Horse Care Buying Guide
Grooming is an essential part of caring for a horse. Cleaning and bathing, brushing, clipping, and hoof care are all important for a horse’s general health and hygiene. Close contact with the animal gives its caregiver the opportunity to check it for diseases or injuries. Taking good care of a horse prevents sores, and brushing and washing stimulates circulation. As an added bonus, daily grooming, specifically brushing, gives the horse and its handler time to bond.
A horse should be groomed from head to tail. Each grooming activity requires specific grooming tools. Horses have been a part of human life for centuries and as a result, a range of horse grooming tools are now available. Equipment can be found at your local Tractor Supply store or you can browse and shop for grooming equipment online.
To ensure you are providing the care your horse requires, it is important to research grooming equipment and know what is needed to do the job right.
Bathing and Cleaning
While being bathed too often can give horses dry skin or dandruff, they should be shampooed at least every few months. This washes the dirt, dust, and sweat out of their coats. Show horses may be bathed more often. The shampoo and conditioner used when bathing a horse should be made specifically for horses. Using other kinds of soap or shampoo could lead to skin irritation or dryness. Conditioning treatments can also be used to keep the horse’s coat glossy and prevent dry skin.
As with human hair care products, the market is overflowing with all sorts of horse shampoos. Shoppers can find everything from organic washes to water-free products. Special mane and tail shampoo and conditioners help to detangle the hair, and keep it flowing and easy to groom. A detangling spray can be used on matted manes and tails to detangle hair without yanking it out. Additionally, some shampoos whiten hair, while others make it darker.
Sponges, cloths, and shampooing brushes are used to lift out stubborn dirt and spread shampoo over the horse’s coat. If warm water is available on tap, or if horses need to be hosed down on warm summer days, a spray nozzle makes the task easier. A spray nozzle can be attached to a hose, and easily controls the water’s strength and direction. Once the horse is clean it can be partially dried with a sweat scraper. A sweat scraper is normally used to remove sweat from a horse’s coat to avoid chills after exercise. Plastic sweat scrapers usually look like straight plastic wands. Metal sweat scrapers are metal bows with a straight edge. Some have a toothed edge on one side that can be used as a shedding blade.
Combs and Brushes
The most important tool in one’s grooming kit is the curry comb. This rubber comb is oval or round, with soft rubber teeth. It is used to loosen dirt in the coat. It should be used with care on bony areas like legs. Metal curry combs should never be used on a horse as they will damage the horse’s coat and skin. Instead, metal curry combs should only be used to clean brushes. Grooming mitts can be used to remove sweat, marks, and mud. They are commonly made from rubber, but some are made from wool or fleece to polish and finish coats. Horses that have rolled in mud can be cleaned with a mud brush. This brush has very stiff bristles. Make sure that the mud is dry before brushing to avoid working the mud into the coat.
Once the dirt has been loosened with a curry brush, a stiff brush is used to remove it. This is called a dandy brush, and it is also used to remove mud and heavy dirt. The horse’s coat should be finished off with a body brush, or soft brush. This is used to remove the last bits of dirt, dust, and scruff (dried sweat and dandruff) on the horse’s coat, leaving it sleek and glossy. A shedding blade can be used to loosen and remove extra hair in the spring season. This very sharp bow-shaped tool should be handled with care to avoid injury to the groom and the horse. It should not be used on the horse’s face or legs.
Brushes designed for the body should never be used on the face. If the horse is startled, stiff bristles could injure its eyes. A soft face brush is like a small version of a body brush. It is designed specifically for use on the face, and allows one to groom the area with a minimal risk of injury to the animal. Once the coat has been groomed, the horse’s mane and tail should be combed out with a mane and tail comb. This will remove knots and tangles, leaving the horse with a free-flowing mane. Plastic combs work better than metal combs as they are less likely to leave the horse with broken hair. Once the hair has been detangled, a mane and tail brush can be used to add shine.
Clipping a horse allows it to dry quickly after exercise. It allows the horse to do fast work without too much stress. Additionally, it makes grooming easier, and maintains a good-looking horse. A good set of clippers with sharp clipper blades simplifies clipping. The mane, tail, bridle path, fetlocks, and any stray hairs can be trimmed with scissors. The bridle path is a short span of shaved mane on the neck, directly behind the ears. Keeping the hair in this area short makes it easier to put the bridle on and take it off. The fetlocks are projections on the lower part of the horse’s legs, where a person’s ankles would be. Fetlocks usually have a tuft of hair growing on them as well.
A horse’s hooves should never become dry and cracked or soft and soggy. Hooves should be checked every time the horse is groomed. When taking care of hooves, the first step is to use a hoof pick to remove stones, manure, and dirt from the hollow areas in the bottom of the hoof. A healthy horse’s soles should always be visible. A hoof brush can then be used to clean away loose dirt. Files, rasps, nippers, and hoof knives are used to care for unshod horses’ hooves. These tools are used to control the shape of the hoof by trimming and shaping it to avoid overly long, cracked hooves. One can compare them to human nail clippers and a nail file.
As a finishing touch, polish or conditioner can be applied to the hooves. Polish gives hooves a glossy finish, and is usually used for show horses. It is recommended that the polish be removed after the show to allow the hoof to breathe. Conditioners promote healthy hooves, and encourage growth. While oil based conditioners are popular, some believe that petroleum based oils inhibit hooves’ breathing. Brushing the oil onto the hoof is the least messy method of application.
Flies breed during the warmer months, and can plague horses while they graze. A bot knife can be used to remove fly eggs from horses’ legs and bodies during grooming. These knives have serrated blades with fine teeth. Bot eggs are small and yellow, shaped like a grain of rice. To remove them, use the bot knife to scrape in the direction of the horse’s hair. Removing the eggs will stop horses from licking them up, thus preventing flies from breeding in the horse’s nostrils and throats. Fly infestations can be controlled further by using a good fly repellent spray.
The Finishing Touches
Once the horse has enjoyed its bath, brushing, and pedicure, the application of a grooming spray will give it a glossy coat. It is important not to use this in the saddle area. Grooming spray is slick enough to make a saddle slip sideways. Some horse owners prefer to braid horses’ manes and tails, and some competitions require braiding. A good supply of braiding thread, wire, and bands should be kept on hand. Instructional books on braiding are available for beginners. Of course, UV rays are not only dangerous to humans. If the horse is left uncovered in the paddock after grooming it may need some sunscreen.
Things to Keep in Mind when Buying Grooming Tools
Novice horse owners may not have the resources to buy a lot of different tools to keep their horses in top condition. Instead, they should consider buying a grooming kit that comes with everything needed to get started. Additionally, books on grooming provide handy tips and advice about grooming horses. Lastly, horse owners should consider investing in a sturdy tote. This will simplify carrying and storing one’s collection of grooming tools.
Aside from the cost of renting or buying a horse or pony, equestrian care can get very expensive. The cost of saddles, equipment, and accessories can become a drain on one’s finances. Beginners wishing to build up an inventory of supplies from scratch will want to consult an expert at a local Tractor Supply store to better understand the cost and needs associated with your desired horse care needs.