We don’t groom our horses enough these days! Traditionally, when horses were working animals, grooms would be employed to provide the horse with a range of massage and grooming techniques, and I think it’s a real shame that we have lost the time and knowledge to give our horses proper, correct daily grooming.
If you’re anything like me, a quick brush over before I ride is sufficient; the horse is clean in all the right places, i.e. where the tack goes, and I don’t do any more. I’m busy! I need to make sure my horse gets worked! But sometimes, I do feel really guilty that I don’t find the time to do a proper, full groom.
If you look in any of the older textbooks, you’ll see a whole range of different types of grooming procedure; brushing off, quartering, full groom, strapping and hot clothing. All had their purpose and a specific technique. A full and thorough groom was saved until after the horse had been worked, when the skin was warm, the pores open and the horse relaxed. A traditional body brush and metal curry comb were the main tools of the trade, allowing a deep and thorough clean of the coat, removing grease, dead hair and skin. Through this process, the horse experienced the equivalent of a full body massage. The skin was stimulated to produce oils which gave the coat a beautiful sheen. The use of the body brush in long, smooth strokes massaged the muscles of the neck, shoulder, and hindquarters. When followed by hot-clothing, any remaining dust was picked up and removed from the coat, and the horse left clean and beautifully presented. According to older texts, this full groom should last up to an hour.
Another technique which seems to be in decline is that of ‘strapping’. Traditionally, a wisp made from plaited straw or hay, would be used to firmly ‘bang’ the large muscle groups of the neck, lower shoulder (just above the elbow) and the hindquarters. This rhythmical movement, promoted repeated contraction and relaxation of those specific muscles, which in turn helped to build them up and promote good condition.
I don’t know of many people who still carry out these time-honoured, traditional procedures. The pressures of work and family commitments often mean that we explain ourselves out of this special time with our horses. It’s a shame that these traditions are being lost.
The creation of products which speed up the grooming process mean that we’re more likely to spray the coat with show shine, rather than hot cloth. ‘Shedder’ tools speed up how quickly we can remove dead hair or the winter coat’, but they certainly don’t improve the coat as a full and thorough groom would do! We maybe don’t remove our horse’s rugs as often as we should in the winter, leading to a dull and lifeless coat.
There are so many reasons to try and reintroduce these traditional grooming processes! Even if we only have the time to do it once each week, I’m convinced that our horses will benefit. We might even find it beneficial.
So what I’m suggesting is simple; find one time in your super-busy, frantic week, to spend some quality time with your horse, carry out a full and thorough groom, and enjoy doing something which will totally make his day!