Is there a more natural way to groom your horse to shine?
Let’s just rethink and take a brief trip through time. When I got started in horses in the 1970s and groomed 5-10 horses every day plus show grooming on weekends, there were two elements that determined how shiny and well-groomed your horse would look:
- your determination and elbow grease,
- a good quality horse grooming brush and
- a certain amount of technique and skill.
In other words: There is no substitute for elbow grease, the right tools and grooming skills!
How to groom your horse to shine – naturally – in 4 easy steps:
Grooming a horse includes more than just the coat, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll leave out the topics of hoof care, ear cleaning, nostrils etc. and just focus on the coat.
What is 'shine' and how does it come about?
- Shine is the hair’s ability to reflect light.
- In order to reflect light, the individual hair needs to be healthy and smooth.
- The skin's natural oils contribute to shine when distributed over the clean hair.
- Shine very much depends on the color of the individual horse. A black or dark bay horse, like my horse Paladin on the image left, can look real glossy, a white or grey horse will shine in a more subtle kind of way.
Step 1 – Currying
Step 1 Video:
A word of caution: Only use a curry comb with rounded teeth. Most China-made plastic curries are unsuitable since the cheap material splits and creates micro scratches on your horse's skin. Use a rubber mitten or a good-quality rubber or plastic curry such as "The Best" curry by Haas or - for a softer feel - massage curry "New Generation" , both made in Germany from durable, non-toxic materials.
Cheap plastic curry combs can create micro abrasions on the hair, strip the hair of it’s natural oil coating (loosing that shine right there!), create micro scratches on your horse’s skin which leave him prone to skin infections and damage hair follicles. So, out with that cheap plastic curry at once! Metal curries with pointy teeth are unsuitable to rub a horse’s sensitive skin and hair for the same reason.
There is never a good reason to use either one of these monstrosities on your horse for currying.
A good massage with a gentle curry comb increases the blood circulation of the skin, helps relax the tiny erector muscles that are connected to each hair follicle (aha! relaxes muscle = flat hair = shine…) and brings dirt and debris up from the skin in a gentle way. (Careful around bony potrusions and joints!)
Relaxing the hair erector muscles enables hair to lay flat, meaning a shiny coat!
A careful, thorough massage with a good, gentle curry makes it easy to loosen and remove caked on dirt and mud and feels good to your horse!
How it’s done: Start behind the poll and curry your horse in a circular motion from head over chest, shoulder, back, belly, hind end to hocks. Don’t work the curry from knee or hock down. We’ll get to that later. Do this on both sides of the horse. Keep an eye on your horse's face and adjust your pressure to what feels good to your horse. Be careful around bony potrusions and joints.
Your goal: Massage the skin and bring up all the dirt and move it to the surface.
The tool: Use a good-quality curry with rounded teeth, preferably rubber or high-quality plastic that does not develop cracks, such as "The Best" curry by Haas or a soft curry for sensitive horses.
TIP: Knock the curry against a hard surface every few strokes to remove the dirt. You will be surprised how much dirt you can bring up, especially in horses that live outdoors 24/7.
Step 2 – Flicking (Using the Dandy Brush):
Step 2 Video:
Flicking is a sort of sweeping hand motion in short strokes to further bring up more dust, debris and dander from the horse’s skin up to the surface of the coat. It also serves to distribute the oils on the skin over the hair (shine alert!).
In order to perform this flicking action properly, you need a proper flicking or dandy brush. This is a medium stiff brush made of natural or high-quality synthetic materials (and the following is very important!) that does not bind the oils to the brush, but rather distributes them evenly, such as this high-quality, gentle and durable flick brush by Haas, Germany.
A coarse, low-quality synthetic brush will bind the oils to the brush, which then in turn bind dirt to the brush, which you then reapply to your horse. (Defeating the purpose of grooming.) Also, cheap plant-based brushes will not flick properly. After some time of using them, you will find the bristles bent to one side, making it impossible to perform the flicking action.
TIP: Courageously remove all 'dull coat' and 'scratch' offenders, such as shown on this image, from your tack room! Replace and never look back... These brushes scratch your horse's coat and skin and feel uncomfortable to your horse!
How it’s done: Start behind the poll and brush the horse’s coat in the direction of it’s growth in a flicking motion in short strokes. This is a movement that resembles the type of sweeping you’d do with a corn broom. Remember, you are trying to bring up dirt and debris and distribute oils. See how the bristles of the brush in the picture flick elastically? That’s what you are looking for. Brush the whole horse this way on both sides. If desired, follow up with a second brushing with longer strokes, but still flicking.
Your goal: bring up more dust, debris and dander from the horse’s skin up to the surface of the coat and distribute the oils on the skin over the hair coat. Remove the first load of dirt from the horse's coat, loosen up fine dust.
Important: After every two or three strokes clean the flicking brush on the rubber curry and knock your rubber curry against the wall or ground and see the dirt fall out! You will not want this dirt to remain in your brush, otherwise you’ll just reapply it to your horse. When finished flicking, thoroughly sweep the brush against the rubber curry several times to clean the brush before putting it away.
Make this a habit and you will keep your brush nice and your horse happy!
Step 3 – Brushing the Horse's Coat:
Step 3 Video:
After you thoroughly curried and ‘flicked’, you are now ready to brush off the dirt and debris you lifted to the surface with a good-quality horse finishing brush. A real horse grooming brush is a natural bristle brush with just the right bristle density to lift and remove dirt and dander from the coat. These brushes are usually made of horse tail hair. Cheaper, China-made brushes (almost all brushes, including brand names, that you can find in most tack shops) are often too soft and are made from inferior materials. For added 'flick' you can choose a finishing brush with a raised edge.
TIP: This is the brush you will use most. Shop for a brush that fits your hand. With good care, you will have your high-quality finishing brush for years! Make sure you select the right size for your hand.
Caution: Cheap horse hair brushes are not only much too soft, too loose, not effective, and not durable enough, they also need to be replaced often. When I buy a horse hair brush I am aware that it comes from a horse and I want it to last for a very, very long time.
How it’s done: Move in the same direction as with the flicking brush, always with the direction of growth. Here you don’t need to flick, but work in even, long strokes to remove all surfaced dirt from the coat. Clean the brush against the rubber curry every couple of strokes! This is very important, you don’t want to reapply the dirt to a different area of your horse’s body. Give the horse a second brushing with this brush, if needed.
Your goal: Brushing the dirt out, removing finer dust particles, distributing the oils on the coat.
Step 4 – Bring on the Xtra Shine (and not the Magic…)
By now you should have a reasonably clean and good looking horse with some shine to it.You will now want to take it up a notch. My favorite tool to remove fine dust particles and smooth the hair is the luxurious "Diva Exklusiv" Shine Brush by Haas - it features real Mattes™ lamb skin and is washable! Another favorite is a simple cloth diaper or a lambskin mitten such as the ones used for washing cars.
How it’s done: Again, work in the direction of hair growth. Your goal is to move all fine dust off the surface of the horse’s coat and smoothen the hair flat. Brush the entire horse, several times if needed, with the goat hair brush. Then follow up by wiping with a good amount of pressure in the direction of hair growth, either with a cloth diaper or a lambskin mitten.
Your goal: Removing last fine dust particles, smoothening of the coat, enabling gloss!
Last Step: Stand Back and Enjoy Your Shiny Horse!
A note regarding face and legs:
On the face, I use all steps except currying. I don’t know one horse that would mind being brushed in the face with a medium stiff brush, if you do it carefully, especially around eyes and muzzle and move with the direction of hair growth. For convenience, use a smaller size horse face brush.
On the legs, I prefer to use a stiffer coco fiber brush. This is also a great tool for removing caked-on mud and stubborn dirt.
Shiny and ready to go!
About shampooing and applying chemicals:
Your horse has a natural skin protectant, natural oils that keep his skin soft and moisturized, protected from micro organisms and to keep the hair shiny. Don’t remove these oils by shampooing your horse just to reapply them artificially with moisturizers and shine sprays. Less is more. Nature provided all your horse needs.
If you do need to shampoo, use a gentle horse shampoo with mostly natural ingredients that will not strip your horse's coat of valuable oils
If you need your horse to shine and look his best for a show, for instance, make it a habit to groom him regularly using the above 4 easy steps and you will find it easy to create that extra shine before the show. Only shampoo mane and tail and hose off the horse’s body with clear water, if needed.
Questions about grooming your horse?
Please email me with any questions.
Also see my article in Natural Horse Magazine: "Thoughtful grooming - how to improve health, fitness and relationship!"
Enjoy your horse and happy grooming!