Horse Care 101 – Horse Grooming for Beginners

 

There’s no better reason to get into horses than to spend time with them. Grooming horses, mucking, feeding, and cleaning tack are all barn chores accompanying horseback riding. These are where true horsemanship lives, and they’re more than horse grooming for beginners – they’re health care for your horse. 

 

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Table of contents

Why grooming is important

Grooming is health care

Vital signs

How often should you groom?

Horse grooming brushes 

Washrack supplies

Safety tips for working with horses 

Go shopping

 

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!

 

There’s no grit under the tack.

 

  • While horses enjoy being muddy and dirty, keeping them that way while riding is not a good idea. Dirt on your horse’s skin is sandpaper-like grit under the saddle and bridle. It’s not going to be comfortable! And, if you saddle up a dirty horse, you will be doing more laundry and tack cleaning than you should.

 

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 their body and quirks! Communicate with their body language.

 

 

saddle fitter checking the fit of a dressage saddle

Saddle up a clean horse!

 

You support the health of your horse’s coat and skin.

 

  • The physical aspect of daily grooming helps your horse’s natural oils, called sebum, spread over their body and hair. Sebum adds shine to your horse, in addition to being part of their immune system. These natural oils provide an anti-microbial barrier to ward off bacteria, fungi, and pathogens.

 

Grooming a horse for beginners – take care of your horse’s health

 

  • Use your time grooming to inspect their 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! Look for changes in these areas to keep track of your horse’s health and note that sensitive areas indicate your horse may be sore, uncomfortable, or ticklish.

 

Your horse’s skin, hooves, muscles, and eyes

 

  • 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 the usually do? 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 their muscles? Do they flinch or move away? Pin their ears or toss their head? Many horses may be sore over the girth area, don’t forget to check there, too.

 

  • Are your horse’s eyes bright and alert, runny and itchy, or even swollen? Eye infections require veterinary care as soon as possible.

 

Vitals – Temp, pulse, and respiration

 

  • Taking your horse’s temperature, pulse, and respiration – their vial signs – 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.

 

  • 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 they just run around? Or are they acting strangely, too?

 

horse thermometer with attached string

You need a thermometer in your first aid kit!

 

Normal TPR values:

 

  • 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 60 to 80 is normal for older foals.
  • Respiration – 8 to 12 breaths per minute
  • For foals, 60-80 breaths per minute

 

How to take your horse’s vital signs:

 

  • 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 on the side of your horse, next to the hind leg. After putting some jelly or KY lube on the thermometer, move your horse’s tail and insert it into the anus. Then read after a few minutes!

 

  • 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 the elbow. 

 

  • If you don’t have a stethoscope, use your first and middle fingers along their jawline. There’s a large artery that feels like a little string. Press about halfway and count!

 

  • To calculate your horse’s respiratory rate, look at their flank. One in-and-out cycle is one breath.

 

  • Your vet can teach you how to take their vital signs, too.

 

vet listening to a horse's heart

 

Should grooming horses be daily?

 

  • The more, the better! With a few exceptions, of course. Horse grooming for beginners takes practice, and it’s always good for your horse.

 

  • It’s time for a grooming session before you ride or put any tack on your horse! This holds for blankets, too! No horse wants to wear the most stylish cold-weather gear with dirt trapped on their skin.

 

  • After you ride, groom them 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!

 

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How to groom a horse for beginners – grooming brushes 

 

Curry comb

 

  • 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 your horse’s large muscle masses. The smaller, softer curries are best for legs and faces. Use grooming gloves everywhere. Your hand will change the softness and pressure.

 

  • A metal curry comb can do wonders when your horse is shedding but don’t use this on your horse’s face, legs, or any sensitive areas.

 

 

hands on grooming gloves currying a dark horse

 

Dandy brush and flicker brushes

 

  • A dandy brush has many similar names, like body brush. Mostly it’s important to get brushes your horse likes and can lift the dirt away.

 

  • 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.

 

The hard brush, soft brush, and finishing brush

 

  • A hard brush or stiff 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 fluffy clouds resemble brushes, 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, and other ticklish places. 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! They have short, dense bristles. Use a finishing brush in the direction of hair growth to help your horse’s natural oils spread. These brushes make the coat sleek in summer and boost shine in winter. You can also use a finishing brush to create quarter marks.

 

Hoof picks and mane and tail combs

 

  • This must-have horse grooming tool is worth its weight in gold—buy several at once! 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!

 

  • Hoof picks are perhaps the most important tool for horse grooming for beginners.

 

  • For your horse’s mane and tail, use a paddle-style brush or wide-toothed comb. 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.

 

Fly sprays

 

  • 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!

 

  • Having a tote, tray, or other grooming kit style is nice to keep everything together.

 

three horse brushes, a finishing brush soft brush and hard brush

 

Horse grooming for beginners – wash rack supplies

 

Shampoo and conditioner

 

 

  • 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 their natural oils. Part of horse grooming for beginners is learning what products are best for your horse.

 

  • The sun, dry air, harsh grooming products, and your horse’s genetics can lead to brittle and stain-loving hair. Conditioners can restore some protection and help prevent stains.

 

Spot remover

 

  • 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.

 

Sweat scraper

 

  • 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 grooming horses is a must, especially in winter. It allows you to 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 sweat scraper removing shampoo bubbles

 

The horse grooming routine and safety

 

  • 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!

 

  • 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. The halter should have a breakaway crownpiece, and the ties or clips should have an emergency release.

 

Read more about cross tie safety here

 

  • 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.

 

  • Stay safe by being alert to your horse and watching their body language as you groom.

 

  • Don’t pass under your horse’s neck or rest your knees on the ground while working on hooves. One sideways step can squash you! Squatting is much safer.

 

Begin grooming your horse with 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!

 

three hoof picks, metal and plastic

There are so many hoof pick choices!

 

Horse grooming for beginners – the brush routine

 

 

  • 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’s base.

 

Do horses like being groomed?

 

  • It depends! Every horse is different. Is your horse reacting positively or negatively to your grooming? When you learn horse grooming for beginners, you will build a relationship with your horse and read their bodies and actions.

 

  • A horse’s body language speaks volumes about their 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 their 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!

 

What are some common mistakes that beginners make when grooming horses?

 

Beginners often brush too hard, neglect grooming tools maintenance like cleaning brushes, or skip proper hoof care. To avoid these, use gentle strokes while grooming, clean and store grooming tools after use, and check the horse’s hooves regularly for signs of issues like cracks or thrush.

 

Read horseback riding safety for beginners here! 

 

Taking vital signs takes a few minutes a day. 

My daily horse grooming routine

 

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Go shopping here for your horse supplies!

 

Click these links to shop for supplies for grooming horses. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which are not a penny more for you. I couldn’t be more grateful for your support!

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For chestnuts and some bays

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Thank you!