Horse Grooming Tips for all Seasons
Grooming is about health care and how your horse looks after a grooming session. You can uncover many things about your horse’s health during a grooming session. Some habits you should do every day; other grooming concerns come and go. Check out these horse grooming tips for all seasons here:
Table of contents:
Notice what’s different from day to day
- Your primary focus is to find what’s different about your horse between yesterday and today. Something could be as simple as dirt and mud – or your horse is muscle sore, has a fever, has a new hoof crack, or one of their eyes has more discharge than the other.
- When you memorize your horse, you can notice unusual things and stay ahead of health concerns.
- Start your grooming sessions with easy health checks that you can do every day- no matter the season. When you get a system down, these health checks take a few minutes.
- Your horse’s vital signs are quick to take and measure your horse’s temperature, pulse, and respiration. Check your horse’s baseline vitals at rest – not after play, exercise, trailering, or stress. The excitement and movement will not give you an accurate reading of your horse’s typical baseline values.
***However – Check vitals after exercise and trailering, and more frequently at horse shows. Compare these to your horse’s average values and track the time to return to normal.***
A mandatory staple in every barn
Take your horse’s vital signs daily
Make a quick health check part of your daily horse care routine. It’s fast, easy, and helps train your horse to be handled by the vet.
For your horse’s temperature
Thermometers for horses come can be digital or the traditional shake-down variation. Digital thermometers are quick and convenient, but their batteries can die. Shake-down thermometers take longer to use but are necessary to have in case your digital tools run out of juice.
Tips for taking your horse’s temperature:
- Use some jelly or lubricant on the thermometer.
- Stand to the side and move the tail over. This is the safest place you can be.
- The thermometer goes into the anus – where the manure comes out.
- Wait a few minutes for the shake-down thermometer or the beep on a digital.
- A horse’s normal temperature is 99° – 101°, and every horse will vary slightly. A horse may even vary between morning and evening.
- Elevated temperatures may indicate fever or hyperthermia, which needs your vet’s help.
A horse’s pulse or heart rate indicates how fast his heart works.
Tips for finding a horse’s pulse
- Use a stethoscope behind the elbow on the left side of their body. Push the stethoscope up and in the elbow area. One lub-dub cycle is one heartbeat.
- Or find the maxillary artery (under the jawbone) which feels like a cord or string.
- Press down halfway to feel the pulse.
- In either situation, count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2 to get the beats per minute.
- Typically, the pulse is 24-48 beats per minute. Exercise, pain, and fright will elevate a horse’s pulse and tell you something is wrong.
Stethoscopes are good for checking heart sounds AND gut sounds.
For your horse’s respiratory rate
Respiratory rate is the easiest vital sign to take. Like the pulse rate, an increase in respirations indicates pain, fright, or recent exercise. Some horses with heaves and other respiratory diseases will also have an elevated respiratory rate, which may become their new normal.
Tips for counting your horse’s respirations
- Place a hand on your horse’s flank.
- An inhale and exhale count as one breath
- Count the breaths for 30 seconds and multiply by 2
Check your horse’s gums
- Gums are a fabulous indicator of health. The mucous membranes in the mouth should be pink and slippery.
- You can also check the capillary refill time. When you press your thumb into your horse’s gums, your thumbprint should be white and take about 1-2 seconds to return to the standard pink color.
- A horse with a long refill time or bright pink, red, purple, or blue gums indicates a problem; give your vet a call.
- The digital pulse gives you a picture of the hoof’s blood supply. When a horse’s hoof has inflammation, the swelling is trapped in the hard shell of the hoof. The vessels inside will compress, and blood into the hoof is harder.
- The digital pulse when the hoof is regular should be faint or non-existent. With hoof problems, the restricted blood flow increased the digital pulse, often to a strong or bounding situation.
- If you can’t feel the pulse, or it’s faint, this is a good thing!
Tips for taking the digital pulse
- Check all four hooves
- Run your fingers down the tendons, and follow them as they start to curve under the fetlock.
- You may find a soft, squishy spot, or not.
- Move your fingers back and forth, looking for guitar strings. Those are the digital pulse and artery.
- Press about halfway down to feel for the pulse.
- You don’t necessarily need to count the pulse; note how strong it is.
- Talk to your vet if there is a change to your horse’s digital pulse – you could catch a painful condition early. Laminitis, abscesses, hoof bruises, and other injuries and diseases cause painful swelling.
It’s easy to find the digital artery to measure the pulse
A note about abnormal vital signs
- Don’t panic if your horse has changed, elevated, decreased, or otherwise weird vitals signs. Look at the big picture, then call your vet for a game plan.
- Notice your horse’s attitude, and what activity they were previously doing. Running around in the hot sun? That would elevate things. Have you been at a horse show lately? How are their eating, drinking, peeing, and pooping patterns? Is your horse’s body sore? Do the vitals change after your horse has rested?
- Look for other clues in addition to their vitals.
Inspect your horse’s environment
- Watching for your horse’s health includes knowing their habits and how their environment should be. Notice the following:
- Note the location, how many piles, color, and how much moisture – dry vs. runny is in your horse’s manure.
- Many horses have obvious manure patterns, especially those that get set meals at specific times. Notice when something is off.
- If possible, note how much water your horse drinks. Also, is it clean and clear, or full of hay bits or dirt or other unappealing things?
Keep it clean!
- What’s the state of your horse’s stall or shed? Is the bedding unusually messy or oddly tidy?
- If your horse has a paddock, do you see new or weird hoof tracks or strange spots your horse was pawing or rolling?
- Is there an ammonia smell in the shavings? Maybe you need to clean more frequently or use an ammonia-eating liquid or powder to help. Lime is not the answer.
Other health checks to do
- As you start grooming, you can incorporate a few other health checks as you brush and care for your horse. Spend some time looking at and feeling your horse all over, paying attention to the following:
- Muscle soreness when curry combed or touched
- Itchy spots
- Lumps and bumps
- Heat or swelling
- Cuts and scrapes
- Different eye and nasal discharge
- Unusual or new smells from the hooves, belly, and mouth
- Strange hair loss or growth
- Patches of dryness or excessive oiliness
- Hoof cracks
- Existing growths have become bigger, started bleeding, or changed shape
- Also, log your horse’s behaviors as you groom. You may see flinching, tail swishing, teeth-baring, stomping, ear pinning, etc. as you work around your horse.
- Does your horse react when you press on their tendons, back, neck, around the ears, under the tail, or anywhere else? What’s different than the day before?
- Now you can start grooming. And ALL of this routine – vitals, checking your horse’s body and environment – only takes a few minutes a day. The more you practice it, the more efficient it becomes.
Horse grooming tips for all seasons – the spring
- Horses shed their coats twice a year, but the spring shed is more glorious because all that winter coat comes off. And sticks everywhere…
How to help your horse shed
- Curry more. A lot more.
- Encourage your horse to roll in sandy, gritty areas. Enjoy the horse-shaped hair design when they finish.
- Bathe your horse as the weather gets warmer. Using grooming gloves with your shampoo helps remove loose hair.
- Curry again.
- Clip your horse if the weather is too warm for their coat.
Is your horse not shedding or not shedding well?
- Talk to your vet. Eye problems and metabolic disorders interfere with skin health and coat shedding.
- Verify with an expert equine nutritionist that your horse’s diet is chock full of proper amounts of vitamins, minerals, and Omega fatty acids. Unbalanced diets show up in the hair and skin.
It’s pandemonium during a spring shed.
Clipping in the spring
- You can clip your horse any time if the weather doesn’t match his coat and it’s too warm for his fuzzy hair.
- If you are worried that you will cut the summer coat, it’s not a big deal. The hair is constantly falling out and growing in, so even if you clip all of the summer coat, it will look brand new again long before the fall.
- It’s better to clip for your horse’s health and comfort than how they look.
Use sheets if the weather has a cold snap
- Waterproof sheets are mandatory if your horse will be out and the weather is too chilly for their coat. Turnout sheets are waterproof and have nice front gussets so your horse can still play and move freely.
- Stable sheets are for use inside only, and often don’t have a shape that allows for comfortable movement.
Sheets are convenient when the weather becomes wet and chilly in the spring (and fall)
- While it’s fantastic to watch the landscape turn from dull gray to gorgeous green, the new spring grass is a diet change for your horse.
- Your horse’s access to fresh, new grass needs to be monitored, depending on where you live and how the grass grows.
- Temper the diet change by slowly increasing access to the grass and using grazing muzzles to help acclimate your horse.
- Grazing muzzles can help any horse adjust to a new diet, and you may want to keep the muzzles on all the time for high-laminitis risk horses. There’s also a chance that the lush grass upsets the hindgut’s microbes, causing colic.
- Check your horse’s manure – runny manure or diarrhea can be uncomfortable and indicate a larger digestive issue. If your horse’s manure changes to small, dry fecal balls, that’s also a sign of digestive upset.
Muzzles are wearable slow feeders
- Oh, mud – such a pain to clean and can often be the start of equine pastern dermatitis.
- When dealing with muddy turnouts, minimizing the exposure to mud is a great idea. You could use electrical tape to block off extra muddy areas, add drainage, dig little channels, or rotate paddocks to keep your horse out of the worst muck.
- Many crafty barn owners have used old carpets, mats, and even landscaping grids under some stone dust or sand to help alleviate mud and shifting ground.
- Moving watering stations and feed bins in the paddocks may help prevent deep mud from forming. Spread those hoof prints around.
For grooming mud
- Ideally, the mud is dry when you groom. Smearing around wet mud only serves to trash your grooming tools and spread the muck around.
- If the weather is warm enough, rinse legs and other areas that would be under tack. Washing and drying are easier with clipped horses.
- If your horse is crusty with mud, do your best to break up big chunks and then get to curry combing. Sometimes the muddy dust is so thick that it’s seemingly impossible to lift the dust.
- Use a damp cloth or spritz your horse with no-rinse grooming sprays to remove the dusty mud remnants after your arms hurt from currying and brushing.
Summer grooming challenges
Get ready for horse shows
- If horse shows are on your schedule, there’s some extra grooming in your future. Your horse should be clean, sleek, and bright when you make your big entrance in the show ring.
- If your horse needs a body clip, do this at least two weeks before the show. You want the shine and color to return. You can help this process by oil buffing with grooming oil and using color-correcting shampoo.
- If you are only touch-up trimming, like bridle paths and crazy fetlocks, you can do this a few days before.
- Resist the temptation to use harsh shampoos and detergents on your horse the day before a show. Strong products often strip the sebum from your horse’s coat, creating a dull, brittle coat that soaks up stains.
- Instead, bathe a few days before or the day before with gentle shampoo. Splurge on extra clean shavings, pick your horse’s area more, and use fly sheets to help keep your horse clean.
- Oil buffing after a bath will also help protect against stains and boost shine.
Flies and insects
- Warm weather brings out the bugs! Flies can transmit diseases and parasites, cause allergic reactions, make your horse stomp, and are generally itchy and annoying. Some flies and insects feed on blood meals, too, often leaving large welts.
Fly control should come from all angles, working on all life cycle stages.
- Use fly predators, those tiny wasps that eat fly larvae, around the farm. This prevents the larvae from morphing into adult flies.
- Fly traps can be effective when you hang them away from the horses.
- Keep a clean stable and muck paddocks many times a day. Some flies are lured by smells – like damp shavings from urine and fresh manure.
- Use fans in the barn to help keep flies away.
- Fly sprays are great for specific flies, but not all flies. Common flies may respond to pyrethrins and permethrins, but some flies respond better to fatty acid-based fly sprays. Taking care of the larger horse flies is hard, as they require too much product to make a dent and hunt by sight.
- Knowing the types of flies in your area helps you determine what sprays and gadgets to use.
- Use fly sheets and fly masks on your horse. They are inexpensive, breezy, and help keep your horse comfortable. Fly boots are excellent at reducing stomping and the annoyance of flies.
Fly boots for the win
- Sunshine on your horse’s hair can bleach it out – especially if your horse is black, bay, chestnut, or palomino.
- Help prevent bleaching by talking to your vet or equine nutritionist about your horse’s vitamin and mineral needs. Zinc and copper help provide the pigment that colors your horse’s hair, and overall skin and coat health benefits from Omega fatty acids and biotin.
- If your horse is sweaty, rinse off the sweat or use grooming gloves or a cactus cloth to remove the dried sweat. Horses may bleach more if turned out while wet, so a dry horse in the sun is best. Fly sheets and shady turnout help, too.
- Color-correcting shampoos can restore some depth of color to bleached areas on the coat, mane, and tail.
Fall grooming issues
Pulling shoes for winter or downtime
- Pulling horseshoes is great for some horses on vacation or in lighter work over the winter. But – take a few things into account.
- If the ground is hard, your horse has thin soles, or they are tender-footed after a farrier visit, you may want to skip this. Climates that often have frozen solid ground or gritty footing can be demanding on some barefoot horses.
- Work with your farrier for a smooth transition between shod and barefoot. Horse hoof boots are another option to protect the hoof.
Sweaty horses under the winter coat
- Your horse’s coat is waterproof to keep them warm and dry, but that’s moisture from the outside. Sweat comes from the skin – mixed with dirt, bacteria, and gunk and can be trapped under the coat. Matted hair, pressure sores like hot spots, and skin infections may be more likely with heavily sweating horses.
- Super sweaty horses are also more likely to overheat during exercise and need longer to cool out. Coolers, hand walking, blow drying, and extra currying can help the sweaty horse safely return to an average body temperature.
SO MUCH SWEAT
Clipping the winter coat
- If your horse is so sweaty in his winter coat from training or the weather, clipping is a kind option to support your horse’s skin and coat health.
- If you clip early in the fall, there’s plenty of time for the coat to grow partly back for the winter. Depending on the climate and their training programs, some horses will need clipping more than once.
- You don’t have to pick a traditional clipping pattern. Removing the hair on the sweaty parts may be enough for your horse.
Winter grooming problems
Snow and horses
- Snowballs in hooves are a walking and twisting hazard. Your farrier can provide inserts to horseshoes that prevent snowballs from forming.
- You may also try grooming oils or cooking spray, but how long do these last? It also depends on the snow’s wetness and how the snowballs form. Barefoot horses won’t snowball as much but may need protection from the frozen ground.
- If you ride or turn out in the snow, know what’s UNDER the snow. Icy ground reached through the snow is a big NO for your horse. They make terrible ice skaters!
- Uneven surfaces under snow may also trip or bruise your horse.
Excessive leg hair and mud
- Leg feathers in the winter are like fetlock hair times 100. The extra leg hair can make mud management difficult and contributes to the petri dish that is moisture, bacteria, and skin.
- You can tidy up the leg with clippers to help with mud management, and it becomes easier to inspect the fetlocks and pasterns for infections like mud fever.
- You don’t have to clip the leg hair to the skin as you would if body clipping. A tidy-up trim or using clipper combs removes the bulk.
Why do horses love mud and why does mud love horses?
Saddle sores from the extra hair
- Any time you have friction, there’s the chance for rubs and sores to pop up. When the winter coat is long, friction and sometimes sweat on the area acts like a scouring pad and may speed up rubs and sores.
- Common areas are elbows, behind the ears, and under the saddle. Trimming the hair in those areas helps, as does using friction blocker sticks like a runner would for blisters.
Grooming your horse is part of their healthcare, and taking a little time to check in with your horse’s vital signs keeps you ahead of health issues. It’s easy to make it part of your grooming routine.
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ADC Veterinary Thermometer, Dual Scale, Adtemp 422 – For easy temperature taking
3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope, Black Edition Chestpiece, Black Tube, 27 inch, 5803 – For finding heart rate and gut sounds
HandsOn Grooming Gloves – also, use code PEG for some free shipping!
Genuine Cactus Cloth – Natural – 18 X 16-1/2 Standard This is much better for stain removal and spreading natural oils around.
The best muzzle in the land. Also in raspberry, blueberry, and black colors.
Wahl Professional Animal Bravura Lithium Clipper – this includes the 5 in 1 blade that goes from a #9 to a #40. Perfect for designs!
Amigo Mio Fly sheet – I love this one, the extra long tail prevents bugs up the butt, and the neckpiece is great. It’s also super light, which means it tears easily.