Thick winter coat? No problem!
- A horse with a thick and floofy winter coat can be a grooming challenge! The main reason to spend extra time in the winter is to get your horse’s skin clean and grit-free.
- No horse wants to be tacked up with a layer of grit under their saddle and girth and bridle. Just as we don’t want to go for a jog with grit in our shoes or skivvies. Bump up your elbow grease game, add some new tools, and invest in coolers, and winter grooming will be easy. Well, easier.
Grooming kit tools for getting your horse clean through all of that thick fuzz:
Your horse’s grooming supplies will probably be similar to the ones you use in summer and “short hair” season. Pumping them up just a bit can be helpful, too.
- I opt to keep using my grooming gloves for fuzzy horses in the winter, they are agile enough to do the tough work of getting through the dense hair. I can also use them on legs, faces, butts, and smaller areas that are harder to reach with a curry comb.
- For regular curry combs, opt for a design with deeper teeth and a stiffer body. Even the most solid of rubber curry combs will wear down over time; be sure to check the nubs and see if they are due for a replacement.
- For the unclipped horse, find some brushes that have a bit more length in the bristle and some added stiffness. This will help to work through your horse’s thick coat. Back brushing the hair is also helpful, especially if your horse is damp from sweat.
- If you decide to use grooming tools that are a bit stiffer, be mindful of those sensitive areas like faces and legs.
- Metal grooming tools are not great to use on legs, across hips and shoulders, and other softer spots on some horses. I will use them to scrape a western saddle pad, though. Some horses absolutely love them, which is fine, too! Be sure the metal isn’t rusty, and watch out for broken hairs.
Products you may want in the winter for your horse’s grooming routine.
Hot water kettle.
- These small and convenient hot water heaters are great for so. many. reasons. I use them to warm up bits and to create a nice place to dunk a washcloth.
- A warm and damp cloth is super for stain removal and wiping ears and eyes and noses. It also lets you clean tack with some warm water and gives your horse’s feed meals a nice touch if you add warm water.
There are dozens of ways to use a hot water kettle at the barn! More reasons to use a kettle at the barn are here.
- These are an absolute must for any horse that will be sweating in the winter, regardless of how long his coat is. A thick coat on your horse plus sweat takes a lot of time to care for after a ride. Coolers help your horse dry while protecting him from all of that damp skin and hair getting chilled when you are back in the barn.
- Please never put your horse out or toss a blanket on while they are still wet. A damp or wet horse after exercise can cause his body temp to fall a bit too fast, sometimes below normal. If you use blankets on a damp or wet horse, he may never dry and may even start to sweat more. Also – skin infections and funk!
- Coolers in the winter should be fleece or wool. Fleece is affordable, easily washed in a machine, and come in loads of great colors and patterns. For more on the types of coolers available, this article has you covered.
- Wool coolers are the gold standard for helping a horse dry. They have a different cleaning routine – no washers or dryers! Simply soak a wool cooler in water and lay or hang to dry. I tend to see more fleece coolers than anything, but wool lasts a lifetime and works exceptionally well. Wool coolers have more weight, too, so they are less likely to flap about in any wind.
- Cotton knit coolers are best in the summer. The phrase that hikers use, “cotton kills”, is because the fibers are not able to wick away the moisture and you will just end up with a sopping mess. In the summer, the warm air evaporates this. In the winter, the moisture will just stick to your horse.
I love a wool cooler!
- I can’t ever have enough washcloths for grooming! Not only are these baby-sized towels great for your horse, but it’s also nice to have a towel handy for your own wet hands. I use them for tack cleaning too, and for wiping down trunks and shelved. They are easily laundered and inexpensive, so you can have stacks in every color.
- I always have a damp cloth nearby when I’m grooming in the winter. The moisture on the cloth is just enough that you can break any static that may be zapping your horse and helping to keep the dust attached. Rub your horse with a damp cloth as you are grooming, or swipe your brushes against the damp cloth to help it pick up dust.
- If you end up hot toweling your fuzzy horse this winter, you will definitely want a lot of washcloths.
- The cactus cloth is a great way to buff out marks and dried sweat from your horse. You can also use a cactus cloth to bathe your horse with, scrub buckets with, and remove dried mud from your horse.
- The cactus cloth texture works really well as a rub down also, your horse may really like the feel. These grooming cloths also tend to bring up a little bit of shine to your horse’s coat as well.
A cactus cloth is two-sided, so your horse can tell you which side he likes best.
- These wonder machines are just that – a vacuum for your horse. There are loads of expensive and more affordable versions out there. You also have the option of converting a shop vac into a horse vacuum with an extra-long hose and nozzle. This is, perhaps, the most affordable way to do things.
- The vacuum hose and nozzle are great at getting the dirt and grit that your horse’s winter coat will trap.
- If you have a horse vac and you find that the nozzle is zapping your horse, just spray a little water or grooming spray into the nozzle to bust up the dryness and stop static.
Yes, I wrote my horse’s name on his side with a vacuum. And I’d do it again.
Spot removers and grooming oils.
- These handy grooming sprays accomplish a few things. Easy Out is my favorite, as it removes stains and odors. It also adds some sparkle, but not in a glitter-bomb way.
- Even dark horses get stains and stinky stuff, it’s just harder to see. Spot removers will help you get your horse thoroughly clean. Even consider lightly spraying your brushes as you groom to keep your horse fresh and clean.
- I use spot removers to clean the mane and tail, also. You can easily spritz the mane and tail directly, let it sit for a few minutes, and then wipe away with a damp washcloth or towel.
- Grooming oils are another product to consider in the winter. Winter coats can get dry, and manes and tails can become brittle. Grooming oils are conditioners first, and shine makers second.
- I can’t stress this enough – a little bit goes a long way! I like to rub down my horse with No. 1 Light Oil, either on a cactus cloth or a washrag. It’s a nice massage and some added shine. Dry manes and tails can also benefit from some grooming oil to soften up brittle hair.
Deep cleaning tips for winter – hot toweling!
- There may be a point this winter where your horse is just too dang dirty and you have had enough! It’s not just about what he looks like – you need to be sure he’s crazy clean under his tack.
- Enter the time-honored technique of hot toweling your horse. In the shortest of explanations, it’s the use of steamy towels to curry your horse.
- Grab two buckets, one with hot water and washcloths, and one to use as a rinse bucket. Grab a washcloth from the hot water bucket and rinse it out within an inch of its life. Use this barely damp and steamy cloth to curry your horse, ideally against the natural “grain” of his coat. His coat should not be wet!
- Use coolers to cover areas you have worked to help any bits of moisture dry. Dirty washcloths are rinsed out in the other bucket and cycled through again.
- You can add a tiny amount of spot remover or dry shampoo to your hot water to help with any stains and mystery smells.
The steamy washcloths should not be wet!
More horse grooming tips for winter coats:
Keep tabs on your horse’s health! By far the most important things are his weight and his skin condition.
- Thick winter coats on horses are wonderful at hiding ribs! Some horses lose weight in the winter, some gain it. Your eyes are not so good at tracking this. Your hands are a bit better by feeling for ribs, along flanks, on the top of the tail, and along the neck. Fat pockets love to live there, and also love to fall away from those areas. A weight tape is the most accurate way to track your horse’s weight.
- Your horse’s skin is also a top priority under that fuzz. While the horse’s winter fur is great at protecting a horse from weather, it’s also great at trapping sweat and dust and bacteria on your horse’s skin. When you add sheets, saddle pads, girths, and all things tack, a few things can happen:
- Hair can get yanked a bit by tack. I see this most often around the girth area, behind the elbows. Long winter hair is also really good at rubbing under tack. Both situations can create mats, sores, and infections.
- Your eyes, once again, are not the best way to spot these issues. Use your fingers, and notice if your horse reacts when you tack up. I’ve met plenty of body clipping pros that can tell you horror stories about open sores under mats of hair.
- Equine Pastern Dermatitis (EPD) is also a huge issue in winter. Longer hair plus a horse being a horse often ends in lower leg skin funk. EPD is an umbrella term used to describe a multitude of skin problems around the legs, caused by several different things.
- The most important thing to do at the beginning of mystery leg funk or “stud crud” is to get your Vet involved. Pronto. EPD is painful, has endless causes, and therefore has many possible solutions. Don’t spend your time and your horse’s comfort trying every last remedy that you heard about on a horse forum.
Never underestimate the power of your horse wearing Sox for Horses to help with so many painful skin issues. And, they are a mud barrier!
Listen to a podcast about these things a Vet suggests for cold weather here! Or find The Proequinegrooms Podcast on Stitcher, iTunes, Spotify, and literally every other place to listen to your favorite shows:
Listen in as I chat with Dr. Danielle Grady, horse lover and equine vet!
Don’t groom your horse if he’s got wet mud on his fuzzy body!
- The best way to groom a muddy horse is to groom a crusty and dried-up muddy horse. Otherwise, you are just smearing the mud around and mucking up your grooming tools.
- Most horses that are not clipped in the winter don’t need blankets. Some do, for many reasons. The bonus of a sheet or blanket is that it’s a physical barrier to mud.
- If your horse doesn’t need a blanket, you can still use an unlined and waterproof sheet to protect him from the mud. These are light and don’t compress the fur too much. The point is to keep things as clean and grit-free under your horse’s tack.
- Even a super light sheet or fly sheet can help keep the mud away, as long as you can guarantee the weather won’t be wet.
Plan on spending more time with your horse in the winter as you pump up your regular grooming routine. It’s partly about the tools, but mostly about plain ol’ elbow grease to be sure his skin and coat stay healthy all winter long.
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Ah, the ever-elusive cactus cloth. Great for sweat marks!
This deep-ish curry comb is a bit firmer than others and works well with a winter coat.
All the colors of washcloths!
This is my favorite grooming oil. A little bit goes a long way!
Easy Out stain removal and deodorizer.
Literally the best 30 bucks you can spend for your horse.
A wool cooler, in the traditional square shape.
A turbo fleece cooler – I love these styles, especially in colder areas.
One style of horse vac.
One style of horse vacuum – these are more affordable than other styles.
A nozzle to convert what you have into a horse grooming hose.
This hose can turn a shop vac into a horse vacuum. Be sure to double-check the width of hose attachment on your shop vac.