29 September 2016

Clean your grooming tools!

   Last month I was pleased to be asked to accompany a woman to look at a dressage horse. She'd been shopping for some time. She wanted my unbiased opinion, something that just amazes me that she trusts my judgement...but I've been working on horses for many years.  She knew what she wanted: a warmblood, preferably a mare (no, I don't get that, but then, mares and I don't always see eye to eye) and within a certain price range. Said price range was, to me, in the nose bleed section, high enough that I could probably have bought a brand new fully tricked out pickup truck. 

   Road trips with horse people are ALWAYS fun. This one was no exception. It took several hours of driving to get to a lovely barn with lush paddocks full of gorgeous horses, some   with exuberant babies at foot. The drive to the barn was lined with oak and maple trees. The gate opened itself, and had a large wrought iron silhouette of a dressage horse on it. I am betting you can envision it. It was, without a doubt, a rich woman's barn.

   The owner said, oh, I'll have my help bring Mare out of her paddock and you can try her out. 
   She did. Mare was very nice but was covered in dried mud, as we'd had rain earlier that day and she'd taken full advantage of rolling in the resulting mud. Like my own Raven, Mare had the knack of getting mud EVERYWHERE, to include between her ears and an inch thick on her very lovely rump. But...I don't mind cleaning up a muddy horse. Rolling (when it's not in reaction to colic) is good for a horse.  When they roll, it's to get the kinks out of their back after standing in a stall all night. The mud cakes onto their hide and forestalls the flies, which, in late August, are numerous as the swallows have all left, preparing for migration.

I have trained Raven to roll on command, by the way. I'd rather see him roll when I can choose where (like inside a nice, clean arena) rather than in the mud hole in his paddock.

Mare wasn't a dirty horse from neglect. She was just a dirty horse from being outside, like horses should be.

    What shocked me, though, was the owner's grooming kit. Her barn was immaculate and beautifully appointed. She was walking about in riding boots that probably would have cost me a month's pay. She was a professional who could afford to hire people to do the manual work. Her fences, her horse trailer, her very appearance, was spotless. She's a pro in the horse breeding and showing world. And, to be honest, despite her obvious wealth, there isn't a bit of snob in her. But her grooming kit looked as if it'd been thrown out after ten years of scrubbing cars at the local High School fund raising car wash. 

    I am old fashioned. I prefer flat leather tack on my horses, no ''''bling''' (gads I hate that term) on me, or my horse, and I want natural fiber brushes. 

   The Owner of Mare's grooming kit had two plastic brushes with bristles so worn down I am amazed they actually touched the horse. They were FILTHY. One appeared to have been red and white at one time but you couldn't tell for sure. 
    Her rubber curry combs were worn to nubbins. And she knocked the big chunks off the horse using a METAL curry comb.

    Aggghhhhhh! But I said NOTHING. It was not my place to say anything. Still, I wanted so badly to snatch the nasty brushes and the metal curry out of her hands and say what are you, crazy???

   I learned to groom a horse from two people. The first was from the horse care books written by a wonderful author named  Margaret Cabell Self. The second was a cantankerous Irishman, a man who trained Thoroughbreds at the local race track, who hired me to walk 'hots' (at the age of 16, and much to the fury of my father). A 'hot', by the way, was a Thoroughbred who had just come off the track after a work or a race. One walked the horse cool. Now they use a 'hot walker' machine.
  Mr. Kelly, who'd grown up at tracks in Ireland and then moved to the US, taught me how to properly groom a horse, so well that to this day, I am the woman my friends want when it comes to bathing their horses for a test or a show. I'm NOT a show groom. My attempts at braiding a horse's mane are so poor that the horse is too embarrassed to come out of his stall. But I damn well can put a shine on a horse that will knock your socks off. 

  When I saw the woman's grooming kit, I had to bite my tongue.
  Must. Keep. Opinions. To. Myself. I thought, keeping my mouth firmly shut.  The horse is in excellent health and is well kept, what her grooming kit looks like is none of my business.
But I strained the hell out of my self control.

I wondered. How could the woman not SEE how bad her tools were? But maybe it's, well, she sees them every day. She doesn't think, she's grooming a horse and thinking of what she's going to do next. Maybe someone else does the grooming for her at a test. But maybe, too, it is a case where no one taught her how to groom a horse. One just...does it, you know? Maybe they teach it in Pony Club, but I don't know. But no one, it seems, thinks of how to properly groom a horse, and even fewer give any thought about cleaning their tools.

So I will do a quick instruction.

Rule number one, as Mr. Kelly so succinctly (and without his almost unintelligible brogue) told me, metal does NOT touch a horse's skin. The metal curry comb is to clean the BRUSH, not the horse. 

Metal curry comb cleans the BRUSH, not the horse.

So: Take one dirty horse. 
Take up your rubber curry comb. It is used to scrub against the grain of the hair in order to bring up dust, scurf, dandruff and 'knock the big chunks' off. Test to see how much pressure your horse wants. My Arab, Jordan, wanted a hard scrub. Raven, a warmblood, will tell you in no uncertain terms that you are scrubbing too hard!

Every once in a while, depending on the style of the curry and the amount of hair and dirt coming off the horse, knock the curry on the floor to dislodge the detritus. Mr. Kelly insisted on one knocking the curry in a row, so he could COUNT the piles of dirt to see if you were actually grooming the horse to his high standards.
Once you have done the entire horse, to include the heel bulbs! one takes up one's dandy brush.  Again, I prefer natural fibers, but they are going the way of the dodo, I am sorry to say. If yours is plastic, it's okay. 

Brush with the grain, starting at the poll and working one's way down the horse, top to bottom. Groom in horizontal 'bands', flicking the dirt down onto the band below your brush's length. End up at the belly. Brush down the legs, getting into the gaps between the tendons but be gentle.  End each stroke with a flick of the wrist to 'toss' the big chunks of dirt off the horse and onto you.  Every two or three strokes with the dandy brush, swipe it clean with the metal curry comb. (You may be different, I use both hands, the dandy brush in my left hand and the metal curry in my right when I'm working on the left side of the horse, and vice versa on the right.) Go over the entire horse. In some spots where the mud is an inch thick, keep currying/brushing until it comes clean.

Some folks brush the mane and tail. I know one person who doesn't touch a brush to her warmbloods' tail, merely sprays it with a detangler and pick out the grass, etc with her fingers. I use a human hairbrush on Raven's mane and forelock but not his tail, for that, I use detangler, too. If you don't mind split ends, use a mane comb, but I won't. Sorry. They're too damaging. 

I don't curry a horse's face. I gently brush it, covering each eye with one hand in order to keep dust and dirt out of it, as well as preventing inadvertently hitting him with it.
Scrub the hooves, if they're muddy, with a plastic scrub brush (remember this tool, as it has a part to play later) and pick out the feet with a hoof pick. 
Plastic scrub brush for cleaning hooves, and, when clean, scrubbing grooming tools.

If you want, then go over the entire horse again with a 'body' brush. In my case, it is a soft brush made of horse hair, but again, there are synthetic fiber ones that are soft enough for the purpose. The body brush gets the fine stuff that the coarser fibered dandy brush doesn't dislodge. 

If I'm feeling extravagant, I then take a microfiber cloth over the entire horse (save mane and tail and hooves) to put a shine on him.

Now: Let's clean your tools.

You don't need to clean them every time, unless they're plastic. Natural fiber brushes can take cleaning but you don't want to over do it, unless you don't mind buying new ones ever few months.

You will need:
A bucket, filled with hot water, a capful or two of bleach, and a glop of  soap such as Murphy's oil soap.  Make it all sudsy. 
Rubber gloves for you.
A hose with a sprayer on it. 
A CLEAN plastic scrub brush.
A work spot where you don't mind water puddling up.
A nice hot day with sunshine, or, if it's raining or winter, a heated room.

Separate all your tools. Brushes in one pile, currys in another, and everything else in a third.
Take your plastic brush in one gloved hand and the finest fibered brush..in my case, the horse haired body brush, in the other. 
Sploosh the body brush in the hot, soapy water. Get it good and wet. Brush the fibers with the CLEAN plastic scrub brush.

Place it aside. Take the dandy brushes and clean them the same way: swooshing them in the hot soapy water, scrubbing with the plastic scrub brush, setting them aside.

Place your rubber curry combs in the hot water. Using the plastic scrub brush, scrub the curry with the plastic brush UNDER the water. Unless, of course, you want to spray bleachy water all over your jeans.
Place them aside.

 One type of curry comb is oval (it's the blue one in the picture.). It collects hair very well but is a booger to clean. I use a knife or a hoof pick to clean all the hair out, but I recently discovered that a vacuum cleaner does a great job of sucking all the hair out. Scrub under water with the plastic scrub brush. 
From left: body brush (synthetic fiber), dandy brush (natural fiber), body brush (horse hair), a second dandy brush, natural fiber, and the blue plastic curry comb which I don't know what it's officially termed. These brushes have been rinsed and put out in the sun to dry.

Clean your other tools: sweat scraper, hoof picks, etc in the now pretty dirty water.

Now, with the hose, start 'rinsing' the brushes and other tools. Get the spray to the roots of the brush fibers but don't soak the hell out of them, just enough to get all the soap out. The plastic curry combs rinse in a minute.
From left: rubber curry combs, hoof picks, a wooden pasta fork, aluminum sweat scraper, hoof picks, human hair brush for mane and forelock. 

Set everything out in the hot sun to dry. When you first set out a fiber brush, set it handle side UP to let the water drain, but don't let it sit this way for long, as it will deform the bristles (if they're natural fiber.) Then turn them bristle side up, in the wind and the sunshine, and let them sit for several hours, or until nice and dry.

Vacuum out your kit itself, or if it's plastic, hose it out, turn it up to drain and dry, and you are done. 
Now you have nice clean grooming tools. 

If you wonder why I have a wooden pasta fork in with the picture, I made a post years ago about how I use one on my horses to do 'social grooming'. It's more to make the horse happy than any real grooming use, and I should dig out that post and re run it. But it may be too, that from a blog I no longer have, so I might just have to re-write it. Oh darn. 


EquiPepper said...

I personally don't have a problem with brushing a horse with metal brushes. The one you pictured is the best thing I have found for removing thick mud from woolly coats.
My thoroughbred is a mud monster and he prefers it when I lightly use a metal brush to quickly and effectively get it off. Rather than spending ages brushing harder with a rubber or plastic alternative.

Think it depends on the horse and how you are using them.

Khutulan said...

I can see your point. Raven is a mud monster, too, and in the winter he gets hairy as a woolly mammoth. If you can brush your TB (a breed I've found to be thin skinned) with a metal curry comb, go for it. As you said, it depends on the horse. Raven isn't thin skinned but exceptionally sensitive...it takes just a whisper with your leg to turn him. On the other hand, my CMK Arabian, Jordan had Cushings and so grew a hair coat like you wouldn't believe, and I probably could have used a garden rake on him.