Taking care of your horse during the cold winter months is quite different than any other time of the year. You are now faced with the extra challenges of shorter days and cold temperatures, mixed with rain, snow, below freezing temperatures and whole a lot of mud! Plus now your horse has a thick, woolly winter coat, so grooming your horse in the winter can be a little tricky and you might need to get creative in order to keep him clean. Of course regular grooming will remove dirt and mud and will make your horse’s coat look great, but there are a lot of additional health benefits for your horse aside from just a shiny coat. In the winter time, your horse’s thick winter coat can quickly cover issues such as skin problems or infections, wounds and possible weight loss. So regularly grooming your horse in the winter will help you quickly locate and address any issues before they turn into bigger problems.
Even if you don’t ride your horse during the winter months, grooming your horse in the winter is still necessary. The amount of time that you’ll need to spend grooming your horse is going to depend on how much time he spends outside, how muddy he gets, as well as how thick his winter coat has become. Your horse may resemble a furry yak with a thick, heavy winter coat or perhaps he hasn’t grown much hair at all. Maybe you keep him blanketed and he’s able to stay relatively clean, or he might be outside quite a bit and is prone to rolling in the dirt and mud. And if your horse is kept indoors in a stall, he could be more prone to manure stains on his mane, tail and coat. So no matter how you look at it, cold wet winter weather can quickly wreak havoc on your horse’s clean shiny coat and you’ll need to take a little extra time (and elbow grease) when you’re grooming your horse in the winter. So here are a few tips to help save some time and help you keep your horse’s coat healthy and clean during the winter months.
One of the best ways to make grooming sessions easier is to groom your horse more frequently so as to avoid the heavy buildup of caked mud or deep manure stains. Most likely the weather is too cold to bathe your horse, so grooming your horse every day (or at least several times a week) is going to make things much easier, instead of waiting for dirt and mud to accumulate. If you wait too long, it’s going to become a real chore to remove all of that hard, dried mud off his coat and you’ll end up with a less-than-enjoyable struggle as your try to untangle his matted mane and tail. In the long run, grooming your horse every day will actually be much easier, plus it will also help promote circulation, remove loose hair and dried sweat, and your horse will enjoy this extra attention!
There’s a wide variety of horse grooming tools available, so it’ll be easy to find what works best for you and your horse. Some horses have very sensitive skin and do not like being groomed, while other horses enjoy the feel of curry combs and stiff brushes. You know your horse best, and surely you’ll be able to find something that best fits your horse’s own preference. Using the right grooming tools will not only help save time while you’re grooming, but it’ll also give you better results more quickly. Most grooming tools are made out of pliable plastic and are available in all sorts of sizes and colors. You’re going to need a grooming box or tote bag to hold your equipment and supplies – some of the basic grooming tools that you’ll want to include are a plastic curry comb, different size brushes (stiff bristle and softer bristle), mane and tail combs, hoof picks, a shedding blade, soft towels, sponges, baby wipes and a bucket for warm water. There are lots of variations of these basic grooming tools, plus there are other grooming aids that you can use, such as portable vacuums, that are specifically designed for equine grooming.
A curry comb is the first tool that you’re going to want to use when you groom your horse and is a must-have in any grooming kit. Curry combs are round or oval shaped with several rows of short rubber teeth designed to loosen dirt and loose hair. They come in large and small sizes to help properly fit your hand and there’s often a strap on top that goes over your hand so you can hold it in place while you’re grooming. Using small circular motions, you’ll want to use the curry comb to lift dirt to the surface of your horse’s coat, using a lighter touch in the sensitive areas of the belly and flank areas, or around bony areas such as below the knees or around his hocks. You’ll want to spend some extra time grooming the saddle, bridle and girth areas, as well as under his jaw and behind his pasterns and elbows where dirt and possible skin problems can occur. The amount of pressure that you use is going to depend on how sensitive your horses is, as well as the amount of dirt that needs to be removed. As you move the curry comb across your horse’s body, feel for any bumps or clumpy hair that could be an indication of an underlying skin problem. Using a curry comb regularly on your horse will not only loosen dirt and hair, but it will also massage his skin, distribute natural body oils and will help improve his circulation. To clean out the curry comb when you’re done grooming, simply tap the curry comb repeatedly (teeth downward) on a hard surface and all the dirt and loose hair will easily come out.
Another grooming supply you’re going to need is an assortment of brushes, including a stiff body brush, a medium-soft body brush and a soft brush for the face. As you brush your horse, you’re going to want to start at his head and neck, then move back towards his chest, withers, back, legs and sides. The proper way to brush your horse is to brush in the natural direction of his hair, whisking the dirt up and out at the end of each brush stroke. This method will remove some of the dirt and hair that you’ve already loosened with the curry comb and can actually pick up extra dirt that you may have missed with the curry comb.
Stiff or Hard Dandy Brush – This type of brush has very stiff bristles that are usually made of synthetic fibers or coarse natural animal hair; the body of the brush is made from either wood or plastic. These brushes are typically rectangular in shape and have grooves on both sides so it’s comfortable to hold. Stiff brushes are most suitable to use on or your horse’s chest, withers and back, and depending on how sensitive your horse is, you may or may not be able to use this brush on his legs. This type of brush is also good for brushing off dried, caked mud from your horse’s hooves.
Medium-Soft Brush (also called Medium Stiff) – Your horse might be sensitive to being groomed, so having a medium soft brush can come in handy. Medium soft brushes are useful on the parts of his body that doesn’t require the heavy duty action of a stiff brush; they’re also good to use on your horse’s head, legs, belly and flanks which are typically more sensitive than the rest of his body.
Soft Brush – A soft brush, sometimes called a finishing brush, is the last brush you’ll use when you are grooming your horse. This type of brush is small and oval in shape, and has a leather strap over the handle so it can comfortably fit your hand. The soft bristles are positioned close together, and it’s the perfect brush to remove small dust particles or to smooth out your horse’s hair and bring out his natural shine. The soft brush is the brush you’ll want to use on your horse’s face or other areas where he may be sensitive. Also, if your horse is clipped in some areas, this brush is good to use on these spots. This type of brush isn’t designed to remove dirt or debris, but it’s the brush that you’ll want to use for that final top-grooming touch.
Mane and Tail Care
Mane and tail combs are popular tools used for grooming horse’s manes and tails and come in all different sizes, style and colors. Thick, wide tooth plastic combs are better to use than metal combs, especially on matted or tangled hair, since they are less likely to pull or break your horse’s hair while you’re brushing him. If your horse’s tail has knots and is tangled, you should use a detangler first, then use your fingers to gently separate the hairs before you start combing. As you comb your horse’s tail, pick up a small handful of his tail with one hand, and then slowly and carefully comb the strands downward with the other hand. You’ll want to start at the end of his tail and work your way up to the top, slowly and carefully removing any knots or tangles. The best part is that the more frequently you comb your horse’s mane and tail, the easier it will become and his hair will be less prone to getting tangled. In addition to combing, some people use tail bags to help keep their horse’s tail clean and tangle-free in the winter. If you decide to use a tail bag, you’ll want to divide the hair into three sections and loosely braid the hair before you put it in the tail bag, making sure you remove it frequently to check on the condition of your horse’s tail. Another trick to keeping your horse’s tail clean in the winter is to trim a little bit off the end so that it won’t drag in the mud or wet areas of his pasture.
One of the most necessary tools in a grooming kit is the hoof pick. Hoof picks come in a wide variety of styles, shapes and colors. Some hoof picks have brushes on the end to remove dirt and bedding, some are magnetic and will stick to metal surfaces so they’re easier to find, some have LED lights at the end, while others fold up so you can store them in your pocket. And while many are commercially produced, other hoof picks are hand crafted and can be quite ornate. Hoof picks are not just a grooming tool, but they are a necessity to remove mud, dirt, stones and debris. When using a hoof pick, people typically start with one of the front feet, then work their way around to the back foot, then the opposite back foot, and then back to the opposite front foot. As you’re cleaning your horse’s hooves, you’ll also want to pay extra attention to the grooves on the sides of the frog (sulci) and check for signs of thrush or other hoof problems such as stone bruises, punctures or white line disease.
A shedding blade is a grooming tool with tiny metal teeth on one side that is designed to help you shed out your horse in the springtime when he starts to lose his winter coat. The other side of a shedding blade is smooth and flat, and can be used to remove water from your horse after bathing. During the winter, however, a shedding blade is extremely helpful in removing caked-on, dried mud from your horse. Since the teeth on shedding blades are somewhat sharp, you should be careful with how much pressure you apply and use it only on the fleshiest areas of his body. For more sensitive areas, such as his withers, legs and belly, you’ll want to use a curry comb.
Baby Wipes, Sponges and Towels
Baby wipes, sponges and towels have a multitude of uses and are great for last minute touch ups, removing stains off your horse’s hair, or wiping mud off his face or legs. If you’re riding your horse in the wintertime, it’s probably too cold to bathe him following exercise, so sponges and towels are the perfect solution to clean him up. You’ll need to fill a 5 gallon plastic bucket with warm water (either get the water from inside your house or use a plug-in water heater to heat the water). Using a sponge, squeeze out excess water and rub the parts of your horse where you need to remove any dried sweat, mud or dirt; you don’t want to get your horse too wet, but just wet enough to get him clean. You can then use clean, dry towels to vigorously rub the clean areas and let his hair stand up until it dries. You can also buy different colored sponges to use on different areas of his body – one for around his eyes, one to clean his nostrils and one for his dock area.
There’s a wide variety of grooming sprays, wipes and solutions available that you can use when you’re grooming your horse in the winter. You’re definitely going to want to purchase a mane and tail detangler. Detanglers will not only make your horse’s mane and tail soft and silky, but it will also prevent the hairs from getting stuck together from the wind or mud. Using a detangler every day will keep his mane and tail tangle free and it’ll become much easier to manage. You might also want to use a grooming spray on your horse which will help repel dust and mud, and will leave a sheen on your horse’s coat. If you’re getting ready to ride, you’ll want to avoid spraying the saddle or girth areas since they can become slippery from grooming sprays. Another great grooming spray for cleaning your horse is a dry shampoo spot remover that will instantly remove stains and dried sweat.
Equine portable vacuums have become increasingly popular especially in show barns, and if your budget allows it, this would be a great addition to your grooming collection. Vacuums can quickly and easily lift dirt, dust and loose hair from your horse’s thick, woolly coat and are also popular since they cut down the amount of time you’ll need to spend grooming your horse. There are a number of brush attachments that come with the vacuums, and most vacuums have a reverse cycle so you can change the direction of the air flow and use it as a dryer. Of course, you’ll need to spend time with your horse in advance to get him accustomed to the sound of the vacuum and the feel of the brushes.
Spot Skin Problems Early
Even in the best of care, your horse may still develop occasional skin problems in the winter and grooming your horse regularly will help you to identify and treat skin troubles before they become bigger problems. If you find that your horse has developed a skin problem and you need help in treating the issue, you’ll want to call your veterinarian for a diagnosis and guidance on how to treat the condition. Older horses are especially prone to developing skin problems during the winter, so you’ll want to pay extra attention to your senior horses. Also, if you keep your horse blanketed in the winter you’ll want to take his blanket off frequently and check for any possible skin problems. Some common skin problems that can affect horses in the winter include scratches or rain rot. Scratches, also known as pastern dermatitis, is inflammation of the skin on the back part of your horse’s pasterns. Typically this condition starts with dry, chapped skin caused by alternating dry and wet weather conditions; once the skin becomes cracked and sore, bacteria often settles in and makes the situation worse. One way to help prevent scratches in the winter time is to keep your horse’s fetlocks clean and dry, and also neatly trim the fetlock hairs. Rain rot, also known as dermatophilosis, looks like grayish white clustered scabs that leave behind patches of hairless skin. Rain rot is most commonly seen on the horse’s hindquarters, backs and legs and is caused by moisture and skin damage. Wet or humid weather will make the conditions ideal for rain rot, as the bacteria will be able to quickly multiply resulting in crusty lesions where the hair will come out in small clumps. The affected areas are often sensitive and warm to the touch, and there may be discharge underneath the scabs as well.
With the harsh, winter conditions, your horse is going to need quality supplements not only for his joints, such as InflamAway HA-200, but also an effective supplement with biotin, such as Hoof ReNu, for the healthy maintenance and growth of his hooves and coat. Hoof ReNu, which has 50 mg of biotin per serving, can be used daily to keep his hooves strong and his coat shiny and healthy.
You might already have some of these grooming supplies lying around in your tack room, so if you put together a complete grooming kit and make sure everything is in good working order, this will help you save time each day when you groom your horse. Even on the days when it’s too cold or wet to ride, this extra time grooming your horse will be time well spent. Do you have any tips on how to groom your horse in the winter?
Ginny Vitera says
Very good article. I agree that horses need to be groomed in the winter. It not only feels good to them but it reinforces your relationship with your horse.