"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...
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 of your high quality brush. (My favorite natural horse brushes are Leistner Brushes™, quality horse brushes made in Germany.)
I. The Do's and Dont's of Clipping
Muzzle whiskers - Muzzle whiskers are very important to the horse.
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
Fetlocks/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
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. A clipped horse will be easier to dry off
after an intense training session or show (see show grooming). The handler/rider/trainer benefits, the horse does not
benefit at all. 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.
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:
Squeeze your horse's ears together
Clip protruding hairs from bottom to top, carefully neatening the edges
Your horse's ears now look neat and well-groomed without robbing him of his natural protection
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, a
special show hoof polish can be applied. This special high gloss
polish must be removed after the show with a special solvent, since it
works almost like human nail polish and prevents the hoof from
'breathing'. For horses that are not shown, a good hoof conditioner will create the healthy look you desire.
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 OUTSIDE of the hoof 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'. Never apply hoof conditioner to the bottom of the
hoof, since you do not want the bottom to become soft and soggy, which encourages THRUSH!. Grooming Practice: Apply a natural hoof oil to the outside of the
hoof no more than twice a week and right before showing (if you do not
use hoof polish for showing). 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.) In my experience, commonly used chemical thrush
remedies 'cure' the thrush on the surface, but underneath the fungi
continue to thrive. 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. For persistant cases use a natural hoof care solution or consult
your farrier or vet for advice. I have heard of good results using a mixture of anti-fungal (athletes foot) and antiobiotic ointment, applied with a syringe. This is a treatment for severe cases and should not be done on a regular basis. Further you can try washing your horse's foot with Dawn, then rinse off with clear water, followed with a water/cider vinegar solution. 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... where did it go?
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 extensions, 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)
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! Silicone products can save the day on a busy show day, but used on a regular basis, they will dry your horse's hair and cause split ends and breakage. A bit of olive oil will go a long way (use sparingly on dock!).
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
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! Braiding a loose
or applying a tail sock (horse tail sock instructions here) can protect
your horses' tail, if needed.
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 ;-).