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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.
The main reasons for daily grooming include:
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.
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.
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, 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).
All crevices of the hoof are cleaned, particularly the "sulci between the frog and the bars, 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.
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 either wax-based shoe polish or to enamelized human nail 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 doesn't 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.
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.
Clipping style is quite variable by breed, region and discipline. While some clipping has its origins in practical purposes, much clipping today is very much based on the showing style for which a particular horse is used. The most common areas clipped include:
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 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, thus worth the time and upkeep of regular thinning. Today, its purpose is primarily for tradition and to make it lay down flat and 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.
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 not 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 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. On the other hand, 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, is 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.
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. Other nations often do not use such products on show animals at all. In a few disciplines, such products are banned. Most breeds that allow highlighting require such it to be clear, without dye or color.
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.
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.