Saturday, January 3, 2015

Grooming the Sensitive Horse

Some horses adore being groomed, while others would much rather be left alone. A thorough daily grooming plays a significant part in producing the deep shine that we aim for on show horses. Not only does it help you keep track of any changes on your horse's body, but it also increases circulation and distributes oil throughout the hair shaft to help produce the desired sheen. For these reasons, even those otherwise healthy horses who don't always enjoy being groomed really do benefit from a modified grooming program.

Sensitive horses often object to the curry comb because of its stiffness. Currying is important for both blood circulation and to bring dirt, dust and sweat up away from the skin. For those horses who dislike even the more jelly-like soft curries, I have found that a cactus cloth mitt can provide a suitable alternative.

Cactus (or sisal) cloth
Cactus cloth is made of natural sisal fibres woven into a textured pattern. Its texture allows it to penetrate deeply into the coat, but it is also very pliable and horses seem to enjoy being groomed with it. It is available on its own or sewn into a convenient mitt, often with fleece on the other side as an extra grooming tool. It can be used in the same circular motion as a curry comb, and horses will often tolerate it on the more sensitive parts of the body that can't be curried normally.

Cactus cloth can be used as an alternative to a curry comb, but it is also a useful grooming tool on its own for actions such as drying and removing sweat.

One downside to using cactus cloth is that it is more difficult to clean than a curry comb, and the fabric can trap dirt and sweat where it can't always be removed with a stiff brush. In addition to regular brushing, it's a good idea to clean your sisal mitt with soap or shampoo when it gets visibly dirty.

Many sensitive horses take a strong dislike to being groomed with a stiff dandy brush. I am not aware of any good alternative to the dandy brush aside from finding the softest bristles that will still do the job, so sometimes all you can do is spend extra time with the curry or cactus mitt and then move directly on to the body brush.

The brush on the left shows the longer "flicking" bristles
I have found that sensitive horses seem to prefer the lighter touch that is possible by using a long-bristled body brush. These brushes have soft bristles that are longer than average, allowing for more of a flicking motion that removes dirt and hair with more flexibility and less direct pressure. It is used with the same long, sweeping motions in the direction of hair growth as you would use with a regular body brush, but with a little bit more of a "flick" at the end of each stroke. 

Some horses might prefer natural bristles over synthetic bristles, but experimentation is required to determine whether this might be contributing to any reactiveness.

Overall, it's fine to adjust your grooming routine to meet an individual horse's needs as long as you are able to find alternatives that will accomplish the same aims. Grooming should be an enjoyable experience for the horse, and if pain or other health-related causes of sensitivity are ruled out, sometimes all that's required is a different set of tools.


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  2. Natural sisal yarn supplier and manufacturer woven into a surfaced design. Its feel lets it to enter intensely into the coat, but it is also very flexible and cattle seem to like being turned-out with it.