How often should you brush a horse? Brushing your horse is one of the most pleasurable aspects of horse ownership, and it’s good for your horse’s health as well.
How often you groom him depends on your horse’s lifestyle and personality.
Herdmates will groom one another, taking care of itchy spots and strengthening their friendship.
Let’s talk about the benefits of grooming horses and how to choose the best brushing regime for your horse.
Table of Contents
- The amount of grooming your horse needs depends on his lifestyle and what you do with him.
- Grooming is a fundamental part of horse care, and it’s also the perfect time to develop your relationship with your horse.
- Brushing helps remove loose hair, dead skin cells, and excess dirt.
How Horses Look After Themselves
Horses who live in herds, outside and unrugged, do a good job of taking care of their own skin.
They roll in dust or mud and rub themselves on trees or rocks.
Researchers studying mustangs in Colorado reported:
Grooming behavior occupies a relatively small but important part of the daily time budget of feral horses and is often observed as rolling. Rolling occurs both on land and in water and is thought to assist with pelage health and insect control (Waring, 1983).
Other grooming behaviors include shaking, nibbling or licking on self, tail-swishing, rubbing, and periodic stomping to displace flies and biting insects.” (1)
Dust and mud might make a horse look untidy, but it provides a barrier against biting insects and helps exfoliate the skin.
Another study also suggested that rolling is important for thermoregulation, because “it allows heat to dissipate towards the ground and a protective layer of dust to form on the animal’s coat. (2)
My young PRE mare had a foal-at-foot last year in the wet and windy West of Scotland, and I couldn’t rug her because the foal might have tangled himself in the rug. She would cover herself in mud for a bit of extra insulation.
Herdmates also groom one another, known as mutual grooming or allogrooming. You may have seen your horse standing nose-to-tail beside one of his buddies, nibbling at one another’s manes and withers.
This helps with skin health and itchy spots, and it also strengthens social bonds within the herd.
Researchers in Europe found that humans could imitate allogrooming by brushing or scratching horses around the withers and nearby areas. This was shown to reduce the heart rates of recipient horses. (3)
Although this study showed no measuring the relaxing effects of grooming other parts of the horse, there are still plenty of reasons to do it.
Explore the importance of horse eye covering and understand why it’s necessary with our in-depth article on ‘Why Do They Cover Horses’ Eyes.’
The Living Out Horse
If your horse is unrugged, unclipped, and spends most of his day out with herdmates, he is living as natural a life as possible. This means he does not need tons of brushing.
In fact, too much brushing can remove waterproofing oils from his coat and the layers of dust and mud that protect him from insects and even help him deal with extreme temperatures.
However, if you ride your horse, he probably wears tack. Saddles, girths, or bridles grinding into mud can cause sores, chafing, and abrasions. You should clean his back, girth area, and face before you ride.
My Highland pony was feral until he was eight – so more than capable of taking care of himself – so he does not get clipped or rugged.
I remove the mud, loose hair, and dirt from where the tack sits with a curry comb or metal shedding blade (if the mud is thick and heavy) and a stiff dandy brush.
Otherwise, I let his coat do its thing. I just give him a quick once over with a soft brush, more to check for injuries than anything else (another important part of how to groom a horse).
He does appreciate a good scratch around his mane and withers. If you find a spot your horse likes, it’s worth scratching it with fingers or a curry comb. They will love it! It helps strengthen your bond and makes them happy.
CHECK: How to Make Horse Mane Braids
The Clipped and Rugged Horse
Not all horses are tough, furry animals who could live out year-round on a Scottish mountainside.
Some horses have fine coats, preferring rugs if you live in a wet, cold, snowy climate. My Andalusian mare definitely wants a rug when the rain is lashing down.
If your horse is in hard work over the winter, you will probably clip him so he doesn’t get too sweaty during exercise. If he’s clipped, he’ll definitely need rugged.
Once human management becomes a significant factor, however, we need to take a more proactive role in maintaining the health of our horses’ skins and coats and general well-being.
If your horse is stabled most of the day or lives in individual turnout (not recommended, but sometimes, you may have no choice), he won’t be able to engage in allogrooming with herd mates. But with you it might.
When they are wearing rugs, rolling no longer has the exfoliating effects that it has on unrugged horses. Dead skin and hair can build up, which might cause problems. A rugged horse should be groomed almost every day.
How to Groom a Horse in 7 Steps
Every owner will have their system for how they brush a horse.
Some of it depends on the horse – there are horses who don’t like being brushed, while others think it’s the best part of their day.
Some of it depends on what you’re doing with your horse. Are you getting it ready for a show, or just bashing enough mud off to go for a trail ride or schooling session?
Show grooming is an art that I won’t get into in this article, but this video gives an in-depth look at how to prepare your horse for a show when you need him at his cleanest and shiniest.
I’ll tell you the simple daily grooming routine that I use, which I learned from my riding instructors when I was a kid and have adapted to different horses over the years.
This is not an exhaustive list of all the grooming tools at your disposal – just the ones most people use most of the time and keep in their grooming kit.
1. The curry comb
I start with a rubber curry comb, either one with rubber spikes or circular rubber teeth. The curry comb goes in a circular motion over the horse’s body, as this video shows:
As she says, it removes mud, and excess dirt. If they are shedding their winter coat, it removes tons of dead hair. It also promotes blood flow around their muscles because it more or less gives the horse a massage, and it helps bring out the natural oils in the coat.
Horses with itchy skin love a good curry!
I don’t curry comb the lower legs or face, because there isn’t a thick layer of muscle in those areas. The horse might find that uncomfortable.
2. The dandy brush
Next, I whip out the dandy brush. This has stiff bristles. It’s great for whisking away dead hair and dirt.
Always brush in the direction of the hair. At the end of each stroke, give it a little flick with your wrist.
I’ll gently use this on the lower legs, but only if they are muddy. I don’t use it on the face because it’s too harsh.
At the end of the ride, I use the dandy brush to help remove sweat from the horse’s coat. A thorough post-ride grooming with a stiff brush also helps loosen the muscles.
3. The body brush
This is a brush with soft bristles that’s great for brushing your horse’s entire body, including his legs and face.
Horses who are ticklish with a dandy brush, or who have sensitive skin, often appreciate the soft brush.
For any horse, it gives a nice finishing touch and helps his coat shine.
I always give them a session with the soft brush after a ride because it buffs the coat, and I think they really appreciate it.
As with the dandy brush, always brush in the direction of the hair.
4. The hoof pick
I pick out my horses’ feet before and after I ride to make sure they haven’t got any stones stuck in their hooves and to make a note of general hoof and leg health.
Running your hand down the leg before you pick up the foot gives you the opportunity to check for any injuries, such as cuts, heat, and swelling.
I use the hoof pick to remove mud and stones from the foot.
If your horse’s feet are excessively wet or excessively dry, you can apply different types of hoof oil to help. Speak with your farrier or vet, as the efficacy of these products will depend on your horse, his environment, and the problem you’re trying to solve.
5. The mane and tail
Brushing the mane and tail isn’t critical (unless you’re getting ready for a show), but it’s a nice way to spend quality time with your horse and make them look great.
Some horses, like my mare, love having their manes and tails brushed.
If you are preparing for a show, you should watch how Alan Davies prepares the mane and tail of dressage superstar Valegro:
I condition and brush the manes and tails of my horses about once per week, using a human hair brush.
Some people don’t use brushes because it pulls hair out of the tail. You can use your fingers (and a good conditioner) to work out knots.
There are hundreds of detangling sprays on the market, but my favorite is Johnson’s Baby Oil, which is cheap and easy to get from the supermarket.
6. The metal curry comb/shedding blade
This is a round curry comb with metal teeth. If your horse comes in caked in mud, or if he’s blowing his winter coat, this will be your best friend.
During shedding season, I start my grooming session with the metal shedding blade to remove loose hair and/or thick mud, then I move onto the plastic or rubber curry comb, as described above.
7. The sponge or wet cloth
One of the best ways to keep your horse’s face clean is to gently sponge his eyes and nose with warm water.
Should You Regularly Bathe Your Horse?
Excessively bathing your horse with shampoo and conditioner can actually remove the natural, healthy oils that give his coat its best shine and help him withstand wind and rain.
If you’re prepping for a show and your grey horse looks brown, you might have no choice, but it’s far better for your horse’s coat to clean him with brushes than with conditioner and shampoo.
During the summer, I hose down sweaty horses with water, but I don’t use any products on them at all.
What happens if you don’t brush your horse?
If he’s living out, unclipped and unrugged, then nothing! He might look muddy and wild, but he will take care of himself.
If he’s clipped and/or rugged, then he could develop skin problems because clipping/rugging removes the benefits of natural coat and skin care.
Should I brush my horse’s mane every day?
No. You pull out hairs and that will make the mane thinner.
Do horses enjoy being brushed?
Many of them do. But I have come across some horses who find it ticklish or annoying , and they make faces, swish their tails, and bite to express their displeasure.
How do you fully groom a horse?
Follow all the steps above, but you can add Show Sheen or a similar product to his coat for extra shine and clean any white parts, like socks, if he has them.
How often should you brush a horse? As often as you need to.
Dressage rider Laura Beichtolsheimer recaps the grooming steps I listed above. If it’s good enough for Laura and her Individual Bronze medal-winning horse Alf (Mistral Hojris), it’s good enough for me!
Grooming helps keep your horse’s muscles, skin, and coat shiny and healthy, and it’s a great time to bond with your horse.
It also gives you the opportunity to become familiar with every inch of his body and spot injuries or problems early.
Buy yourself a nice set of brushes, and get grooming.
- 1. Ransom J, Cade B. Roaming Feral Horses Roaming Feral Horses [Internet]. Available from: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1018&context=usgspubs
- 2. Luz MPF, Maia CM, Gonçalvez HC, Puoli Filho JNP. Influence of workload and weather conditions on rolling behaviour of horses and mules. Behavioural Processes [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Dec 7];189:104433. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0376635721001200
- 3. Available from: 3. https://d1wqtxts1xzle7.cloudfront.net/52010919/b_3Averc.0000014230.52006.df20170303-1465-8003fm-with-cover-page-v2.pdf?Expires=1670018494&Signature=KEm0bnnlYiGebjAM~B8hNgOvoTqQvbJsoUmtibsOYfaE5Hjpj8BdhAggA35VUffN0br-dYRcgjvAtANBtKeIQeNtlTqUFVKKEGK3ewvH3mePM3WlBDUgC8OzMWCkdtYlk9SbAUwFKhh8LIAnlyWTS14Xtn78-aUGMrPjNNIFH5HC7tQfSvp2clvAQoEbFjW-Gio9Jm-qTFI5ymrlsSLDGNPbtd5kHQfv7w2t4Rh3pmj~150Lnr-abrQbjNrWCfFnqANs5OuL3fDjkXX5GshTMxXHk5do5f280XegULvNCe5BgsijF79X8el9HHgwaeQbJmO8Xp4VdiOPVTaQIUt6qg__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJLOHF5GGSLRBV4ZA
Emily is a native of Colorado, currently living in Glasgow, Scotland, working as a freelance writer. She is a long-time horsewoman, having started riding at the age of 6, then competing in dressage around Colorado and Massachusetts, where she finished her undergraduate degree in psychology.
Following a move to the UK and a PhD, she worked for a few years as a freelance horse trainer in Central Scotland. She’s interested in holistic horsemanship, fostering better communication and understanding between horses and humans, riding with lightness and softness, and she’s forever seeking out the newest research into equine behavior and psychology. When not writing, she can be found at the barn with her two equine partners, Foinavon, an ex-feral Highland pony, and Hermosa, a young Andalusian.
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