Why do we groom horses? Well the main reasons are for the horse's health, his ongoing training and, very importantly, the bonding it creates between the horse and his handler.
Eyes. While you are wiping his eyes with a clean sponge or cotton wipe, look to see if there is a stream of clear tears coming from the inside corner of the eye. You will see either a wet or dried mark from the eye running down his cheek. There may also be a discharge of pus as well as a sensitivity to light (he will close or partially close his eyes in strong sunlight). Any of these signs could mean conjunctivitis, eye ulcer or even a grass seed caught under the eyelid. Call the vet straight away. (See ‘Eye Problems’ for more information.)
Hooves. By picking out his hooves you will lessen the chance of your horse getting thrush between the frog and the bars of the hoof. By using a hoof dressing when the weather has been dry you will avoid painful hoof cracks. You will also see if all his shoes are on tight. Also if he does not want to pick one of his hooves up it may mean that he does not want to put weight on the other hoof. Why? It's your job to find out.
(See also: ‘Hoof Abscesses’ ‘Thrush’ ‘Laminitis & Founder’ and ‘Hooves’.
Skin. After you have groomed your horse use your hands to feel all over his skin, particularly his back, sides and stomach where the saddle and girth sit. Also feel all down his legs and right around the coronet (where the skin meets the hoof). You are looking for any cuts, allergies or unusual lumps as well as mud fever that can develop on the lower leg.
(See also: ‘Scratches & Mud Fever’ ‘Rain Rot/Rain Scald’)
Temperament. The more you handle horses the more aware you will become of how a horse is feeling by the way he responds to you. Is he alert or does he look sad and depressed? Is he standing strangely or does he find it difficult to move? If you think that there is something wrong with your horse you are probably right. If you cannot identify the problem then call the vet quickly and get him checked out.
Condition. Simple observation will tell you if your horse looks dehydrated or whether he is loosing condition. If he is looking hollow in the flanks gently pinch up some skin on the side of his neck, if it does not return to flat skin quickly your horse is dehydrated. Check his water supply (see ‘Feed & Pasture' for tips on water). Does he need some electrolytes (salt)? Have you left too many rugs on in hot weather? Does he have shade through the day? Grooming is also a good time to check on his condition. Is his weight increasing, decreasing or staying the same? The answer will help you decide on any changes you need to make to his daily feeding.
When you first get to groom a horse, you will be amazed at all the different stuff you have to have in your kit.
Each item has its own special purpose, and without even really trying, you could fill a suitcase with different brushes, cleaning aids, tools and assorted bits and bobs.
However, there are some basic items you will need to groom your horse effectively:
Rubber curry comb to clean out dirt, sweat and dead hair from the coat.
Hard bristle brush (Dandy brush) to flick away dirt and hair.
Soft brush to remove remaining small dirt particles.
Soft cloth used damp to polish coat.
Metal curry comb to clean brushes - never use on your horse’s skin.
Two sponges, preferably of different colours: one to use on dirty areas such as legs and under the tail and one that is only used to clean eyes, mouth and nose.
Wide toothed comb for the mane.
Mane brush for thicker manes.
Water brush to damp down mane to keep it flat.
Hoof pick for cleaning the hooves.
Training horses is all about developing good habits through consistency and repetition. So your grooming routine, whether it is weekly or daily, is an ideal opportunity to teach your horse how to come to you in the paddock, how to put his head down for the head collar, how to lead calmly and politely, how to stand still while he is tied up, how to lift his feet willingly for hoof cleaning and inspection, how to accept your hands (and brushes) touching any part of him and, of course, teaching him about the hose and water.
That is a lot to learn, but you will be surprised how quickly a horse will learn to trust you if you are calm, thoughtful, consistent and clear with what you want.
While you are working around your horse you can also teach him to yield, or move away from pressure, by using the end of your finger in the middle of his barrel when you want him to move to the side away from you. Remember to reward your horse with words and a rub as soon as he yields and moves away from the pressure.
While you have been grooming, checking your horses health and training you have also, as an added bonus, been establishing a bond with your horse.
The more regularly you handle your horse and just spend time with him, the quicker your horse will learn to trust you and the better you will understand his personality and traits. Trust and understanding will lead to a wonderful friendship between you and your horse.