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Especially during inclement weather, which isn’t particularly inviting for outdoor activities, or when time is limited, you’ll notice that many riders significantly shorten their grooming sessions.

Some riders simply brush over the saddle area, and tack up quickly before heading out. If you ask horse owners about this, you’ll often hear responses like ‘Well, the horse is already clean’ or ‘That’s why the horse is wearing a blanket – so I don’t have to clean it as much.’ But cleaning is much more than just removing dirt.

If you observe wild horses, you may notice that they sometimes roll around in the mud and appear coated afterward. A few hours or a day later, the sand and dirt usually shake off.

The coat possesses a self-cleaning mechanism wherein sebum (i.e., skin oil) produced by the sebaceous glands is pushed outward along the hair. This not only makes the hair water-repellent but also aids in the removal of stubborn dirt particles. Rolling in the sand also contributes to coat cleaning, as the sand particles are rubbing over the coat and carrying away sebum and dirt with them.

Shaking afterward removes sand from the coat, and even the most stubborn dirt disappears. A little drying and shaking afterwards makes the horse look clean again. From this perspective, one might think that there’s no need to groom horses thoroughly, as they seem perfectly capable of self-cleaning without human intervention.

However, removing dirt is just one facet of grooming our horses. Naturally, it is crucial to eliminate sand and dirt from the saddle area to prevent chafing marks.

More importantly, though, we typically brush and inspect every part of the body, running the brush over it with a close examination. If there are injuries under the coat, we can now detect them when a scab suddenly appears or blood or lymph soaks the coat after brushing over it, whereas before, it was visibly dry.

Fluffy winter coats, in particular, have the ability to conceal small, superficial injuries quite effectively. You can also check for signs of swelling, which could indicate a hematoma or inflammation,

and whether your horse reacts with pain, avoidance, or defensiveness at certain body parts. If, while brushing the back, the horse pushes its spine downwards, it may be experiencing back pain caused by tense muscles. This is a warning sign that should prompt you to consult with a skilled manual therapist or, alternatively, have the saddle checked. Ignoring this behavior may eventually lead to lameness, bucking off the rider, or complete refusal to move forward.

Even minor swelling on the legs, such as after a kick injury, or slightly ‘swollen’ ankles, can now be detected, whereas it may not have been noticeable before. If the horse suddenly struggles to lift one leg or becomes reluctant to do so during hoof picking, it is likely experiencing pain on the opposite side and avoiding putting weight on the other leg.

The pain doesn’t necessarily have to be severe enough to cause lameness. However, when you attempt to pick out the hoof, taking away the horse’s actual ‘supporting leg,’ it is suddenly required to bear weight on the painful leg, which can be unpleasant for the horse. It shows this by its unwillingness.

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If, while scraping out the frog furrows, the horse suddenly tries to pull its leg away vehemently, it may be suffering from deep thrush or a poorly positioned hoof abscess. Although it may not cause lameness, the pressure from the hoof pick can be painful.

Thorough grooming provides valuable insights into your horse and its body. Moreover, grooming is a social activity; there’s a reason why horses that are friends groom each other.

Grooming your horse not only makes it feel good but also allows you to scratch areas that it can’t easily reach on its own. This ‘favour’ is reciprocated through motivated cooperation, and sometimes, your horse might show its appreciation by wanting to groom you in return. This strengthens the bond between the two of you, solidifies the partnership, and in the end, it forms the basis for you and your horse to have fun together.

Therefore, despite all the everyday stress, time pressure, and hustle that may accompany you sometimes, those 15 minutes spent grooming your horse is so much more than just cleanliness.