- Thorough daily grooming, how to really clean tack, clipping horses and handling horses. Those are a few of the things that I learned more than 30 years ago about horse care from one of my mentors, Champ Clark, whom I wrote about in last week’s blog.
This week I’m going to briefly explain what I learned about these methods and how I still use them today.
Let’s start with grooming, one of the most poorly understood and least appreciated routines of horse care. Grooming and “brushing” are not really the same thing. Grooming doesn’t mean gently pushing a soft brush over a few spots where you see some dirt on the horse’s coat. Grooming means removing the dirt and hair from the entire horse’s coat and then polishing him in a multi-step process, a process that also provides a massage effect.
The grooming regimen, which I continue to use today, starts with vigorous application of the curry comb, starting at the front of the head and running over the entire body, including the legs. (Obviously, I use a rubber curry comb, not a metal one, including the massaging curry combs I described in my October Horse Journal article.)
When I worked for Champ, the second step was to use a horse vacuum to deeply and thoroughly remove the dirt and hair you’d just loosened up with the curry comb. But I’ve never owned a horse vacuum, so my second step is to use a dandy brush and elbow grease to brush that dirt and hair off the coat. At a show, I would then use a body brush to bring a shine to the coat.
(For suggestions about types and brands of these brushes, see my articles in the July 2012 Horse Journal.)
Next, I take a damp sponge and wipe the eyes and nostrils, and then the dock. You can also use the sponge to remove dirt from the knees, fetlocks or hocks.
Then you take a damp stiff brush and comb to wet down the mane and comb it over to the right. (That, plus braiding if necessary, is how you train the mane to lie correctly.) And you finish by wiping the entire body with a towel or rag.
I do not brush out the tail, except at competitions, because daily or frequent brushing tends to pull out hair and thin the tail.
Clipping was another grooming skill I refined under Champ’s guidance. In the January issue of the Horse Journal, I will explain the four rules of clipping, which I learned from Champ and have honored ever since.
I’d say that the biggest training tip I learned was the importance of handling horses firmly but kindly, a philosophy I’ve seen again and again with other people with whom I’ve worked. You want to think of yourself as a cross between a drill sergeant and a lead mare. You are in charge—period. So when you say, “jump” (or “trot” or “move over”), the only answer allowed is, “Yes, sir.”
And if you’ve made the request correctly, and that’s not the answer you receive, there needs to be a reprimand, the severity of which depends on the situation. A tap with the whip or jab with the spur will do for not moving off your leg.
But even if the response is a disrespectful or violent “No,” your reprimand must be immediate, appropriate and then over—just like a lead mare getting to her dinner or moving her herd. Horses accept and learn from immediate and fair reprimands, because they understand that they’ve acted incorrectly. But they become frightened or sour when faced with inappropriate reprimands or punishment that proceeds too long after the act, punishment enacted out of anger on your part.
You need to be the leader of your horse (like the drill sergeant) so that he or she respects you as their leader and trusts you as their protector (like the lead mare). Champ taught me that our responsibility to the horses in our care is to safely and confidently lead them in whatever task we’re asking them to do. That’s how we can be kind to them—and earn their respect.