Gray horse grooming tips
The struggle is real for gray horse owners – it’s a never-ending Groundhog Day of “what stains will I find?” Never fear – I have some gray horse grooming tips that help keep your white or gray horse looking clean and shiny.
Table of contents
Break the cycle of relying on harsh products
- The grooming method outlined here is different from the typical “blueing shampoo” and “blast away stains with products” routine. There may be a time and place for these products, but they can come at a price and put you in an endless circle of products, stain, more product, brittle hair, more product, poor skin coat, more stains -you get the idea.
- When you prioritize your horse’s skin health and focus on his natural oil (sebum), you break that cycle of blasting, drying, and staining. That sebum is the best conditioner, stain repellent, and shine maker.
- The hardest part about breaking this cycle of creating brittle and easily stained hair is waiting it out. Your horse’s next shed (spring or fall) will replace any deeply stained hair with new hair, giving you a fresh canvas to focus on the sebum.
Skin health and diet
- Your horse’s skin is one of his largest organs and a vital part of his immune system. Skin and hair are physical barriers to the world around them, and skin has one anti-microbial magic ingredient – the sebum. Read more about your horse’s magical skin and all of it’s powers here.
- Within the layers of the skin, the hair follicles house the individual hair strands that make up your horse’s coat. A sebaceous gland is attached to each follicle, whose sole purpose is to coat each hair with sebum.
- A horse’s skin health comes from a forage-based diet, proper vitamin and minerals, and sometimes supplements. Most horses do well with pasture, hay, and a vitamin and mineral balancer. Very rarely does a hay-only diet fulfill a horse’s nutritional needs.
- Omega fatty acids, especially of the “3” variety, boost skin health and help that health sebum. Pasture is a great source of this, but most horses need supplementation with oils or stabilized flax. Chia seeds are another option for horses.
Chia seeds and flax can be great additions to your horse’s diet
Here’s the beauty of sebum:
- Your horse makes it all the time, if diet, lifestyle, and genetics are healthy.
- Sebum squashes bacteria and microbes from taking hold in your horse’s skin.
- It makes your horse shiny!
- Sebum is also waterproofing on your horse’s hair, protecting his skin and body from rain and snow.
- It doesn’t matter how much you groom or how many products you use on your gray horse if the skin is not healthy with sebum and the hair coat is brittle. Much of the show ring bloom on wickedly shiny horses comes from genetics, diet, clean shavings, consistent grooming, and overall good health. To have the bloom, you must holistically take care of the skin and hair.
- There is no better way to get your gray horse clean and shiny than elbow grease. I can guarantee that consistently currying your horse as you listen to 3 songs for each side pays off.
- Currying is faster and easier than frequent bathing, hot toweling, and oil buffing. You just gotta get in there and smear that sebum around.
This is oil buffing (in the winter) for shine and stain repelling.
Should you bathe your gray horse?
- The one time you should bathe your gray horse is right before body clipping. Clean horses and sharp clipper blades create a gorgeous finish.
- You can bathe your gray horse, but ask yourself if it’s essential. Sometimes it is!
- Gray hair tends to be more brittle and less shiny than chestnuts and bays, which worsens as shampoos strip hair of the natural sebum. Some shampoos are more like detergents and remove all traces of sebum and softness. Milder shampoos may leave more natural oil goodness on your horse.
And yes, Orvus and dish soaps are harsh detergents that can turn your horse’s skin into sandpaper. It’s a laundry detergent and made for crusty pans and have no business on a horse.
- The point is to shampoo as needed, with the mildest shampoo possible, and then condition the snot out of your horse’s body. Grooming oils and horse conditioners supplement any missing sebum and provide some stain protection to the coat.
Hot toweling is an easy way to spot clean your gray horse without too much product.
Keep the dish soap in the kitchen, not the wash rack please.
Keep the mane and tail bright
- Gray horses are often “blessed” with light manes and tails, often appearing more yellow than bright white. And because the ends of your horse’s mane and tail are SO FAR from the skin on the tail bone, it’s impossible for the protective sebum to get there.
You may need to blast the mane and tail with products.
- So this is probably the only time I’ll EVER say this – you MAY have to blast the snot out of yellow tails with products. But, only if you have done all of these things:
- Daily mane and tail care – detangling and lightly brushing
- Make sure the mane’s base and the tail dock have healthy skin.
- Fastidious stall and paddock poop and urine removal
- Reckless use of clean shavings
- Lots of grooming oils and conditions to keep the hair shaft soft
- Then, and only then, should you use a whitening shampoo (but still, please not Orvus). You may have to let the tail get a little lavender.
- Follow that with a white vinegar rinse. The vinegar removes some of the stain and takes all of the shampoo residues away. Some horses get a bit itchy from product remnants; vinegar may prevent tail rubbing.
- Then – the most important step – you must protect that hair. Use a boatload of grooming oils or conditioners to add moisture back into the hair and help prevent the yellow from returning. If your horse’s tail is particularly brittle, leave some conditioner in it. If it’s not fly season, braid below the tailbone and add a tail bag if you like.
- You may attract some dirt to rinse with extra conditioner, but it’s better than stains. Grooming oils will soak into the hair, but you may need to rinse a conditioner.
Urine from bedding can do this to a tail.
Grooming tools and products for gray horses
You can have all of the latest grooming tools and still end up with a dirty gray horse. Keeping all of your horse grooming brushes and supplies clean prevents you from just smearing the dirt around.
- I’m a big fan of the grooming gloves. There’s no need to pick up another curry for the legs or face; vary the pressure you use. But the best curry comb is the one that your horse likes.
- The strangely simple cactus cloth can be used as a curry comb or finishing rag. It adds shine, lifts dried sweat, and works well in the wash rack.
This is a cactus cloth. So easy to use!
Insta-hot kettle for hot water stain removal in winter
- Sometimes, you don’t want to spray stain remover or no-rinse shampoo on your horse, but you can get some hot water on a cloth and use it that way.
Lots of washcloths
- Washcloths can clean under tails and around the face. After grooming stains, a damp cloth can help you lift any residual stain. Cloths are also handy for hot toweling and oil buffing your horse.
- Horse grooming oils are the best for conditioning the haircoat, mane, and tail. They provide shine, help with waterproofing your horse, condition the hair, and help repel stains.
- Show Touch Ups are pigments in a can, in various colors. These spray-on colors conceal scars, brighten white socks, darken black points, and blend imperfections.
- Sometimes, product residue just gets itchy. While white vinegar can remove some staining on your horse’s coat and tail, it excels at rinsing residue from your horse.
Blankets, sheets, and fly sheets
- There’s a sheet or blanket for almost every season, and they provide some protection from stains and dirt. It’s not going to block all of the stains, but every little bit helps with grays.
Spot remover or no-rinse shampoo
- For those stubborn stains that don’t get all the way out with currying, reach for no-rinse shampoo. Don’t use too much product or additional water, as things can get foamy.
This is one way to use no-rinse shampoos!
Gray horse grooming tips for horse shows
- We all want our horse to be the shiniest (and cleanest) horse in the show ring. It’s a larger mountain to climb if you have a gray horse!
Bathe sensibly before a show.
- Gray horses may need a few more days for the shine to return after a deep shampoo. Those days are a great way for new and exciting stains to appear. Oh, joy.
- Your best bet is to bathe at the last minute. Shine-boosting shampoos do exist, thank goodness. Then oil buff after the bath for added shine and stain protection. Throw in some wishful thinking, spotless shavings, and a fly sheet or blanket to bear the brunt of new stains before you wow the judge.
- And stubborn stains and chrome highlights on your horse can get boosted. Sprinkle socks and stockings with baby powder or cornstarch to brighten white patches. You should skip this on rainy horse show days.
- Opt for a spray pigment like Show Touch Ups to boost whitening. This can of magic color lasts for days and can survive rainy weather. Luckily for you, Show Touch Ups are handy pigments sprayed in the tail for covering yellow spots and boosting volume.
- You can also clip stains away if body clipping or trace clipping is in your horse show grooming routine.
Show Touch Up spray is good for brightening chrome.
Pick the best colors for your gray horse
- Some show organizations and discipline traditions call for white saddle pads, making gray horses look dingy. Black saddle pads and boots (if allowed in the competition ring) are more suited to gray horses.
- For braids, use waxed thread to secure them. Thread will be hidden in the braid, while yarn can poke through and reveal itself. Choose your yarn color wisely.
- Then, of course, you have sunglasses and denial.
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Genuine Cactus Cloth – Natural – 18 X 16-1/2 Standard This is much better for stain removal and spreading natural oils around.
HandsOn Grooming Gloves – also, use code PEG for some free shipping
I love Easy Out for touch-up stain removal
You can also snap up a bottle of the grooming oil I love here:
The BEST for gray horse and winter grooming – a hot water kettle