Horse grooming

Last updated
Common tools used for grooming a horse HorseGroomingTools.jpg
Common tools used for grooming a horse

Horse grooming is hygienic care given to a horse, or a process by which the horse's physical appearance is enhanced for horse shows or other types of competition.


Reasons for grooming

Grooming is an important part of horse care. Grooming a horse daily allows the handler to check on horse's general health and well-being. At a minimum, horses are generally groomed before being worked, and are usually groomed and cleaned up after a workout as well. [1]

The main reasons for daily grooming include:

Horse showmanship is a horse show class that considers quality of grooming for as much as 40% of the total score.

Tools used for grooming

There are several tools that are commonly used when grooming a horse. Proper use and technique helps to ensure the horse remains comfortable during the grooming process, and allows for greater ease in cleaning the animal.

Various types of currycombs, made of both hard and soft materials Currycombs.jpg
Various types of currycombs, made of both hard and soft materials
Dandy brushes DandyBrushes.jpg
Dandy brushes
A combination shedding blade/sweat scraper SheddingBlade.jpg
A combination shedding blade/sweat scraper

The hoof

The clean, picked hoof allows for better inspection for injury. Hoof bottom view.jpg
The clean, picked hoof allows for better inspection for injury.

Hoof care is especially important when caring for the horse. Although many horses are quite healthy without daily brushing, lack of hoofcare can result in various problems, which if unattended, can result in short or long-term soundness issues for the horse. Hooves need to be trimmed after four to ten weeks; otherwise, they will grow too long and cause discomfort.

Cleaning the feet

The most basic form of hoofcare is cleaning, or "picking out the feet". A hoof pick is used to remove mud, manure, and rocks from the sole of the hoof. Removal of mud and manure helps to prevent thrush, [1] a common hoof ailment which in very severe cases may cause lameness, and the removal of rocks helps to prevent stone bruises. In the winter, hoof picking also provides the chance to remove packs of snow from the horse's hooves, which can cause uncomfortable "snowballs". Additionally, when the hoof is cleaned, it can be visually inspected for problems such as puncture wounds due to a nail (which has the potential to be very serious if left untreated).

A well-worn but perfectly usable hoof pick HoofPick.jpg
A well-worn but perfectly usable hoof pick

All crevices of the hoof are cleaned, particularly the sulci between the frog and the bars, [1] as those areas are most likely to trap rocks or other debris, and also are the most common area to develop thrush. It is best to work the hoof pick from heel to toe, so to avoid accidentally jabbing the horse's leg, the frog of the hoof, or the person using the pick. When picking the feet, the groom stands at the horse's side, facing the tail of the horse, then slides his or her hand down the horse's leg. If the horse was not trained to pick up its foot when a person runs their hand to the fetlock and lifts lightly, most horses will pick up their feet if the tendons behind their cannon bone are squeezed. Some horses, particularly draft breeds, may be trained to pick up their feet to pressure on their fetlock.

Most horse management guidelines recommend picking the feet daily, and in many cases, the feet are picked twice in one day, both before and after a ride.

Dressings and polish

Hoof dressing is a liquid substance used on the hooves to improve their moisture content, which in turn helps prevent hoof cracks, lost shoes, tender feet, and other common hoof problems. Polish for hooves is used for show purposes and is either based on formulas similar to wax-based shoe polish or to enamelized human nail polish.

Front hooves sporting black hoof polish PolishedHooves.jpg
Front hooves sporting black hoof polish

In many disciplines, the hooves are painted with either clear or black hoof polish as a finishing touch. Clear polish is generally used in dressage, show hunters, jumpers, and eventing, as well as most breed shows, other than some stock horse breeds. Black polish is seen in the western disciplines, especially western pleasure, but some breeds, notably the Appaloosa, ban any polish that alters the natural hoof color. Gaited breeds have varying rules, some allowing black polish, others limiting its use. Whether clear or colored, polish is applied purely for aesthetic reasons as a finishing touch.


Horses can be bathed by being wet down with a garden hose or by being sponged off with water from a bucket. Horses do not require bathing and many horses live their entire lives without a bath. However, horses are often hosed off with water after a heavy workout as part of the cooling down process, and are often given baths prior to a horse show to remove every possible speck of dirt. They must be trained to accept bathing, as a hose and running water are unfamiliar objects and initially may frighten a horse. A hose is usually used for bathing. Start near the legs, being careful to point the hose at a downward angle. When spraying the body, be sure to angle the hose so that water does not hit the horse in the face. Either horse or human shampoo may be safely used on a horse, if thoroughly rinsed out, and cream rinses or hair conditioners similar to those used by humans are often used on show horses. Too-frequent shampooing can strip the hair coat of natural oils and cause it to dry out. Though horses in heavy work, such as racehorses, may be rinsed off after their daily workout, it is generally not advisable to shampoo a horse more than once a week, even in the show season. A well-groomed, clean horse can be kept clean by wearing a horse blanket or horse sheet.


A newly clipped bridle path, note ears of horse are also trimmed BridlePath.jpg
A newly clipped bridle path, note ears of horse are also trimmed

Many horses have hair trimmed or removed, especially for show. Different disciplines have very different standards. The standards for breed competitions are also highly variable, and deviation from the acceptable grooming method may not be permitted at breed shows. It is often best to check the rules, and to ask a horseman experienced in your discipline or breed of choice, before performing any type of trimming or clipping to a show horse. Severely "incorrect" clipping is often considered a great faux pas in the horse world.


Trimmed lower hind leg, with clipped cannon, fetlock, pastern, and coronary band. TrimmedLeg.jpg
Trimmed lower hind leg, with clipped cannon, fetlock, pastern, and coronary band.

Clipping style is quite variable by breed, region and discipline. While some clipping has its origins in practical purposes, much of the clipping today is very much based on the showing style for which a particular horse is used. The most common areas clipped include:

Body clipping

Hunter clip, with the legs and head unclipped Xc water jump.jpg
Hunter clip, with the legs and head unclipped
High trace clip: clipping the bottom of the neck, the shoulder, and hindquarters. Click to enlarge Pony jumping brush.jpg
High trace clip: clipping the bottom of the neck, the shoulder, and hindquarters. Click to enlarge
Blanket clip. Caleche1.jpg
Blanket clip.

In addition to basic trimming, many horses are "body clipped" in the winter months, to remove their winter coat. This can serve a practical purpose, as it keeps the horse more comfortable during work, and helps it cool down faster. It can also serve an aesthetic purpose, as most horsemen agree a horse looks finer and more show-worthy with a shorter coat. Additionally, grooming is usually easier and less time-consuming when the hair is shortened.

Before one makes the decision to body clip a horse, one must be sure to consider the fact that they are removing the horse's natural defences against the cold. They must therefore be able to provide blanketing, and in some cases, stabling, for the horse if the temperature drops, or if there is a cold rain or snow. This will increase the amount of work needed to keep the horse, as the groom must change the blankets as needed, but it is essential to keep the horse comfortable and healthy.

Types of body clips include:

The mane

The modern horse usually has its mane groomed to fit a particular breed, style, or practical purpose. For informal pleasure riding, the mane is simply detangled with a brush or wide-toothed comb and any foreign material removed.

The mane may be kept in a long, relatively natural state, which is required for show by some breeds, particularly those used in Saddle seat style English riding competition. A long mane may be placed into five to seven long, relatively thick braids between shows to keep it in good condition, to help it grow, and to minimize debris and dirt from entering. Breeds mandated to show with a long mane keep a long mane in almost all disciplines, even those where show etiquette normally requires thinning or pulling.

In some breeds or disciplines, particularly many Western and hunt seat competitions, the mane is thinned and shortened for competition purposes. The most common method of shortening and thinning the mane is by pulling it. Originally, a thinned mane was considered easier to keep free of dirt, burrs, and out of the way of the rider, and thus worth the time and upkeep of regular thinning. Today, its purpose is primarily for tradition and to make it lay down flat and be easier to braid or band.

Horses shown in hunter, jumper, dressage, eventing and related hunt seat and show hack disciplines usually have their manes not only shortened and thinned, but placed into many individual braids for show. Heavier breeds of horses, particularly draft horses, may have their manes french braided instead of being pulled, thinned and placed in individual braids. Breeds required to show with long manes may also french braid the mane if an animal is cross-entered in both a breed and a hunter/jumper discipline.

The mane may also be "roached" or "hogged", meaning that it is completely shaved off. This is most commonly seen in polo ponies, Australian Stock Horses and roping horses, to keep the mane out of the rider's way, and to prevent the mallet or rope from becoming entangled.

The tail

A Friesian horse with a "natural" mane and tail Friesian-stallion.jpg
A Friesian horse with a "natural" mane and tail
Tail braided for a hunter class BraidedTail.jpg
Tail braided for a hunter class
Clipped, braided and wrapped tail on a polo pony, a safety measure Polo pony taped.jpg
Clipped, braided and wrapped tail on a polo pony, a safety measure

Basic tail grooming begins with simply brushing out foreign material, snarls, and tangles, sometimes with the aid of a detangling product. Horses used in exhibition or competition may have far more extensive grooming. However, the tail's main purpose is fly protection, and certain types of show grooming can inhibit the use of this natural defense.

In show grooming, the dock of the tail (the flesh-covered part of the tail where the hair is rooted) and the "skirt" (the hair below the tip of the dock) may be styled in a wide variety of ways: The tail may be kept natural and encouraged to grow as long as possible, and sometimes even has additional hair artificially attached. Other times, it may be clipped, thinned, or even cut very short. A few breeds are shown with docked tails.

A "natural" tail is neither clipped nor braided when the horse is presented in the ring. The tail may be encouraged to grow as long as possible, often by keeping the skirt of the tail in a long braid when not in competition, usually also folded up and covered by a wrap to keep it clean. The shorter hairs of the dock are allowed to hang loose so that the horse can still swat flies. "Natural" tails can also be thinned and shaped by pulling hairs at the sides of the dock or by pulling the longest hairs in the skirt of the tail, to make the tail shorter and less full, though still retaining a natural shape.

Tail hairs are also cut. "Clipping" the tail usually refers to trimming the sides of the dock, to a point about halfway down the dock. Banging the tail involves cutting the bottom of the tail straight at the bottom. In modern competition, this is usually done well below the hocks. Tail extensions, also known as "false tails," or "tail wigs," are false hairpieces which are braided or tied into the tail to make it longer or fuller.

Braiding the dock of the tail in a French braid with the skirt left loose is commonly seen in hunter competition and hunt seat equitation. In polo, draft horse showing and on Lipizzan horses that perform the capriole, the entire tail, dock, and skirt are generally braided and the braid is folded or rolled into a knot, with or without added ribbons and other decorative elements. In inclement weather, many other show disciplines will allow competitors to put up the skirt of the tail into a similar type of stylized knot known as a mud tail.

In the draft horse and some harness breeds, the tail is cut very short to keep it from being tangled in a harness. The term "docked" or "docking" may simply mean cutting the hair of the tail skirt very short, just past the end of the natural dock of the tail. However, it can also refer to partial tail amputation. This type of docking is banned in some places, and either type of docking can make it difficult for a horse to effectively swat flies. Another controversial practice, tail setting, involves placing the dock of the tail in a device that causes it to be carried at all times in an arched position desired for show. The set is used when the horses are stalled, and removed during performances. It stretches the muscles to keep the tail in position, and is not used after the horse is retired from competition. Sometimes the process is sped up by the controversial practice of nicking or cutting the check ligament that normally pulls the tail downward. This practice is generally only used for a few breeds, such as the American Saddlebred.

Other show grooming products and supplies


Highlighter has been applied to the entire face of this young halter horse. Most of the hair has also been shaved off the face, as indicated by black areas AraberMaske.jpg
Highlighter has been applied to the entire face of this young halter horse. Most of the hair has also been shaved off the face, as indicated by black areas

Highlighter is a gel, ointment or oil used to add shine and thus accentuate certain parts of the horse's face. Less often, it is placed on the bridle path, crest, knees, hocks, mane and tail. It is commonly used in the United States by certain breeds such as stock and gaited breeds, but is frowned upon in the Hunter disciplines. In a few disciplines, such products are banned. Most breeds that allow highlighting require it to be clear, without dye or color.

Neck sweats

Neck sweats are wraps, usually of neoprene, placed on the neck or jowl of the horse to cause it to sweat. This is a short-term method that will temporarily reduce a thick jowl or cresty neck, to make it appear finer in appearance. This tool is used both by breeds prone to heavy necks who benefit from some slimming, but also by breeds with refined necks to create a more extreme refinement, often called a "hooky" neck.

Coat treatments

A number of products, usually in spray form, have been developed to add extra gloss, smoothness or shine to a coat. Some sprays are oil-based, but because they attract dust, more common coat enhancement sprays are oil-free, often called "silicone" sprays, that leave the hair coat very smooth and slick. Most are applied to the horse after it has been bathed and dried, though are occasionally used on a horse that has not been bathed to add a quick gloss for short-term purposes, such as a photograph.

See also

Related Research Articles


Dressage is a form of riding performed in exhibition and competition, as well as an art sometimes pursued solely for the sake of mastery. As an equestrian sport defined by the International Equestrian Federation, dressage is described as "the highest expression of horse training" where "horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements."

Fjord horse

The Fjord horse or Norwegian Fjord Horse is a relatively small but very strong horse breed from the mountainous regions of western Norway. It is an agile breed of light draught horse build. All Fjord horses are dun in colour, with five variations in shade recognised in the breed standard. One of the world's oldest breeds, it has been used for hundreds of years as a farm horse in Norway, and in modern times is popular for its generally good temperament. It is used both as a harness horse and under saddle.

Western pleasure

Western pleasure is a western style competition at horse shows that evaluates horses on manners and suitability of the horse for a relaxed and slow but collected gait cadence, along with calm and responsive disposition. The horse is to appear to be a "pleasure" to ride, smooth-moving and very comfortable. Most light horse breeds in the United States and Canada may compete in western pleasure classes, either in open competition or at shows limited to a single breed. However, horse conformation and temperament play a role in this event, and hence animals of stock horse breeds that are calm, quiet, have collected, soft gaits and the strong muscling required to sustain slow, controlled movement are the most competitive.

Show hunter

The Hunter division is a branch of horse show competition that is judged on the horse's performance, soundness and when indicated, conformation, suitability or manners. A "show hunter" is a horse that competes in this division.

Hunt seat

Hunt seat is a style of forward seat riding commonly found in North American horse shows. Along with dressage, it is one of the two classic forms of English riding. The hunt seat is based on the tradition of fox hunting. Hunt seat competition in North America includes both flat and over fences for show hunters, which judge the horse's movement and form, and equitation classes, which judge the rider's ability both on the flat and over fences. The term hunt seat may also refer to any form of forward seat riding, including the kind seen in show jumping and eventing.

There are many aspects to horse management. Horses, ponies, mules, donkeys and other domesticated equids require attention from humans for optimal health and long life.

Horse showmanship

Showmanship is an event found at many horse shows. The class is also sometimes called "Fitting and Showmanship", "Showmanship In-Hand", "Showmanship at Halter" or "Halter Showmanship" It involves a person on the ground leading a horse, wearing a halter or bridle, through a series of maneuvers called a pattern. The horse itself is not judged on its conformation. Rather, the exhibitor is judged on how well he or she exhibits the animal to its best advantage, with additional scoring for the grooming and presentation of both horse and handler.


The forelock or foretop is a part of a horse's mane, that grows from the animal's poll and falls forward between the ears and onto the forehead. Some breeds, particularly pony breeds, have a naturally thick forelock, while other breeds, such as many Thoroughbreds, have a thinner forelock. Primitive wild equines such as the Przewalski's horse with a naturally short, upright mane generally have no hair falling forward onto the forehead. Other equidae such as donkeys and zebras, have no discernible forelock at all.

Chestnut (horse color) Horse coat color

Chestnut is a hair coat color of horses consisting of a reddish-to-brown coat with a mane and tail the same or lighter in color than the coat. Chestnut is characterized by the absolute absence of true black hairs. It is one of the most common horse coat colors, seen in almost every breed of horse.

Saddle seat

Saddle seat is a style of horse riding within the category of English riding that is designed to show off the high action of certain horse breeds. The style developed into its modern form in the United States, and is also seen in Canada and South Africa. To a much lesser extent, it is ridden with American action horse breeds in Europe and Australia. The horse breeds mainly used for this flashy style are typically the showy Morgan Horse, and the high stepping American Saddlebred.

Bridle path (horse)

The bridle path is a shaved or clipped section of the mane, beginning behind the ears of a horse at the poll, delineating the area where the crownpiece of the bridle lies. Bridle paths are a common style of grooming in the United States, but are not seen as often in Europe.

Equine coat color Horse coat colors and markings

Horses exhibit a diverse array of coat colors and distinctive markings. A specialized vocabulary has evolved to describe them.

Mane (horse)

On horses, the mane is the hair that grows from the top of the neck of a horse or other equine, reaching from the poll to the withers, and includes the forelock or foretop. It is thicker and coarser than the rest of the horse's coat, and naturally grows to roughly cover the neck. Heredity plays a role, giving some horses a longer, thicker mane, and others a shorter, thinner one.

Draft horse showing

Draft horse showing refers to horse shows exclusively for horses of the draft horse breeds. In North America, though a small number of draft horses are also shown under saddle, the term "Draft horse showing" refers to a specific horse show competition that primarily features driving exhibitors presenting their horses to be judged in harness. Worldwide, some draft horse shows also feature riding classes.

Halter (horse show) Type of horse show class where horses are shown in hand and not ridden

Halter is a type of horse show class where horses are shown "in hand," meaning that they are led, not ridden, and are judged on their conformation and suitability as breeding stock. Depending on breed and geographic region, such events may be called "Halter," "In-Hand," "Breeding," "Model," or "Conformation" classes.

Primitive markings

Primitive markings are a group of hair coat markings and qualities seen in several equine species, including horses, donkeys, and asses. In horses, they are associated with primitive breeds, though not limited to such breeds. The markings are particularly associated with the dun coat color family. All dun and non-dun 1 horses possess at least the dorsal stripe, but the presence of the other primitive markings varies. Other common markings may include horizontal striping on the legs, transverse striping across the shoulders, and lighter guard hairs along the edges of a dark mane and tail.

Dog grooming

Dog grooming refers to both the hygienic care and cleaning of a dog, as well as a process by which a dog's physical appearance is enhanced for showing or other types of competition. A dog groomer is a person who earns their living grooming dogs.

Glossary of equestrian terms List of definitions of terms and concepts related to horses

This is a basic glossary of equestrian terms that includes both technical terminology and jargon developed over the centuries for horses and other equidae, as well as various horse-related concepts. Where noted, some terms are used only in American English (US), only in British English (UK), or are regional to a particular part of the world, such as Australia (AU).

Tail (horse)

The tail of the horse and other equines consists of two parts, the dock and the skirt. The dock consists of the muscles and skin covering the coccygeal vertebrae. The term "skirt" refers to the long hairs that fall below the dock. On a horse, long, thick tail hairs begin to grow at the base of the tail, and grow along the top and sides of the dock. In donkeys and other members of Equus asinus, as well as some mules, the zebra and the wild Przewalski's horse, the dock has short hair at the top of the dock, with longer, coarser skirt hairs beginning to grow only toward the bottom of the dock. Hair does not grow at all on the underside of the dock.

<i>Gallop & Ride</i>

Gallop and Ride is a video game developed by Austrian studio Sproing Interactive Media GmbH and released by THQ on November 20, 2008 for the Wii.


  1. 1 2 3 Sellnow, Les. "Grooming your Horse: Deep Down Clean".
  2. McGraw, Eliza R. L. "7 Habits of highly effective horse groomers". The Horse Owner's Resource. Retrieved 2019-02-19.