Horse Grooming for Beginners
There’s no better reason to get into horses than to spend time with them. Grooming. Mucking. Feeding. Cleaning tack. All of the barn chores that accompany horseback riding are where true horsemanship lives, and it’s more than horse grooming for beginners – it’s health care for your horse.
Table of contents
Why is grooming a horse important?
- Grooming your horse is more important than just cleaning him. Horse grooming is putting your horse’s health first!
Your horse will be clean for his tack.
- While horses enjoy being muddy and dirty, keeping them that way if you are riding is not a good idea. Dirt on your horse’s skin ends up as sandpaper-like grit under his saddle and bridle. It’s not going to be comfortable! And, you will be doing more laundry and tack cleaning than you should if you saddle up a dirty horse.
It’s relationship building.
- Being a great rider starts on the ground, with horsemanship. Groundwork and barn chores are where you memorize your horse. Learn his body! Understand his quirks! Communicate with his body language.
Saddle up a clean horse!
You support the health of your horse’s coat and skin.
- The physical aspect of grooming helps your horse’s natural oils, called sebum, spread over his body and hair. Sebum is what adds shine to your horse, in addition to being part of his immune system. These natural oils provide an anti-microbial barrier to ward off bacteria, fungus, and pathogens.
Horse grooming for beginners – take care of your horse’s health
- Use your time grooming to inspect his body for signs of something different from the day before. You will be surprised at how much you can notice about your horse over time!
Your horse’s skin
- Do you notice dryness or dandruff? Scaly patches? Sores, scratches, cuts, scrapes, hairless spots? New places that are itchy? Grooming identifies potential problems.
- Are the hooves hot? Is your horse walking and turning as he usually does? Is there anything cracked on the hoof wall? Or any funky smells coming from the hoof?
- What feedback does your horse give you when you groom over his muscles? Does he flinch or move away? Pin his ears or toss his head?
- Are your horse’s eyes bright and alert or runny and itchy? Or are they even swollen?
- Taking your horse’s temperature, pulse, and respiration is the BEST WAY to check your horse’s health. Any changes from normal indicate that your horse has something going on and you need to explore further.
You need a thermometer in your first aid kit!
Your horse’s vital signs – temperature, pulse, and respiration (TPR)
- To learn your horse’s vital signs, take them daily. Start with your horse at rest. As you learn the vitals in the morning and evening, start to take them after exercise, too. Logging them in a journal is helpful.
- Higher respiratory rates and pulse rates than usual indicate a horse that’s in distress or pain. But don’t panic! Look for other clues as to how your horse is feeling. Did he just run around? Or is he acting strangely, too?
Normal TPR values for horses:
- Temperature – 99.5 to 101.5
- For foals, up to 102 is normal.
- Pulse (Heart Rate) – 24 to 40 beats per minute, although most horses are between 32 and 36.
- For newborn foals, 80 to 100 is normal, and for older foals, 60 to 80 is normal.
- Respiration – 8 to 12 breaths per minute
- For foals, 60-80 breaths per minute
How to take your horse’s temperature:
- Use a good thermometer. Shake-down thermometers are available in mercury-free versions. Battery-operated thermometers are quick, but the batteries can fade and die.
- Stand next to your horse’s hind leg. After putting some jelly or KY lube on the thermometer, move your horse’s tail and insert. Then read after a few minutes!
How to take your horse’s heart rate – AKA pulse.
- There are two ways to check your horse’s pulse – with a stethoscope and without. Count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2 for heart rate per minute. One lub-dub is one beat if you are using a stethoscope.
- If you use a stethoscope, keep the earbuds pointing away from you. Place the head of the stethoscope on your horse’s left side, between the girth and his elbow. Tuck it in there! Your hand should be behind his trapezius muscle.
- If you don’t have a stethoscope, use your first and middle fingers along his jawline. There’s a large artery that feels like a little string. Press about halfway and count!
Find your horse’s respiration rate
- To calculate your horse’s respiratory rate, look at his flank. One in-and-out cycle is one breath.
- Your vet can teach you how to take his vital signs, too.
How often do you need to groom your horse?
- The more, the better! With a few exceptions, of course.
- Before you ride or put any tack on your horse, groom him! This holds for blankets, too! No horse wants to wear his most stylish cold-weather gear with dirt trapped on his skin.
- After you ride, groom him! Your brushing and massaging actions are excellent for their muscles, and this helps any sweat evaporate. Remove the salty dullness after all of the sweat has dried.
- Even if you are not riding – your horse needs to be groomed daily. This holds especially true in the winter, as blankets can create skin problems and hide them. There’s no quicker way to a rain rot infection than a little bit of moisture under a horse rug. Take blankets off every day for grooming and inspection.
- Horses need grooming every day!
Horse grooming for beginners – know your grooming brushes
- A curry comb is a generic term for a flexible grooming tool with nubs for massaging your horse’s coat, lifting dirt, spreading sebum around, and bringing up your horse’s dead skin cells, called dander.
- Curry combs are made of soft jelly, harder rubber, and everything in between. Some styles are easier than others to use. Grooming gloves are the curry combs 2.0. You should be able to use curry combs and grooming gloves in the wash rack, too.
- Use the curry in a circular motion over your horse’s entire body. Different areas of the body do best with specific styles of curry comb. Hard rubber curry tools suit the large muscle masses of your horse. The smaller, softer curries are best for legs and faces. Use grooming gloves everywhere. Your hand will change the softness and pressure.
- Dandy brushes are for flicking the dirt away! They typically have a medium length of bristle, which can be natural or synthetic. The bristles are not tightly packed.
- After a thorough curry combing, use short flicking strokes to pick up the loose dirt, hair, and dander and send it flying.
- These brushes are a type of dandy brush with extra long bristles. Use them the same way as a dandy brush to whisk your horse’s dirt away.
- A hard brush for horses is indistinguishable from a dandy brush, except for the stiff bristles. Many horses do not like a hard brush on their coats, although it can be ok when brushing a thick winter coat.
- This brush’s hardness makes it ideal for breaking up chunks of mud, brushing hooves, and even brushing manes.
- In the winter, brush the coat in the opposite direction of growth to fluff things up if there’s sweat. This helps with the drying process!
- Ah, the soft brush. These are fluffy clouds, with bristles the same length as a dandy brush and a hard brush. Their softness is comfortable for use on a horse’s face, the inside of the hind legs. Many sensitive horses prefer a soft brush.
- A soft brush may be ineffective at grooming a long winter coat. Clipped horses will appreciate the softness all over their body.
- Finishing brushes are the shine makers! Short, dense bristles make up the finishing brush. Use a finishing brush to help your horse’s natural oils spread around for sleek summer coats and clipped coats in winter. Use a finishing brush to create quarter marks, too.
- This must-have horse grooming tool is worth its weight in gold. Buy several at the same time! The attached brush lets you easily pick the big chunks out and sweep the little pieces away.
- Hang them everywhere – at paddock gates, stall doors, and grooming areas!
Mane and tail comb
- Go for a paddle-style brush or wide-toothed comb for your horse’s mane and tail. If the bristles of your mane and tail brush are too close together, it’s hard to get through the hair.
- Many paddle brushes for people are quite good, and the WET brushes are excellent for horsehair.
- The battle of the bugs is real in the warmer months. You will need fly sprays and fly clothing. Learning a bit about the different types of flies in your area can help you pick the right fly spray!
- It’s nice to have tote, a tray, or some other style of grooming kit to keep everything together.
Grooming supplies for the washrack
- There must be dozens of amazing horse shampoos to choose from, and most are going to be just fine for your horse! Stay clear of Orvus and other detergents; these will strip your horse’s coat of his natural oils.
- The sun, dry air, harsh grooming products, and your horse’s genetics can lead to brittle and stain-loving hair. Use conditioners to add back in some protection and help to prevent stains.
- Spot removers are sometimes called no-rinse shampoos, allowing you to spot-treat your horse’s stains. No washrack is needed, and you can easily clean up your horse in the winter with these.
Washcloths and sponges
- You can never have too many washcloths at the barn! They are the perfect size for wiping faces, removing smaller stains, and cleaning tack.
- You may want some sponges for the washrack, but washcloths are great there, too. Sponges crumble over time, but smaller towels launder easily.
- This handy tool removes water from your horse’s coat after a bath. I prefer the arched style with the rubber squeegee, especially over bony areas. You can also squeegee off shampoo bubbles to save time while rinsing.
Hot water kettle
- Having hot water for your horse grooming area is a must, especially in winter. You can warm up bits, get a nice warm cloth to wipe noses, clean tack without freezing, and make tea. Hot water kettles have lots of uses!
Horse grooming for beginners – keep it safe
- Using cross ties, hitching posts, quick-release knots, or tie rings are all options when grooming your horse. Make sure your horse can break free at any time. His halter should have a breakaway crownpiece, and the ties or clips should have an emergency release.
- It might seem unsafe to give your horse a way to escape. A panicked horse that can’t break free will stop at nothing, including flipping over, trying to jump, lunging forward, and flying backward or sideways. The possibility of an accident is much greater without an escape.
- For you, stay safe by being alert to your horse. Watch his body language as you are grooming.
- Don’t pass under your horse’s neck, and don’t rest your knees on the ground while working on hooves. One sideways step and you are squashed! Squatting is much safer.
The horse grooming routine
- The beauty of having a grooming routine for your horse is predictability. Your horse will know what’s coming, and you develop the pattern and streamline your time.
- Your routine will also become second nature, so there’s nothing to remember while you are at shows and clinics. You can focus on your riding!
Begin grooming your horse by doing health checks.
- Start with vital signs. Taking your horse’s temperature, pulse, and respirations tells you how he’s feeling that day.
- Pick and check out your horse’s hooves. Get this done before you start walking your horse all over the land. Stones and foreign objects like to wedge themselves in there, and you can get a quick health check before moving your horse.
- Now carry on with your grooming routine!
So many hoof pick choices!
The order of brushes when grooming a horse. Mostly.
- It’s generally accepted to start with the curry comb or grooming gloves. Work over the larger muscle masses first, then groom the legs, neck, and face.
- Now it’s time to flick away all of the “stuff” that your currying efforts put forth. It’s up to you what type of brush you use, be it a flicker, a dandy brush, or something else. Your horse’s coat will also determine what works best!
- For boosted shine and sleekness, follow with a finishing brush.
- Tend to your horse’s mane and tail. Some folks like to pick the tail with their fingers; some folks prefer to use a brush. Feel all of the skin around the tailbone, and get your fingers feeling along the mane base.
Do horses like being groomed?
- It depends! Every horse will be different. Is your horse reacting positively or negatively to your grooming?
- A horse’s body language speaks volumes about his comfort level. Horses that toss their heads, pin their ears, stomp their legs, and fidget show signs of discomfort or stress.
- Relaxed horses that engage, lean into you, and stretch their necks show you they enjoy the grooming process.
- It’s up to you to change your horse’s grooming routine and brushes so he’s comfortable. Use varying amounts of pressure on his body, try different brushes, and take your time.
- Spending time with your horse on the ground is the best way to build a relationship that continues under saddle. Enjoy the journey!
Taking vital signs takes a few minutes a day.
My daily horse grooming routine
Go shopping here for your horse supplies!
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HandsOn Grooming Gloves – also, use code PEG for some free shipping!
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
JT Tough-1 Fold Up Thinning Knife – my favorite mane blade for making a mane even!
Solocomb By Dh Animal Products – for thinning the mane without pulling