Its very soft, closely-spaced bristles capture the finest particles of dust on the horse's coat, and smooth the hair to leave it lying flat and sleek. Use a soft brush in long, smoothing strokes rather than short flicking action of the stiffer brushes. Remember to clean the tips of the bristles as you work by scraping against a curry or shedding blade.

  8. If your horse is ticklish, a soft brush may be your best tool to clean hard to reach spots such as the under the jaw, under the belly and inside the gaskin. The more elbow grease you use with this soft brush, even on the face, the more natural oil is distributed to the hair and the shinier your horse will appear.

  9. Use your fingers or a wide-toothed mane and tail comb to separate the hairs of your horse's mane and tail without breaking them.

  10. Use a clean, slightly dampened cloth to wipe debris carefully from your horse's eyes and nostrils, and another to wipe off his rectum and under the tail. This will add a soft sheen in these areas. Some horses appreciate having these areas wiped, while others resent the process. Proceed with caution until your horse is accustomed to the procedure.

  11. Tip: Be sure to clean your brush bristles and curries by rubbing them against each other before returning them to your storage box so they're ready for the next session. See How to Care for Your Brushes for more details.
1 2