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Natural Horse Grooming Guidelines

bell valley yank

"Horse-beneficial" grooming, using natural tools and good old "elbow grease"

Grooming a horse means many different things to different horse people. My philosophy is 'let the horse be a horse'. Grooming should benefit the horse in more than one way, make him look AND FEEL good! NO Chemicals needed...  
You can have a fantastically groomed, stunning looking horse while maintaining a natural look (for you) and feel (for the horse) and use natural grooming tools.

A note regarding horse grooming brushes and equipment: There is an overabundance of cheap grooming brushes on the market, made from synthetic materials that are bad for your horse's coat and skin and worse for the environment (mineral oil based raw materials and plastics). Investing in a good-quality brush made from natural, sustainable materials will ensure proper care for your horse, stunning results and years of use. I recommend to look for the good-quality horse brushes made in Germany or the US. (Many 'quality brands' sold in your tack shop are made in China...)

goat hair horse brush

I. The Do's and Dont's of Clipping

horse whiskersMuzzle whiskers - Muzzle whiskers are not just hair. They are VISSEBRAE, a sensory organ with a direct link to the brain.  Horses use these vissebrae to estimate the distance between their muzzle and an object, such as a water source or the ground when grazing.  The horses' eyesight is somewhat limited in certain angles below their head and the whiskers help solve that problem.  

Taking away the whiskers will cause your horse to bump his muzzle into things, especially at night, and become insecure and worried.

Grooming Practice:  Do NOT cut any whiskers. (Trimming whiskers is actually illegal in Germany, for example.)  A neatly groomed horse will still look great with whiskers.

fetlock hairFetlocks/Feathers - Nature equipped horse with fetlock hair for a reason.  Fetlock hair helps keep the sensitive back area of your horses' feet dry, by acting as a funnel for dripping water, such as rain., puddle or creek water.  Works almost like  your houses rain gutters. Horses with fetlock hair will be less likely to develope 'scratches'.


Grooming Practice:  Neatening of the fetlock hair, keeping enough hair to preserve the important natural function.

 

Mane (roaching) - Horses greatly benefit from the fact that nature equipped them with a mane.  The mane is used to help ward off insects and can even help regulate body temperature under certain conditions. Shaving a mane completely robs the horse of an important natural fly defense.
Grooming Practice:  Neaten the mane by pulling, dressing, braiding and other techniques, but never shave off entirely (exception are certain breeds such as Fjord horses).

Body Clipping - While I understand that body clipping can be important in a busy competitive show barn environment, I do believe that in general and for the average recerational horse owner, body clips are mostly unnecessary.  (Exception are horses that are shown in warmer climates all year round.) The skin becomes unnecessarily exposed to the elements of sun = UV rays, rain, wind and insects and the animal will then most likely need to be blanketed, another practice that is, in my opinion, entirely unnecessary, unless right after a workout during cool down time in the winter.

Grooming Practice:  Groom thoroughly on a regular basis to stimulate the timely growth and shedding of winter hair. Hose horse off after very sweaty workouts with clear water, starting at the legs and neck, then very slowly moving up, preferably using tepid water and a sponge for the the back, then use a blade to remove access water, rub with a whisp and dry off with a towel or simply rub with a bunch of straw.  Do not rinse the horse during the colder seasons. Instead, give him a good rub down with a whips or clean straw, then blanket him with a wool blanket (army blanket or such) and walk him dry.
Exception:  Naturally 'Curly' horses or horses with a disorder that causes excessive hair growth, that are being used in a very hot climate.  Here a partial body clip can be beneficial.

Clipping Ears - [This is where I should insert an audio file, playing the music in 'Star Wars' that you would hear when DARTH VADER enters the scene!!!] DO NOT CLIP THE INSIDE OF YOUR HORSE'S EARS! EVER! The horse naturally has protective hair growth inside his ear.  When clipping the ear, we should remember, that the hair inside the ear protects against insects and debris from entering the ear cavity.  If removed,  you would have to keep a fly mask with ear covers on the horse at all times to ensure the ear health of your horse.  In my opinion, this is highly unnatural and unnecessary.
Grooming Practice:  Trimming along the edges of the ear, shaping the inside ear so that it will not pertrude, but end flush with the ear edge, will give your horse a neatly groomed look without hampering with nature's ear protection.  Never shave out the hair on the inside of the horse's ear.

This is how to neatly clip your horse's ear without robbing him of his ear protection:

  1. Squeeze your horse's ears together
  2. Clip protruding hairs from bottom to top, carefully neatening the edges
  3. Your horse's ears now look neat and well-groomed without robbing him of his natural protection
clipping a horse's ear clipped horse ear groomed horse ears

A horse as good as his feet...

'Sanding' the hoof - The outer layer of the hoof is a thin protective layer, similar to the outer layer on your finger nail.  The practice of 'smoothening' the hoof with sandpaper or a wire brush is highly unbeneficial for the horse, since it removes the protective layer, allowing harmful moisture, bacteria and fungi to penetrate the hoof and to make it vulnerable to infections and hoof problems.  
Grooming Solution:  If a highly polished look is desired, use the old-school method: Cut an onion into half and apply the juice to the clean hoof wall right before showing. Great shine without stickyness!

Hoof Conditioning - The hoof of a healthy horse is usually sufficiently able to withstand the elements.  However, it can be beneficial to apply a good natural hoof conditioner to the hoof wall and around the crown to encourage health and growth.  Products that contain mineral oils (petroleum jelly etc) must be avoided, since they  linger on the surface of the hoof and prevent the hoof from 'breathing'.    
Grooming Practice:  Apply a natural hoof oil to the outside of the hoof no more than twice a week for maintenance (more for hoof rehab, if needed) and right before showing (if you do not use the good old onion...). Always keep hoof dry and clean.
 
Thrush - Thrush is a fungal infection of the hoof, often brought on by excessive moisture in the horses' environment (spring rains on the pasture, wet stalls etc.)  I have tried various remedies on several horses with little effect until I tried this natural thrush remedy.
Grooming Practice:  Clean, brush and dry hooves daily. Remedy the conditions that led to the development of fungus, such as a wet stall, muddy paddock, etc.  Have farrier trim hooves on a regular schedule and keep horses environment dry.  
Further you can try washing your horse's sole and frog with Dawn, then rinse off well with clear water, followed with a water/cider vinegar solution. Then apply a natural thrush treatment. There is one extremely efficient thrush treatment for horses that is NON-TOXIC. This product is made in the USA from plant-derived ingredients. I found this to be the best product or remedy so far. Experiment and keep at it until it's completely gone!

The horses' tail... how to keep it full and beautiful (or "Where did my horse's tail go?")

Why do I ask where the horse's tail went?  Because it seems that there is a need out there to replace the horse's tail: There are products on the market such as horse hair tail a horse with natural tailextensions, ranging from around $200-$400 per item, depending on the color, if natural horse hair is desired. But where did your horses' tail go, if you feel the need to put on an artificial extension?  Most likely you (or the previous owner) unknowingly pulled it out!  
The common practice of brushing and combing horse tails, slowly thins the horses' tails.  Considering that a long tail hair takes about 2 years to grow down to the fetlocks, you see the damage is pretty much permanent, if you continue brushing....

(<-- a trail horse with a naturally full tail, never brushed)

Grooming Practice:  Hand grooming of the tail, separating each hair from the next by hand, instead of using a comb, is more time consuming, however, it will preserve your horses' tail. Follow up with a flick or dandy brush made from natural bristles such as cactus fiber. You may use a wire pin tail brush, but only if your horse's tail is already thoroughly finger-combed! A good mane and tail detangler gel will last a long time (one application up to 7 days). The rule is: If you use a mane and tail brush, use a good detangler! Otherwise just use your fingers and a dandy brush..

Exceptions: Some horses rub their tails due to itch in anus (parasites), fungus on the tail root or a dirty sheath and rub off the tail hair! This can ruin your efforts of growing a healthy looking tail within a week or so. Remedy the cause of the itch and start over... Some horses develop a boredom habit of itching their tail, others itch their tail due to discomfort in the sacroiliac area. It takes some detective work to determine the cause.

If your horses' is naturally a bit on the thin side, massaging of the dock, application of certain conditioners and special supplements might help encourage hair growth, but most importantly, you want to show what your horse has, so do not remove it involuntarily by brushing or combing the tail thoughtlessly! Braiding a loose braid or applying a tail sock can protect your horses' tail, if needed.

grooming a horses tail by hand

Horses with naturally thin tails an manes: Take a good look at your horse, appreciate his strengths and beauty and bring it out to the best of your ability. Groom and neaten, shine and fluff the tail as much as possible, then be done with it! Some of the most lovable horses have very little tail or mane to speak of ;-).

Resources and recommendations:

There is a wondeful book about horse grooming, Grooming To Win, Spiral-Bound: How to Groom, Trim, Braid, and Prepare Your Horse for Show (Howell Equestrian Library)a book. If you are a grooming enthusiast, you'll surely like it.

For the horse grooming beginner or someone looking for the basics, the book Horse Handling & Grooming: A Step-By-Step Photographic Guide to Mastering over 100 Horsekeeping Skills (Horsekeeping Skills Library)a book will be a great addition to your horsey library.

If you have fun braiding tails and manes I recommend Braiding Manes & Tails: A Visual Guide to 30 Basic Braidsa book to get you started. This book even offers something for the experienced braider.

Happy grooming!!

Please email me your questions regarding Horse Beneficial Grooming practices.
I'd love to hear from you!

Stefanie Reinhold

Yankee and Stefanie

Stefanie Reinhold
ctfd. Masterson Method™Practitioner (MMCP) & Instructor
ctfd. Equine Massage Practitioner, WMSEM

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