Cold temperatures and longer coats can complicate grooming at this time of year. Here's how you can make the job easier:
Go deep: Currying not only loosens dirt but massages the skin and distributes natural oils. A currycomb with long "fingers" can reach through a long winter coat better than a traditional curry with oval rings of short teeth.
Suck it up: A grooming vacuum can quickly and easily pull dust and dirt from a thick winter coat. Just curry to loosen debris and vacuum away. If you've not used a vacuum on your horse before, take a few days to acclimate him to the sight, sound and sensation.
Mud busters: To tackle caked-on mud, try using the toothed side of an open shedding blade. Limit yourself to his fleshiest areas, however, and use less pressure over his hips and withers. For smaller, more sensitive spots, try a hard, square Sarvis currycomb.
Quick turnaround: Don't panic at the sight of a filthy horse 20 minutes before your scheduled ride. Focus instead on the areas that need to be groomed for his comfort and safety, and tackle the rest when you have more time. Must-groom spots include the saddle, bridle and girth areas, behind his pasterns and elbows, and under his jaw. Dirt and debris on these areas can rub as the horse works, leading to abrasions or infection.
A little off the back: Trimming the long hair on a horse's pasterns not only gives him a tidier appearance but can help keep the area cleaner and drier, reducing the risk of scratches during wet winter weather.
A spot-on solution: Green spots on a gray coat aren't pretty. You can spot-clean your horse with a commercial product, following the instructions on the label, or try scrubbing the area with a rag saturated in rubbing alcohol. For instant spot camouflage, dust the area with cornstarch or baby powder, then brush out the excess.
Steam cleaned: Hot-toweling enables you to get your horse deep-down clean when it's too cold for a full bath. Here's how it's done:
1. Use a submersible heater or portable kettle to heat a large bucket of water. (You?ll need it hot enough so that you can just stand to put your gloved hand in it.)
2. As the water heats, curry and brush the horse thoroughly and use a spot-removing grooming product to "pretreat" grass and manure stains.
3. Dunk a clean towel in the hot water and wring it out until it's nearly dry.
4. Rub the towel briskly against the grain of the hair. Work in small patches of the coat at a time and rotate to a clean area of the towel as it picks up dirt. Redunk and rewring the towel when it stops visibly steaming. You will use several large bath towels to clean an entire dirty horse. Use a smaller hand towel to clean the face.
5. If the horse becomes damp as you work, keep him covered in a cooler.
Dirt defense: Keep white leg markings clean by applying a conditioner containing silicone. First clean and dry the area, then spray on the silicone product. The spray coats the hair shafts, making them so slick that dirt slides right off.
Go Undercover: Keeping your horse blanketed may cut down on your grooming time, but it can also hide weight loss, skin infections and even injuries. Remove your horse's blanket for a quick inspection at least once a day during the winter.
Choices in clipping: A full body clip certainly makes winter grooming easier but adds the chore of blanketing. A compromise is a partial clip, such as a trace, that removes hair only from areas of the horse that get sweaty with work but leaves the rest for warmth.
For tidier tails: If your horse went into winter with a clean tail, you can help keep it that way by using a commercial tail bag. Or you can protect it with a braid. Divide the hair into three sections, wrap each in a long, narrow strip of torn bed sheet and then braid the sections together. At the end of the tail, continue braiding the remaining sheets for a few inches, then tie them off in a knot.
Lovely locks: To clean a grungy tail in winter, saturate the hairs with silicone spray and separate them by hand. Remember you can use water to bathe the bottom of the tail, below the bone, even in cold weather.
Cold weather cooldown: It's a perpetual post-ride grooming quandary of winter: How to handle a sweaty horse on a cold day? Doing nothing isn't an option because he could easily catch a chill. Instead, you'll need to dry him off while still keeping him warm. Here are a few options:
- Cover him with a cooler and stuff handfuls of straw underneath. The straw provides loft that allows air, warmed by body heat, to circulate and will dry the coat more quickly than a cooler alone.
- Let the horse roll in clean, dry sawdust or the footing of an indoor arena, then brush the debris off. Not only will the footing soak up moisture from the coat, but the rolling will take care of the itchiness drying sweat can create.
- Use a hair dryer or a grooming vacuum with a "reverse" feature to literally blow- dry the coat. Rubbing the coat with a towel as you go can speed up the process. Just be careful to not blow dirt or debris into the horse's face.
For better brushes: Dirty grooming tools can't produce a clean horse. Midway through the season, take your brushes indoors to wash them in a mild soap solution. Allow them to air-dry overnight.
Mark it off: Dried-on saddle marks can be easily removed by rubbing them with a cactus cloth (a rag made with loosely woven cactus fibers) or loofa sponge. Or mist the sweat marks with alcohol then rub with a towel. When the hair is dry, smooth it down with a soft brush.