horse grooming mistakes

Whoops – Common Horse Grooming Mistakes and Their Solutions


  • This list, while hopefully helpful, is also a list of all of the horse grooming “mistakes” that I have made or witnessed over the years. By no means have I included every possible tiny error I’ve ever made. But I do want to point out the biggest mistakes. And really, these are just ways to learn and find new techniques more then they are errors.


  • You will also notice that many of these blunders are a bit related, and often the result of cutting corners. Luckily for my horses, I’m a quick study. I always have their health and comfort at the top of the priority list, which sometimes means not cutting corners.


Some of the biggest horse grooming mistakes we can make:



Leaving on blueing shampoos or whitening shampoos for too long.


  • The end result, as you can imagine, is a tinted horse. These products are designed to deposit color to balance out the stains on white horses. They do not magically lift stains, it’s more of an optical illusion.


  • The solution to this one is a big experiment, honestly. You will obviously need to shorten the time a whitening product stays on your horse! You can also try using a dry shampoo or stain remover before hand to remove most of the stain.


  • For wildly stubborn stains, consider getting it as clean as possible without stripping all of those natural oils away. Then you can brighten what’s left with some corn starch or baby powder or even a pigment product.


  • You also have the choice to clip stains away. You don’t have to clip all the way to the skin, you an use a longer blade, like 8.5 or 10 that leaves a bit of hair. Sometimes this works, sometimes not.



horse bathing supplies in a bucket

While I LOVE whitening shampoo, it can turn your horse funny shades of lavender.



Letting your horse’s tail get sticky.


  • This can happen for a few reasons. Just plain ignoring the tail often creates a hot mess of stick. Sometimes you just pile on too many products. Sometimes there’s sap or tar that gets rubbed into the tail hairs. Sometimes it’s urine from a mare that can’t lift out of the way, or the horse that sleeps with his bum in dirty shavings or footing.


  • The problem with sticky tails is that dirt and dust and shavings will become glued to it. It can also become glued to itself! There’s also the hot button topic of “never touch a tail” vs. “take care of the tail every day”. Sometimes, this turns into a sticky tail.


  • The solution depends on the cause of the stick. Maybe you need to do some pasture walking to remedy the source of sap. Maybe you need to do a loose braid so the tail is away from the urine stream. Perhaps you do need to at least feel and pick and condition the tail daily.


  • A tail is best when it’s clean and slick. Conditioners and tail products can help here, and just like a horse’s oils, will repel stains and stick. You can also spot treat tails in the winter if you are unable to bathe the tail. Stain removers are a quick way to de-gunk a tail, or mane for that matter.


  • You can also rinse tails with water and follow with vinegar to get them clean if you want to skip the shampoo. It’s perfectly fine to add some conditioner then as well, to soften things up.


Lines when clipping a horse.


  • WHOOOOOPS. This is a really common grooming “mistake”. Sometimes it results from uneven pressure from you, sometimes it’s that you are clipping a horse that isn’t ultra-clean and oily. Sometimes it’s time to service your clipper or pop a new blade on! You also want to be sure the clipper you are using can handle the job.


  • The first thing to do for erasing lines as you are clipping your horse is to be sure he’s shockingly clean. Dirt and dust will destroy your clipper blades and create pulling and tugging and lines on your horse.


  • Then you need to be sure your horse is oily. He could be naturally oily, or you can add some grooming oil to his coat before (and after) clipping. This makes your horse’s clippers glide through like a hot knife in butter.


  • Then turn your attention to the clippers themselves. Are they clean? No gunked-up hair? Are the clipper blades sharp and oiled, and are you continuing to oil them every 5 minutes as you clip?


  • Then you can work on your clipping technique. Literally, it’s just practice. If you do end up with clipper lines, do two things. First, toss that antiquated advice of clipping against the growth out the window. Second, clip a bit X over the lines. You can erase or mostly erase them now. More on how to avoid clipper lines here.


red clippers on a gray horse removing a little bit



Using dirty tack or dirty saddle pads.


  • I GET IT – we are all over-scheduled and things pile up and to-do list runneth over. But no one – especially your horse – wants to wear a dirty bridle on his face or a dirty saddle pad and girth on his body. And then go exercise.


  • It’s absolutely fine to re-use saddle pads, if you can clean them thoroughly between uses. Let them dry, brush the snot out of them, and make sure they are soft and free of hair and dirt.



  • If you absolutely must skip some part of tack cleaning, skip the saddle, as most of it should not be directly touching your horse. The bridle should be cleaned, with buckles opened, after each use. Sweat, dirt, and grime can get caked on to become a great way for sores and rubs to develop.



sticky bit and bit rings on a dirty bridle

Dirty bits are gross, and dirty bridles, like this crusty one, rest and rub against your horse.



Cutting a horse’s forelock


  • I can thankfully say that I have never done this. However, I have been witness to this and enjoyed a hearty laugh because of this.


  • I suppose you could use scissors to cut the forelock vertically, as one should do when cutting bangs. This would be a definite improvement to the straight across cut.


  • You could pull the forelock? Sure? But it’s typically a fraction of the density of the mane, and you might end up with a few short wisps.


  • Your best bet if you need to trim a forelock is to use a mane comb/blade combo. This gives the new edge a natural look and not a fresh “bowl cut” look. Or just leave things alone.


fold up mane blade on chestnut horse

This mane knife/blade is a wonder for creating a natural edge to manes.



Sharing tack and supplies


  • One of my absolute favorite classes in undergrad was microbiology. Legit fascinating. I am reminded of this every time I’m reminded about horse supplies and tack being shared from horse to horse.


  • That’s how bacterial infections and other skin “funk” gets spread from horse to horse. You are taking microbes from one petri dish to another when brushes, grooming tools, saddle pads, and tack goes from one horse to the next.


  • Rain rot is the perfect example of this! This common skin infection can jump from horse to horse when supplies are shared.


Using detergents to clean your horse.


  • He may be extra dirty. Or have poop stains. Or you are getting ready for a show. Your horse will be at risk of having all of his natural oils stripped away! Sebum is the reason for the natural shine on your horse. It’s also part of his immune system, protecting his skin with anti-microbial properties. Shine-making sebum protects his hair, too, and creates a super slick surface from which stains become impenetrable.


  • A horse without sebum will also have a brittle coat, which just makes stains more welcome and longer-lasting.


  • Instead of using chemicals and detergents to “clean” your horse, which really just removes any sebum he has, opt for more curry combing. Opt for a balanced diet with proper amounts of omega fatty acids. Spot treat stains so they don’t get out of hand, especially if your horse has several favorite body parts that get dirty all the time, like hocks.


  • To easily spot treat your horse, start by currying the stains. A LOT. Most of the stain will lift away. Then use a dry shampoo or spot treatment sparingly. Let it sit for a few minutes. Then buff away with a damp or dry cloth.


no rinse shampoo on a horse's leg for white socks

Spot removers, AKA dry shampoos, are great for treating little stains. Or big stains.



Not cleaning your grooming supplies.


  • Talk about petri dish of microscopic grossness – in addition to the dirt and dust and bits of poop that collects on your horse’s grooming tools.


  • Regularly washing your horse’s brushes assures you are not just smearing dirt around, you are actually lifting it from your horse.


  • I typically wash all of my brushes and grooming tools weekly. If it’s been a particularly muddy week, it might be more often than that. You can use a mild shampoo or chlorhexidine solution, which may offer more anti-microbial cleaning. I keep it really simple – I just fill my grooming bucket with water and solution, then swirl it a bit and let it soak for a few minutes. Rinse, dry, and I’m done.



dirty horse grooming brush

This dirty brush really does nothing for your horse.



Not drying a horse in the winter if he’s sweaty.


  • I’m a huge fan of winter riding, my horse gets a bit fresh and it’s nice to get out of the house. I’m not a huge fan of waiting for a sweaty horse to dry in the winter. But alas, it must be done.


  • A sweaty and damp horse is wet from the skin outwards, so that natural layer of waterproofing and insulation from a winter coat is not in effect. This can drop your horse’s body temperature rapidly and into dangerously low territory. That dampness can also create the perfect situation for a skin infection to flare up.


  • If you toss a sheet or blanket on a damp horse in the winter, there’s a chance that he could just end up getting colder if the blanket isn’t warm enough. Or a horse could get even warmer, in which case he may start sweating again.


  • Take the dang time to cool your horse out properly when he’s wet from a winter workout. Use wool or fleece coolers to help you, lots of brushing against the grain, and monitor his internal body temperature to be sure he’s not tracking into hypothermia.


gray horse in green wool cooler grazing



Not using your fingers and eyes to inspect your horse


  • The main reason to groom your horse is for his health. The main side effect is that he’s clean, shiny, and there’s no grime or dirt between your tack and his skin.


  • Brushes and grooming tools get you there, but for the love of all things horse, also use your fingers and eyes to inspect your dude. I can guarantee that you will never find a tick if you only touch your horse with brushes. You will miss lumps, bumps, scrapes, and all sorts of things that he could use your help with.


One last horse grooming mistake that I have seen. Please don’t put hair dye on your horse!


  • Years ago, I knew someone quite superficially and had seen her lovely Friesian a few times at shows. Turns out, he was getting rather sun-bleached and looking a bit dull. Not to mention he had a show coming up!


  • Well…two boxes of black hair dye for humans were used on him. Then show day arrives, and he’s ridden in a brand new white saddle pad. It was white until the sweat started, then it was dark purplish and black streaks everywhere, dripping down his body and into the saddle pad.


  • There are much better ways to fend off sun bleaching! This is largely a diet issue, namely with copper and mineral balances. An Equine Nutritionist can help you out here. You can also consider equine sunscreen, getting all of the sweat off before you turn out, using fly sheet to help mitigate the sun, and using special colored shampoos that enhance what your horse’s natural hair coat looks like.




I think that’s it for now!



I like the following products for tail care. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Does this cost you more? NO WAY! And thank you for your support!

This mane thinning blade works well for forelocks, too.

The best spot remover! And it creates shine.