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
A word of caution: Throw out your plastic or metal curry combs out and replace with a good quality rubber massage curry, such as this flexible massage curry by Leistner™. [currently out of stock, but soon available again!]
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 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. (The metal curry can be used in the spring to carefully help the horse shed hair.)
A massage curry 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.
Relaxing the hair erector muscles enables hair to lay flat, meaning a shiny coat!
With soft rubber curry (NOT plastic!) you can be sure not to do any damage, even when used around bony landmarks like points of hip or hocks.
It 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.
Your goal: Massage the skin and bring up all the dirt and move it to the surface.
The tool: Use a good quality rubber massage curry such as the one shown in the image or our XL-Extra Soft rubber curry (currently out of stock, soon to be available again)..
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):
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 materials (and the following is very important!) that does not bind the oils to the brush, but rather distributes them evenly, such as this natural cactus fiber dandy brush by Leistner™.
A 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.) Synthetic brushes should be called ‘Anti Shine Brushes’ for this reason. 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.
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:
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 softer horse hair brush. A real horse grooming brush is a natural bristle brush with a high bristle density. These brushes are usually made of horse hair. So use a high-quality finishing brush.
Tip: This is the brush you will use most. Shop for a brush that fits your hand. If you have many horses to groom or if comfort is especially important to you, purchase an ergonomic grooming brush, such as our patented ergonomic finishing brush "Feeling" by Leistner™ (available as part of our complete "Excellence" horse grooming set).
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 a soft, large goat hair brush, followed by a 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 face brush.
On the legs, I don’t use a curry, but rather a medium stiff leg brush (NOT synthetic material, which can be harsh and scratchy!). Work from top to bottom.
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 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.
About grooming tools:
After reading this article, you may suspect that I had suffered a fair amount of frustration with the grooming tools available in most tack stores. In my search for better brushes, I came across Leistner™ brushes, which are made by a small traditional manufacturer in Germany. In short: I requested samples, tested and now offer these brushes for sale. When comparing prices online you will notice that my prices are lower than the prices these brushes retail for in Europe. I’d simply like to make these brushes available to US horse lovers and hope you’ll love them as much as I do. To learn more about Leistner™ brushes 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!