Some horses have greater skin sensitivity than others. With some you can use a metal curry comb and apply it with vigor to the horse’s apparent satisfaction. If you use the same approach with a horse which has more sensitive skin, you will have a horse that flinches and avoids being groomed.
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of grooming tools on the market so that we can pick and choose what is best for each individual horse. Many of these tools are made of pliable plastic. Basic grooming tools include a hoof pick; curry comb–metal or plastic, with plastic being far more popular today; body brush with stiff bristles; brush with longer, softer bristles; mane and tail comb; sweat or water scraper; and grooming cloth. There are many variations in these basic tools, as well as in such helpful devices as specially designed vacuums (see “The Right Stuff” below).
There is a right way and a wrong way to use each of these tools. Let’s take a look at the correct way to groom a horse with each of the basic tools mentioned.
This all-important tool is used to remove dirt and debris lodged in the hooves, particularly in the grooves beside the frog (sulci). Cleaning the hooves on a regular basis can prevent the foul-smelling infection called thrush. All signs of dirt and debris should be removed before going on to the next foot. Normally, you will start with one of the front feet and work your way around the horse–front foot, back foot, opposite back foot, and opposite front foot. Whatever your routine, the horse will catch on quickly.
The prime function of the curry comb is to dislodge dirt and debris that might be tangled in the hair or stuck to the skin. To accomplish this, move the curry comb over the horse’s body in small, relatively gentle swirls. The amount of pressure applied will depend on the horse’s sensitivity and the amount of debris to be removed. If the horse’s coat is relatively clean, only gentle pressure will be required. However, if the coat is matted with mud or dried sweat, the curry comb will need to be applied with a bit more vigor. Care should be taken that the curry comb, especially if it is metal, not be used below the knees or hocks, over the forehead, or on other bony protuberances. The lack of flesh and the presence of nerve endings in these areas means that we can irritate and cause pain to the horse by using a curry comb. During the grooming, it is important that the tools be cleaned frequently. A curry comb that is matted with dead hair and dirt won’t accomplish much in the cleaning department.
This is one of the key tools in grooming, and it can be used on almost all parts of the horse’s body. However, I have seen horses with such sensitive skin that they flinched when this rather stiff-bristled brush was applied with vigor. The brushing should progress from the head to the neck, the chest, withers, and foreleg all the way down to the knee and even the hoof, the back, side, belly, croup, and, finally, the hind legs all the way to the hoof. The farther down the leg you go, the more gentle the brush strokes should become because you are now traversing bony areas. If the horse appears sensitive to the stiff-bristled brush around the head or lower legs, you should switch to the soft brush. The strokes over the horse’s body should be in the direction of the natural lie of the hair, flicking the dirt up and out of the coat at the end of each stroke. This type of brushing will remove some of the debris loosened by the curry comb as well as dislodging some that might have been missed. This brush is also excellent for the mane and tail. More about that in a moment.
This brush is not designed to loosen dirt and debris. It is designed to remove stuff that has been dislodged by the curry comb and stiff-bristled brush. This means that you will want to apply this brush in short flicking strokes, sending dust and foreign particles into the air. Both the hard-bristled brush and the soft brush should be cleaned frequently by rubbing the bristles across the curry comb. Remember, you want to remove debris, not just move it around on the horse’s coat.
Mane and Tail Comb
This instrument should be used with care, particularly if the mane or tail happens to be tangled. If you are using a metal mane and tail comb on long, tangled hair, there is a danger that you will pull out far more than desired. If the mane or tail is tangled, it is far better to gently and carefully separate the hairs with your fingers, pulling a few apart at a time, then running your fingers through the hair. Once you have cleared up knots and tangles, it might be better to use the hard-bristled brush to complete the mane and tail grooming. Once the mane and tail are soft and silky from repeated grooming, you might even switch to just using the soft brush.
When brushing the tail, do not brush the whole thing at once. Instead, pick up a small handful of tail with one hand and let part of it waft through your fingers, bringing the brush into gentle play against these strands with soft downward strokes with the other hand. The more frequently a horse is groomed, the less vigor is required.
Sweat or Water Scraper
This device, made of either metal or plastic, can be used to remove excess sweat after a workout or excess water after a bath. It is a highly important tool when we give consideration to the way in which a horse cools itself. The prime coolant in thermoregulation of the horse is sweating–sweat carries body heat to the skin, and evaporation produces a cooling effect. However, if sweat or water remains on the horse’s skin on a hot and humid day, it can trap the heat and the cooling effect is lost. This is especially true when giving a horse a cooling bath in hot weather. If we do not remove water from the horse’s coat, body heat will quickly warm it, and it will have a counter-productive effect in the cooling process. The sweat or water scraper is always used along the horse’s body as the hair lies and, because, of its hard surface, is not used on the head or lower legs. If the external temperature is cool, the horse should be covered with a light blanket after a bath and walked until dry.
The finishing touches to a good grooming job are applied with the grooming cloth. This can be as simple as an old towel or even a blanket. It is used to apply the final polishing touches by wiping away dust that was left by the soft brush, and it can be used to cleanse areas around the eyes or ears where a brush isn’t appropriate.
It is not difficult to spot a clean, well-groomed horse, as the natural oils brought to the surface will cause the horse’s coat to gleam. Its mane and tail will ripple in the breeze with no signs of knots or tangles. There might even be a special little gleam in the horse’s eye because it feels good.