Why do I need to groom my horse?

Grooming should be undertaken as part of your routine horse care. Basic grooming involves brushing the whole of the body in the direction of the hair growth to remove mud and dust, and also picking out the feet. As well as making sure your horse does not have any dirt/grit on them that would cause a rub from tack while being worked, grooming gives you a chance to look over them for any injuries or potential problems, such as wounds or lumps.

Why does my horse like to roll and get dirty?

Grooming means different things to you and your horse. In a natural situation, horses take care of their own skin. They do this by rolling (which, as well as having other benefits, helps to remove dead hair and exfoliate the skin), rubbing on protrusions such as low tree branches, and by mutual grooming. Mutual grooming is where two horses use their front incisor teeth to rub/gently nip each other around the withers, neck and back. This allows them to scratch the parts of the body that are difficult to reach and to bond socially [1]. It is a literal case of, ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’.

When and how should I groom my horse?

If your horse lives outside in a herd situation and does not wear rugs, the only grooming you need to do is just before you ride them, if you ride frequently. Before tacking up, you need to make sure the areas where the gear will sit on the horse are clean and free from any dirt/grit, etc. If your horse does not get ridden or is ridden infrequently, it can be beneficial to groom them regularly as a means of giving them a thorough check over, if your horse enjoys being groomed.

Be aware of your horse’s behaviour while you are grooming them, so you can modify the grooming technique to suit what they like. For example, if your horse is restless or shifts away when you use a certain brush or when you groom a certain area, this could mean that they are finding the grooming unpleasant. In this case, try changing to a different brush or grooming a different area until you find a grooming method that your horse enjoys. Be conscious that during grooming sessions some horses may attempt to ‘mutually’ groom you with their teeth. You should not allow your horse to do this to you (move away so that you are out of their reach), because you could easily end up with an unintentional, but still painful, nip.

During those times of the year when horses are shedding their coat, consider grooming with a tool that will help remove loose hair, such as a rubber curry comb. Brushing leaves the protective oils in the coat whereas washing does not, so limit washing especially if your horse lives outside without rugs.

After exercise, horses should be cooled down and dried off with a towel before being put back in the paddock. Hooves should be picked out using a hoof pick tool before riding, and regularly when conditions are muddy or wet. Hoof dressings are not necessary.

Is grooming important for my rugged horse?

When horses are rugged, grooming becomes even more important because the horse cannot take care of his or her own skin by rolling or scratching. Rugs should be removed and the horse thoroughly checked over daily, and grooming should be performed regularly. Regular grooming can help prevent dead skin and hair build up and can reduce the risk of discomfort and skin problems. Allowing your horse to roll without rugs from time to time is also likely to be beneficial for their welfare, as this is an activity that horses enjoy.


[1] Mendonça RS, Pinto P, Inoue S, Ringhofer M, Godinho R, Hirata S (2021) Social determinants of affiliation and cohesion in a population of feral horses. Appl Anim Behav Sci 245:105496.

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Updated on April 5, 2024
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