Horse Health

Look Good, Feel Good

March 7, 2013

Follow these grooming tips to help maintain horse health.

halter horses lined up

Get into a daily grooming program to make your horse's coat shine and keep him in the best of health. Journal photo.

From AQHA Corporate Partner Farnam

Whether you show or not, good grooming is an important part of horse ownership. In or out of the show ring, when your horse looks good, you look good.

Most horses enjoy the attention of regular grooming and look forward to the daily ritual. It strengthens the bond between horse and owner. Additionally, grooming your horse on a regular basis gives you a chance to spot minor scratches, rashes, cuts or swelling before they become major problems.

Day-to-Day Basics

Get into a daily grooming routine. Most professionals follow a three-step program that involves currying, brushing and toweling. Currying is the most important of the three. It removes dead hair and dirt, massages the skin and stimulates the release of natural oils that make the coat shine. If you can't do anything else, make sure you curry your horse every day. Use a round, rubber currycomb. Don't use a metal one; they are hard on the skin and break hair.

Move your rubber curry in a circular motion, making seven to 10 circles over every inch of your horse's body. Put a little muscle into it. Your horse will love the massage.

The next step is brushing. For best results, brush in short, firm strokes. Start with a hard-bristle brush to remove mud, manure and other debris from your horse's coat. Follow with a medium-bristle brush to take out the dirt the currycomb brought to the surface. Then use a soft-bristle brush for facial areas and finishing touches.

Toweling is the final phase of your daily routine. Take a terry cloth towel and “polish” your horse like you polish a car. Move the towel in brisk, circular motions over his whole body, from head to toe, nose to tail. Give extra attention to the shoulder and rear, where the coat can really shine. Use a dry cotton towel to finish, rubbing hard along the grain of the hair.

Along with a perfectly groomed horse, you'll want your halter horse to have good expression in the show pen. With AQHA's FREE Halter Horse Expression report, you can learn the secrets to completing the “total look” in the halter arena. Download your report today and take it to your next practice session!


Mane, tail and clipping styles depend on the breed of your horse and the classes in which you show.

If you need to shorten your horse's mane, do not cut it with scissors. No matter what length your horse's mane needs to be, it has to look like it grew that way. The proper way to do this is by pulling and thinning the mane by hand. Horses are not as sensitive about this as humans. However, if too many hairs are jerked out at once, the horse will become irritated.

Start pulling at the longest part of the mane. Work evenly along the entire mane. Take the longest hairs from the underside and pull only a few hairs at a time. Make sure you pull the hairs out completely rather than just break them off. Broken hairs make manes thick and bushy with frizzy split ends.

Tails can be trimmed with pliers. Take a few hairs at a time and snap them off. This will keep the tail thick, while maintaining a natural look.

Clipping is an art. The only way to be good at it is to practice. If you're a novice, don't start practicing the day before the show. If your horse has never been clipped, you'll have to work with him long before the show date to get him used to the clippers.

For the show ring, the bridle path, ears, muzzle, jaw and fetlocks should be clipped clean, looking smooth and neat. The best time to clip your horse is after a bath, once he's dry. Clipper blades must be sharp, clean and oiled. Dirty, dull or dry blades won't do the job.

Washing Up

If you're getting ready for a show, give your horse a bath a few days before the event. This gives natural oils enough time to regenerate a glossy sheen on the coat. Any stains or spots can be touched up on the day of the show.

Make sure you use a shampoo specially formulated for horses. People shampoo is too harsh and can strip away essential oils. Select a shampoo that rinses out easily. Any leftover residue dulls the coat and can cause skin irritation.

When you bathe your horse, start by wetting his entire body down to the skin. Mix shampoo with warm water in a bucket. Sponge on the soapy water, sudsing up sections at a time.

After you sponge each section, massage the shampoo into the coat. If your horse is dirty enough to turn white suds gray, rinse away the suds and soap him up again. Keep soapy parts wet. If allowed to dry, shampoo leaves a film that will dull the coat.

Rinse your horse thoroughly with clean running water. Massage the skin and hair with your fingertips or a grooming mitt as you rinse. Keep the water running until no more soap runs out with the rinse water.

Be gentle when you wash your horse's face and head. Use just a little soap. Too much soap requires a lot of rinsing, and most horses don't like gallons of water running over their heads. Do not get water in your horse's ears or soap in his eyes.

Shampoo your horse's mane and tail like you shampoo your own hair. You can double up his tail and wash it right in the bucket of soapy water. Don't scrub too vigorously when you're working on the mane and tail; you can break off the hairs.

AQHA Professional Horseman Kathy Smallwood explains in detail how to get your horse to present the facial expression the judges are looking for in AQHA's FREE Halter Horse Expressions report. Kathy will give you valuable hints and tips on creating that perfect halter horse look.

Use a good conditioner to make the mane and tail more manageable after shampooing. After your horse is rinsed, scrape his coat as dry as possible with a sweat scraper. Towel dry your horse after you've removed as much water as possible with the scraper. Dry heels to avoid drying and cracking. Then walk him until he's dry. Depending on the weather, you may want to use a cooler or blanket. Wool is always good because it keeps horses warm while letting moisture escape. Don't turn him out where he can lie down. Freshly washed horses love to roll.

Make a Shining Finish

While nothing can replace a healthy, natural shine, using a good-quality hair polish gives your horse the added edge that attracts attention. Apply hair polish to your horse's mane and tail right after shampooing to keep the hair tangle-free and more manageable. Then, right before you go into the show ring, use it on your horse's entire coat for a first-place finishing touch.

A number of hair polishes are available. Choose the one that works best for you.

Foot Notes

Hoof cleaning and moisturizing are great for day-to-day grooming, but feet have to look extra neat for the show ring. Use hoof polish to give hooves a sharp-looking shine. Make sure to remove it completely after the show and apply moisturizing hoof dressing immediately to the clean hooves to keep them in good condition.

Farnam offers a complete line of shampoos, coat conditioners and shines, as well as hoof conditioners and polishes. For more information and money-saving coupons on such favorites as Vetrolin, Laser Sheen Coat Polish and Rain Maker, click here.