Getting your horse show ring ready doesn’t have to involve harsh shampoos and shine sprays. Check out these professional grooming tips for getting the perfect look, naturally.
Grooming in a more “natural” way is really about addressing the basic needs of the horse, and going from there. It also means grooming your horse from the inside out as well as the outside in.
From the Inside Out
Horses need a healthy, balanced diet that matches their exercise routine. High quality forage alone is not enough if they do not have access to quality pasture, salt and water.
• Pasture contains plenty of vitamin E in that moisture-rich grass. It also ensures your horse eats as he was designed to – small amounts over long periods, with his head lowered. Being on pasture creates an environment for true relaxation, bonding with herd mates, and just generally “being a horse”.
• Salt is a trace mineral required by all living creatures in order to survive. It can be provided by a block or in the horse’s rations. Either way, for your horse to be groomed from the inside, you need it!
• Fresh water is also a must-have – it keeps the horse hydrated, which is crucial to digestion. Another upside to changing his water daily is that you can measure how much he drinks, and thus be able to tell if something is amiss.
• Supplementation may be necessary for some horses, depending on their forage and pasture routines. For example, most horses are missing necessary Omega fatty acids. And no pasture means no vitamin E. Selecting quality supplements and additives creates that “bloom” no amount of elbow grease can generate. It’s best to consult with an expert in equine nutrition to make sure your horse has what he needs. Remember, supplementation varies with your horse’s weight, lifestyle, exercise routine, forage and pasture, and even what region of the world you are living in.
Getting that “Bloom”
As a professional groom, I know “bloom” is what we strive for with each horse. Bloom means a shiny coat, a sparkle in the eye, and a generally upbeat attitude – perhaps even a bit of naughtiness sprinkled in for good measure. Grooming naturally means finding that bloom naturally, with simple tools and lots of hard work. You can’t buy a real bloom in a bottle. So how do you go about grooming from the outside in? And what does that really mean? It means paying attention to the outside of the horse, and in doing so, strengthening your relationship with him. The best way to groom from the outside in is to use your hands. I love to use both hands when I curry my horses, for a few reasons. You can feel for any unusual lumps or bumps, it’s easier to move your horse around, and you can look for any tension or soreness. By being in direct contact with the horse, you may also get a millisecond warning before a spook.
The curry comb is responsible for so many critical things, and not just getting the dust up out of the coat. When done properly to your horse’s liking, it can be a great massage for him, and a tool to get to that “sweet spot” most horses seem to have. There are many different styles of curry combs, so choose one with the flexibility your horse enjoys.
• I love to use a jelly scrubber – the kind with two types of nubs – on the lower legs, f a c e and ears. It’s so flexible you can fold it like a taco to get into smaller areas.
• I use the traditional oval-shaped curry for my horse’s body.
• Sometimes I’ll bust out the so-called pimple mitt to go over everything for some added shine. All three curry combs are super to use in the wash stall on shampoo day (which I really like to limit, since shampoos can strip the coat of its natural oils).
The most important job of the curry is to bring up and distribute your horse’s natural oils (yes, these are the same oils you have lovingly created with a well balanced diet). Frequent curry sessions, infrequent stripping of oils with harsh shampoos, and high quality finishing brushes all nourish these oils.
Now that you have curried and massaged your horse until your elbow is about to fall off, it’s time for the next brush. I prefer to use natural bristle brushes only. The cost is higher, but the quality is amazing and the bristles definitely do the job well. After the curry, a nice natural bristled hard brush with longer bristles can easily flick off dust, dander and hair.
Follow up with a softer brush with dense short bristles to lay the hairs down and create an almost waterproof seal.
Head to Toe
That’s the hair coat taken care of; now let’s address the mane, tail and hooves. These are all affected by genetics, nutrition and environment, so their quality and strength is a direct reflection of those factors. There are a few schools of thought on mane and tail care – not everything works for everyone.
1. The first is the “leave it alone” scenario. A brush never touches the mane and tail, and you only pick out any shavings with your fingers.
2. The other camp suggests you keep the tail so conditioned, oily and slick that nothing can ever possibly get tangled in it. This method does require some brushing. e
3. Then you have the tail bag method, in which the tail is always contained in a bag, either with or without conditioner. If you choose to use a tail bag, please be sure to check it every single day and do not attach it anywhere near the tail bone.
4. Most grooms use a combination of the above methods, using detanglers as needed and doing a lot of picking by hand, followed by a brush when needed.
The best way to naturally care for your horse’s hooves is to pay attention! Check growth, the medial/lateral balance, the heels, sole, collateral grooves and so on. Maintaining the correct moisture level is also critical, so work with your farrier to add or remove moisture as needed. This will also vary according to the climate you live in. Sometimes in the spring with rain and wet grass you will not need to do anything, compared to a hot and dry summer/fall. If you want to add some polish to your grooming routine, a nice natural hoof oil for creating shine is olive oil – it’s great to use just before you enter the show ring.
Now you have a great routine for a naturally groomed horse. Start with the basics of good nutrition, add some elbow grease, use high quality grooming tools, and pay attention to any changes. You will end up with that “wow” factor in no time!
Liv Gude is the visionary behind the Professional Equine Grooms website, which she launched last summer after her Facebook page of the same name started to grow overnight. After many years of grooming full and part-time for several Olympians, Liv saw the need to bring Professional Grooms of all disciplines together in a supportive, informative community in an effort to acknowledge them as skilled individuals, deserving of all the rights and respect that other professionals earn. Liv now works fulltime on Pro Equine Grooms, and enjoys Miguel, her Grand Prix Dressage horse, and her hunter, Comet. proequinegrooms.com