Grooming a Horse

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How to Groom a Horse

Grooming is an important part of horse care. It is vital to the health of the horse and contributes to good hygiene.

Grooming removes dust, dirt and dead cells from the horse’s coat and skin. In addition, grooming increases blood circulation, contributes to muscle tone, and distributes natural oils, resulting in a shiny coat. It is also the ideal time to inspect for injuries and soreness as well as to bond with your horse.

Basic grooming tools consist of the following: hoof pick, dandy brush, body brush, rubber curry, grooming cloth and mane/tail comb. Every grooming session should include cleaning and inspection of the feet.


When grooming a horse, a rubber curry comb can be used to first remove mud and matted hair. Use the rubber curry in a circular motion to loosen mud and remove dirt. Caution should be used around the head, below the knees and hocks, or other sensitive areas on the horse’s body, such as the flank. A softer bristled brush may be a better choice for removing dirt in these areas.

A dandy brush has stiff bristles capable of removing deep dirt and debris from the horse’s coat. Use this brush in short, swift strokes to remove the greatest amount of dirt. This tool is especially good for removing small amounts of mud and dirt from the legs. Horses with sensitive skin may find the dandy brush too harsh. Pay attention to your horse’s behaviour during grooming. If they show signs of discomfort, such as flattened ears, movement away from the handler, or a swishing tail, then try a softer bristled brush.

A body brush is used to remove surface dirt from the coat. The body brush should be used to brush in the direction of the hair. It gives a sleek look to the coat by distributing natural oils for a healthy shine. This brush can be used all over the body and is soft enough for use on the face and lower legs. Finally, a grooming cloth made from a soft, absorbent material can be used. Grooming cloths remove the last layer of dust and are a useful tool for horses with sensitive skin.

A mane or tail comb can be used to groom the forelock, mane and tail. However, many horse handlers and caregivers prefer using a dandy brush. Combs can often break hairs. Use your fingers to remove tangles and then use a brush to remove any dirt in the mane or tail.

Bathing should be performed when necessary. Keep in mind that bathing can contribute to the removal of natural oils in the horse’s coat. When bathing a horse, it is important to consider the temperature. A horse should not be bathed if the temperature is 10 ̊C. Always make sure your horse has a sufficient amount of time to dry before being turned outdoors. When bathing, use a gentle soap designed for horses, start at the head and work towards the tail. Care should be taken not to get soap in the horse’s eyes or water in its ears.

Some horses are blanketed for various reasons, such as protection from sunlight, biting insects, or to provide additional warmth during cold conditions. Blankets may also be used on horses that have a poor body condition or require additional protection from inclement conditions. 

Cooling sheets may be used after exercise to prevent horses from cooling too quickly. However, a wet blanket should never be left on a horse. A wet blanket will actually increase the loss of heat from a horse’s body. A well-fitting blanket is safe and less likely to rub hair. Blankets should be cut back over the withers to avoid rubbing the mane. If a hood is used, it should be lined to avoid rubbing the mane.

Information adapted with permission from Gary Heusner, "Horse Ownership: Obligations, Costs and Benefits", University of Georgia, College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences. 

Photo Credit: Erica Cheung

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