Grooming your horse consists of more than just keeping him clean. It's also a bonding experience for the two of you, as well as the opportunity for you to nip any incipient leg, hoof or skin problems in the bud. The condition of his skin, hair and hooves mirrors his overall health.
Ideally, a horse should be thoroughly groomed for a half-hour or more daily. That's not possible for many people, but groom your horse as often as you can. Make sure you have all the basic grooming supplies in your tack box. That consists of a hoof pick; mane comb; tail brush; rubber curry comb; hard brush for dirt removal; soft brush for legs, face and delicate areas; and a metal curry comb for removing mud and sweat. If you have multiple horses, keep separate brushes and hoof picks for each one in order to avoid spreading fungus or other skin ailments. Clean and wash your brushes regularly.
Hooves and Legs
Pick your horse's feet carefully every day, as well as before and after you ride. If he's shod, make sure his shoes aren't loose. Check the condition of his hooves for any cracks or heat. When you clean his feet check for any discharge or bad odor. If there is any discharge or bad odor, thrush, a common hoof infection, might be the culprit. You can ask your vet or farrier about remedies for thrush, dry and cracked hooves and other foot issues. While brushing his legs with a soft brush, gently run your hands up and down them. Take note of any swelling, cuts, lumps or bumps. If you find patchy, bumpy areas along the rear of the pasterns or on parts of the leg, he could have scratches or a skin infection that also goes by the name "mud fever," "dew poisoning," or "grease heel." It can progress into a serious affliction, so ask your vet to check your horse.
Mane and Tail
While combing your horse's mane and brushing his tail are relatively simple tasks, take time to look for any issues. In warm weather, both the mane and tail are places for ticks to latch on and make a blood meal, possibly infecting your horse with a tick-borne disease such as Lyme disease. If your horse's tail looks like he's been rubbing it, you have to find out why. That itch could result from parasites.
In addition to giving your horse a thorough currying and brushing, pay close attention to his skin. You'll notice any obvious cuts, but also run your fingers through his hair, feeling for lumps and bumps. If your horse has been out in the rain lately, check for the little hard rainrot scabs usually found along his topline and rump. Your vet can advise you on the best way to rid your horse of such bacteria.
Avoid bathing your horse too often. Soap removes the natural oils from the coat. If you compete regularly, you might not have much choice, but otherwise an annual spring bath and perhaps another one in late summer are sufficient. When you finish riding on a hot day and your horse is all sweaty, sponge or hose him down with water, no soap. Get the water off thoroughly by using a sweat scraper.
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.