Myths about horse grooming
- Let’s add to the list of horse grooming myths that need to be busted about horses. Some of these are partially right, and some are just plain wrong. That’s the beauty of each individual horse; there are enough variables to keep life interesting.
Horse grooming myth: A shiny horse is always a healthy horse.
- Well, this is primarily a horse myth. Shiny horses are shiny for a lot of different reasons.
- In the case of a horse that’s actually healthy, the main reason for the bloom of the coat is a well-balanced diet. Overall well-being, fitness, and a show-stopping coat evolve from high-quality forage and appropriate supplements.
- A truly healthy horse is also well-groomed! More curry combing with less bathing with shampoos, which strips your horse’s sebum, is another way towards your horse’s bright coat. Lastly, the shiny and healthy horse isn’t drowning in products designed to add artificial shine! No amount of sheen spray, conditioner, or grooming oil can replace a horse’s natural oils. Products are enhancements, not substitutes!
- Shiny horses can also be overweight, which often creates that lovely bloom and handsome dapples. Sure, they are pretty to look at! Overweight horses have more stress on their joints and hooves and can have impaired thermoregulation due to excessive fat insulation. There is also the risk of developing metabolic issues such as Insulin Resistance, a risk factor for laminitis.
- Don’t assume that a gorgeous coat on a horse equals a healthy horse- it might mean a horse needs a proper diet, more grooming, and much less product!
Horse grooming myth: A dull-coated horse is an unhealthy horse.
- Sometimes, a dull and listless coat on a horse is thought to prove something is wrong with a horse. This may be the case with excessive internal parasites and worms, a poor diet, or questionable grooming habits.
- BUT… dull and flat coats are common in winter, as longer hair is tricky to groom and help that sebum smear around. Mud will also suck the gorgeous reflection from your horse in no time flat.
Horse grooming myth: Dish detergent and laundry detergent are safe for horse legs and tails.
- There may be a time when using a harsh detergent on your horse is appropriate if there was some chemical or crude spill on your horse, for example. Otherwise, using drying chemicals made for crusty lasagna pans and your dirty skivvies isn’t a good idea.
- Detergents strip all things from your horse – stains, dirt, and sebum. Sebum is the natural oil, that shine-making goodness that sebaceous glands make. Each and every hair follicle has a sebaceous gland attached, letting sebum coat each hair. This natural oil is anti-microbial, which stops microscopic invaders from attacking your horse’s skin. Your horse, quite literally, uses his skin and sebum as part of his immune system.
- Removing sebum with detergents removes protection from his skin. His coat becomes dull and brittle, and more stains will settle in. Dried-up skin can itch and crack, creating the perfect opening for some random bacteria to create equine pastern dermatitis or other skin infection.
Please don’t use detergent to clean this! And, it is ok to scream into the void.
Horse grooming myth: You have to use shampoo to get your horse spotless.
- Well no. Sometimes it’s helpful, but not always. Let’s go back to the sebum on your horse’s skin. When sebum is allowed to remain on your horse’s coat, it creates a stain-blocking and waterproof sealant on the hair. Stains will literally slide off.
- Curry and brush as you usually would; then you can use a damp cloth to remove the stains with a gentle wipe. If a stain is particularly stubborn, use a tad of equine spot-remover product to wipe that stain away.
- You may find those stains that are just so giant and overwhelming that you want to cry. Or, your horse managed to turn his white patches a lovely shade of something gross. The best way to deal with these is to groom first and try and wipe away. If spot treatment doesn’t work, you could head to the wash rack for a rinse. If you do reach for a proper horse-friendly shampoo, it’s OK! Be sure it’s mild and won’t dry out the coat by stripping oil.
Myths about coat colors: Gray horses are always dirty and stained.
- It’s common to think that gray horses are always dirty on some level. Because mud is life! But if you follow the horse grooming mantra of “curry until your arms fall off,” you can keep a tidy and glowing gray horse. Keep your horse grooming routine simple, folks!
Horse grooming myth: Roaching a mane is cruel.
- Brass tacks time. Grooming is health care, and your clean and sparkling horse is just the bonus. When it comes to mane care, there’s nothing about roaching (or hogging) a mane unless it allows sunburn.
- Roaching is simple – you are giving your horse a haircut. As you would at the salon.
Reasons a horse might benefit from a mane hogging:
- His skin is irritated by sweet itch, lice, or mites. Clipping the bulk of the mane allows medications to be effectively applied.
- The hair is sunbleached and dry. You may want a fresh start.
- Excessively thick manes can make for excessive sweating on the neck, sometimes ending up in skin infections.
- Manes that interfere with tack can be roached to avoid accidental tangles.
Myths about manes: There are no nerve endings in the mane, so pulling a mane doesn’t hurt.
- UGH I really need this particular horse myth to just GO AWAY.
- Let’s do a straightforward dive into how your horse’s hair is structured. The actual hair sprouts from the hair follicle in the dermal layer of your horse’s skin. Every single hair. Attached to the base of that follicle is a nerve. This is why we can feel our hair being moved, as can horses.
- The horses’ mane is no exception. This is why some horses, but not all, react to having their mane pulled. When the mane is pulled, you are removing the hair from the follicle at the root – the equivalent of waxing. And it can hurt! Other horses that don’t react as much handle it differently, yet they still have nerves connected to the hair follicle.
Horse grooming myth: You must braid your horse for the show ring.
- Well, sometimes it’s required, sometimes it’s not.
- Braiding for the show ring is often more traditional than required, and the place to look is your show association’s rule book. Fun times, reading all of that stuff.
- I spent way too much time reading this mind-numbing book, the USEF rules. I can’t seem to find anything in the USEF rule book about hunter/jumper divisions requiring braiding. One example I found:
But, if you compete in HU147 Ladies Side Saddle Classes, you should braid. NOTE- I do love that the USEF will accept roached manes instead of braids. Roached manes are done for a horse’s health, and no show manual should override that.
(See also EQ105.1)
1. To be ridden by ladies who are no longer eligible to compete as junior exhibitors.
2. Stallions not permitted.
3. To be judged on performance and soundness with emphasis on manners 75%; formal hunting attire, appointments and general overall appearance of horse and rider 25%. Judges should give particular consideration to quality, condition and cleanliness of tack. Mane and tail must be braided, (Exception: roached manes or pulled tails).
- Does this mean you should throw all tradition out the window? Probably not! You want to show respect to the judge and your discipline, and if that means doing a kazillion tiny braids or gorgeous fat buttons, then so be it.
And another myth: You should trim your horse’s whiskers.
- I don’t know where in the world this silly notion originated. Horse care and grooming should put your horse’s welfare first, and whisker trimming doesn’t make the cut.
- Your horse’s whiskers are vibrissae – sensory hairs. When your horse moves his face around, he can’t see under or behind his chin. The whiskers do the navigating for him. While it’s another tradition that many believe is useless, clipping whiskers is done frequently. Usually, a horse will adapt and adjust, although some horses may injure themselves.
- As of the summer of 2021, the FEI will not allow any horse with clipped whiskers to compete. Germany, Switzerland, and France have similar rules based on animal welfare standards.
The best thing you can do is listen to your vet and farrier about horse care information! It’s prudent to question those age-old myths and old wives’ tales that seem to persist!
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