How Grooming Helps Your Horse’s Skin and Coat
- There are hundreds of list-y types of articles out there about how beneficial horse grooming is. Yes. I agree with them. For so many good reasons, like bonding, shine making, helping your horse feel good, the list goes on.
But what about the more scientific and biological aspects of grooming your horse – and how it relates to his skin and coat?
Ah, a dirty horse. Love this!
There are plenty of reasons for a horse to be, and stay, dirty.
- They like it! I’ve never known a horse that prefers to be spic-and-span clean. The earth is their home.
- Does being dirty help with fly control? Probably! Mud and dust and dirt create a physical barrier for flies to work through. It’s not foo-proof fly control, but it helps.
- What about auto-chiropractics? Sure! Your horse’s spine and body and neck get stretched and flexed when he’s rolling about.
- And itchy places? Rolling and rubbing and generally getting dirty is one way that horses can scratch all of their itches.
- Marking one’s “territory”? Maybe? No science behind that one, but horses in herds often use the exact same spot, often right after each other. It might be just a community rolling spot, or something else.
- Camouflaging their scent to hide from predators? Maybe! I can only imagine that horse-eating lions (and plastic bags) have a harder time sniffing out their prey when the scent is more “sandy earth” and less “delicious horse”.
So why do we groom our horses?
- Is there an aspect of human vanity here? Sure. But there are lots of good reasons to absolutely, positively, groom your horse. Mainly, it’s so that we don’t put tack on top of a grainy, sandy, dirty horse. Imagine putting on your socks and skivvies and bra and clothes with grit on your body. AND THEN EXERCISING. I think chafing would be the best thing that could happen in that situation. Horse grooming is also the best excuse in the world to do a daily health inspection of your horse.
But we also groom our horses for other reasons.
- For horse shows! Shine and cleanliness rule here. You probs won’t be getting a ribbon on a dirty and stained horse.
- To help them shed. Some horses need our help to shed their winter coats. This helps them be more comfortable as the weather warms up. A horse can certainly shed on his own, but if you are riding him, it’s a good idea to get the loose hair gone before you tack up.
- Massaging goodness and checking for muscle soreness. Some horses really enjoy a muscle rub down. Grooming is also a great way to check for possible muscle soreness if your horse moves away, flinches, or reacts negatively to being groomed.
- Skin health check-up. There are so many things that can happen to a horse’s skin – and grooming is one way to discover abnormal things. It could be as simple as a little patch of missing hair, to a cut that needs clipping and the Vet. You will also discover if your horse is itchy, which might be normal or new. Lots of things to investigate.
- Tick inspections. I literally LOATHE these disease-carrying creatures, and the only way I can protect my horse from them is to do some preventative measures AND a daily tick inspection. Managing your horse’s environment with mowing and being mindful of where you ride goes a long way for prevention. More on that here. Inspecting and removing ticks is sort of a necessary evil, and you might find you develop a system for that. My system for tick inspecting can be found here. And by the way – I live in an area that gets an actual winter with freezing temps and snow and things, and I have found ticks on my horse in February. Echoes of my cussing could be heard over the hills.
- Leg inspections, eye inspections, whole body inspections. All of my reasons for grooming my horse come down to one thing – his health. Grooming allows me to memorize my horse and ALL of his normals so that abnormal things are found early. I’m told by every Vet that the longer you wait, the more expensive your Vet bill is.
What does grooming actually do for a horse’s skin and coat?
- Let’s back up just a bit and look at big picture stuff.
- A horse’s skin is part of his integumentary system. This is part external covering meaning his skin, and part immune system. Your horse’s skin is literally his first line of defense against all things that could harm him, including things we just can’t see. Your horse’s skin also helps with his thermoregulation – which is how he sweats, puffs up his hair, and grows and sheds coats to help his body temperature be normal.
Here’s how your horse’s skin is structured.
- The outer layer of the skin is the epidermis. This has many layers of cells, and many types of cells. The epidermis is a literal blockade from things entering and exiting your horse. Keratinocytes are cells that make new skin cells at the base and push the new cells up. The older ones at the top of the skin are dead and are constantly being replaced by new cells below. Other cells make pigment, other cells are specific to immune responses like rashes, and other cells work to distinguish sensations, such as the cells that sense what your horse’s whiskers are up to.
- The next layer of skin is the dermis, which is full of nerves and blood vessels. You will also find collagen and elastin here, which give skin it’s flexibility and strength. Hair follicles and glands live here in the dermis.
- The innermost layer of skin is the subcutaneous layer, which is muscular and has a supply of fat. The skin stores electrolytes here, and acts as a cushion and shock absorber. There are also nerves and blood vessels in this layer.
It’s all about helping your horse’s sebum spread around, as you removed loosened hair that’s ready to shed on its own.
So what does this have to do with grooming your horse?
- Those glands I mentioned in the dermis are related to grooming and your horse’s immune system. Sebaceous glands in the dermis have a job to pump out sebum. This is the name for the “natural oils” that create shine and bloom on your horse. Sebum has some special properties – like anti-microbial powers – that protect your horse’s skin from bacteria and other invaders.
- Grooming helps to spread this sebum around. Your horse will shine, and his skin will be protected. Grooming also helps those expired and old layers of epidermis get removed and brushed away, just like dirt and dust. Dander is that layer of horse skin and stuff that some people are allergic to, by the way.
- In a nutshell – Sebum = shine = immune system goodness.
What if your horse doesn’t have a lot of natural shine and sebum?
- As usual, be a detective.
- Maybe he’s just dirty? Or the insides of his blanket are dirty? Or your grooming tools are dirty?
- Check out your horse’s diet. I always suggest finding an Equine Nutritionist for this – there are too many moving parts and individual horse needs to create a good diet from the internet. We all know that omega fatty acids can help to create a shiny horse from the inside. But even if your horse gets the best types of these in the correct proportions, there may be another part of the diet that’s unbalanced.
- You may need to stop with the products! I absolutely LOVE products – but they are for enhancing your horse, not for replacing something. Some products like dish detergents and other detergents, and even shampoos, can strip a horse of his natural oils and protection. More products are not the answer in this situation, less products are!
So perhaps this article can be summed up nicely…. grooming is good for your horse’s shine and immune system!
For the handy tick removal tool, you can pick one up here! As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. There is zero extra cost to you, and I appreciate your support to keep this website alive!
HandsOn Grooming Gloves – use code PEG for free shipping at checkout!
ZenPet Tick Tornado Tick Removal Tool For Dogs, Easy To Use Tick Remover for Pets – this is the handy green tool I use.