My Top 3 Horse Grooming Priorities

 

At one time, for many years, my job as a Groom was to make sure the horses in my care were happy, comfortable, sound, and well-groomed. Sure, my job title was technically Groom, but how much of my day was spent actually grooming? Not much, in the grand scheme of things.

 

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My days in the horse grooming world were largely consumed by three things:

 

  • The horse’s legs and hooves, the horse’s movement, and everything else that created good health and comfort for the horse. That’s it. And then there is the grooming. And come to think of it, it’s the same now. Even the pasture pets have the same priorities.

 

 

Take care of legs and hooves on a daily basis.

 

 

Daily inspections.

 

  • While I call this a daily inspection of horse legs and hooves, it really happens multiple times a day. In the morning during feeding, before and after riding, before and after turnout or hand walking or lungeing, during the last feeding. Heat, swelling, lumps, bumps, cuts, and anything else that’s new are on the radar. Inspecting the coronary band and heel bulbs is critical. The coronary band is where the horse’s hoof originates, and injuries there can affect hoof growths, cracks, and even soundness.

 

Then there’s a whole slew of things to do with ice and poultice.

 

  • Legs and joints are always iced, and sometimes poultice is added, too. Both serve to reduce inflammation and help the legs recover from exercise. If there’s an injury, ice is the first line of defense, along with a quick call to the Vet. I’m not a fan of the “wait and see” approach to horse care. Often times this results as a “wait and see your Vet bill get larger and larger and larger”.

 

  • Legs are wrapped as needed. I’m not a huge fan of adding more work and more laundry to the day, but in some cases, wrapping legs is absolutely necessary. Standing wraps are a must on my list after a poultice or leg sweat, the cleanup is easy then and your horse’s nose hasn’t smeared clay or furazone all over the place. And there are no shavings stuck onto the poultice or sweat if you top it all with a wrap.

 

close up of horse knees

It’s good to memorize your horse, every last inch. Inspect these amazing legs daily!

 

 

  • I’ll also wrap legs for shipping, exercise, turn-out for some horses, and a medical reason when the Vet says “wrap it”. The situation determines the type of wrap or bandage or boot, and every horse will have his own set of situations where leg protection is required.

 

  • When it comes to wrapping both legs or one leg in the case of an injury, the verdict is out. Many of us learned that if you wrap one, you wrap both. Current knowledge from the brains of Vets say that you might need to only wrap one leg, it depends. For more on this hotly debated topic, this article’s for you.

 

  • Generally speaking, I will wrap a horse or use shipping boots for travel in a trailer or plane. One instance of a horse slipping off the side of a ramp solidified that for me. It was an instant lesson in anatomy, first aid, and finger crossing that a de-gloved leg would heal without incidence. I’ve known horses that can’t tolerate shipping boots above the knees and/or hocks, so they get wrapped and bell booted. Just put something on those precious legs.

 

  • For exercise, it’s usually dependent on the horse and what he’s doing that day. Polos for honor rounds, open fronts for jumping, splint boots for gallop sets, sport boots for flatting, nothing fleece for bad weather or schooling through water. There are times to use polos, and times for sport boots.

 

chestnut horse with thin white sport boots on legs

This is one style of sport boot for horses.

 

  • I also spend time with my clippers to make sure of good leg health. This was partly for show, as tidy lower legs doing fancy things in the sandbox looks good. I can also see and inspect the amazingly critical coronary band by keeping it clipped. A tidy or clipped lower leg also makes it easier to check skin health (scratches anyone??) and apply any meds as needed. A tidy lower leg is also easier to manage during mud season.

 

  • The reason that leg health is at the top of the priority list is that a horse’s soundness and health starts at the hoof. As a Groom, my observations were key to helping a horse stay healthy and comfortable. There are times where I had to video a horse trotting across the field or under saddle. Or while lunging. I worked with the Vets and Farriers, which might include jogging and sharing observations. Digital pulse information was logged, as was the other info about vital signs and hydration. It’s the same today.

 

 

Helping horses with movement and exercise.

 

 

I’m a firm believer that for the most part, moving things helps you not lose things. Motion is lotion. However you want to say it. With any horse – Olympic or otherwise, keeping their body moving helps with recovery from exercise, wards off stiffness, and can help with fitness.

 

  • It starts during the grooming and tacking up process. Grooming is, in itself, a great way to check and massage your horse’s muscles. I’m also paying extra attention to the croup and loins, which gives preliminary insights into saddle fit, too.

 

  • There were many days when I would hand walk a horse to warm him up for his rider, and also cool them off with a hand walk. Always moving to help their bodies prep and come back from the hard work. I will still hand-walk my horse for various reasons, sometimes just because I can.

 

dark horse being lunged at a horse show

 

  • Other ways of keeping the horses moving were with lungeing, hand walking in the afternoon before they get “tucked in”, using the hot walker, hand walking, and turning out. Sure, many of those things are “high-performance horse” things to do, but the point is there are many ways to move your horse’s bones around. Now it’s 24/7 turnout and riding almost every day.

 

  • Bonus – lots of steps for me, too.

 

 

Overall health and comfort:

 

 

This list is broad, and definitely varied for each horse that I worked with. But the goal was always the same – keep the routine logical for the horses, and keep their stress low.

 

  • Keeping their digestive systems moving is key here, not only for chewing, mental health, and ulcer prevention, but mental relaxation as well. Fortified meals were fed three times daily, with grazing and hay for the rest of the day and night.

 

  • The performance horses could go out with friends in some situations, and always had the ability to see other horses during turnout and in the barn. This is a good practice anyway, regardless of your horse’s performance status.

 

 

wool saddle flocking tools

Legs and backs and necks and attitudes are askew when the saddle doesn’t fit.

 

 

  • Vet visits were regularly scheduled for soundness and overall health. The saddle fitter came every few months or as needed, and the Farrier and Chiropractor were there as well to keep up maximum comfort and stress reduction.

 

  • The horses were also allowed to play, roll, buck, and trot around, and be themselves. And yes, they got filthy. This is still the standard operating procedure for me!

 

Grooming was at the very bottom of the list when I was caring for the super fancy show horses. Sure, the horses were spotless at the end of the day and before exercise, but most of what we did for the horses overlapped with grooming.

 

Now that I’m not grooming in a formal sense of the word, how have these priorities changed? They haven’t. Health and comfort are always at the top of the list. Perhaps my horse is a smidge dirtier than he used to be, but it works for the old guy.

 

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