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The Art Of Grooming

It’s that time of year again.  Spring is upon us and our horses are transitioning like caterpillars into butterflies…from wooly mammoths into the sleek, beautiful steeds such as those that we see on the pages of calendars.

I would be lying if I told you that this is my favorite time of year.  Don’t get me wrong…I love Spring!  That first glimpse of warmth…flowers…green grass…and dreaded spring time grooming.  Some people use the term “Spring Cleaning.”  Horse people use the term “Spring Grooming.”

As a weekend warrior type of team roper, my horses stay turned out for most of the winter.  My good horse, who originally hails from the cold country of Minnesota, grows a coat that would make a Scottish Highlander turn green with envy.  His typically gorgeous, long flowing mane resembles that of a Rastafarian and his ground-grazing tail becomes hock-length and full of cockleburs.  Needless to say, when spring grooming is upon me, I have to clear my schedule.

Where to Begin?

Catching my horses in the spring is a chore in and of itself.  After spending the months being fat, lazy and happy, they know that when I walk out there with my halter and bucket, work is about to begin.  My day usually starts with me chasing them around the pasture until I’m dripping sweat and I feel as though I may die, because I too have spent my winter months being fat, lazy and happy.  After multiple swear words and several laps around the pasture, I will finally convince them that they need catching.  Once they are captured, I typically groan in disgust as I can already see the work that I have cut out for me.

First thing’s first, you have to get off all of the dead hair.  I like to use a regular curry comb (because I’m old school like that), starting at the front of my horse and working my way back using short, fast strokes.  Be prepared, if your horse is anything like mine, you’ll have to clean the hair out of your comb (and your mouth) every 30 seconds.  You’ll have obtained enough dead horse hair on your clothing and the ground around you to knit yourself a nice sweater, possibly a blanket, if you so possess the talent.

As you finish round one of shed control, you may think you are finished.  Do not be deceived!  As you moved down your horse’s body and around to the other side, your horse miraculously began to shed out another layer.  Pleased with yourself, you may walk back to the side you finished and run your curry over what appears to be a nice, smooth coat only to discover that somehow your comb is still pulling out wads of dead hair.  A horse owner’s work is never done.

My “MANE” Issue with Grooming

My horse, Solo…God love him…grows more hair than any horse I have ever owned.  It is really long and very fine stranded and is therefore prone to “witch’s knots”.  For those of you who may not be familiar with the witch’s knot, that is where your horse’s hair wraps around itself over and over and over again until it creates these loop-like knots that seem impossible to untangle.  Before you bust out the clippers, here are my tried and true tips on working these babies out.

  • Lubricate. Everyone has their favorite leave-in conditioner product that they like to use and I am not here to try to change anyone’s mind.  But let me tell you, I have used them all and then some!  Cowboy Magic works great, but for as often as I need it, I can’t afford it.  I went through this faze where I wanted to use “all natural” products on my baby boy (only the best for Solo) so I tried coconut oil.  I’m not going to lie, it worked pretty good…I said “pretty good” but notice I did not say “GREAT”.  Mostly, it just made my hands really dirty and oily…but if you are into natural treatments, this is not only good for your horse’s hair but also your hands.  I’m all for a natural manicure, but at the end of the day, it’s the cowboy way for me…WD40.  My dad used to use WD40 on our horse’s manes and tails growing up and not only does it make the knots slide right out of your horse’s hair, but it also seems to keep it softer longer and helps to repel some of the dust.
  • Pick the knots…don’t COMB them. If you try to just comb the knots out of your horse’s mane and tail, you are going to cause more harm than good and your own hair will probably start falling out in frustration.  You have to PICK the knots a little at time!  It’s similar to a really annoying puzzle where you pick the knot apart one strand at a time.  It is time consuming and by the time you finish, you’ll have enough dirt under your fingernails to plant a small garden, but if you are like me and enjoy a horse with a long pretty mane…you’ll take the time.  TRUST ME when I say that I have threatened my nag with the clippers more than once.  And I swear that he rolls his eyes every time because he knows that I would rather spend all day on one knot then ride a horse with a roached mane.  I have also seen guys slice through them with a pocket knife.  If that’s your style, then I’m cool with that, but in my opinion it just breaks off your horse’s hair at the knot and leaves a big gap.  When in doubt, pick it out.
  • Keep it braided. I’m lazy when it comes to grooming (clearly) so I typically skip this step.  But, in a perfect world, I would catch my horses a couple times a week and re-braid their manes.  Not only does this help your horse’s mane grow nice and long, but it keeps it tangle free as well.

The Tail End of My Frustration

Let’s shoot back to the tail end of our horse now.  I sure do love a horse with a nice long tail.  But, the upkeep can be enough to make you go insane, especially if you keep your horses turned out.  I have tried tailbags, braided them up, down, with twine, socks…you name it.  It’s a constant battle to keep my horse’s tail long.  The best thing I have found for my horses are the tail bags that you braid into your horse’s tail.  I then take the end of my horse’s tail and tie it up into itself so that it is picked up off of the ground.  Just a side note, make sure that you tie your horse’s tail up in a safe way where they can’t rip it out at the bone by hanging it up on something or stepping through it.  Accidents do happen and that is a rare scenario, but keep in mind, turning your horses out with tailbags that are meant to stay put can be damaging.

A Bur in My Side

My number one nemesis when it comes to manes and tails is the COCKLEBUR.  Y’all know what a cocklebur is, right?  Let me spell it out for you in case you don’t.  Cockleburs are these evil little seedpods that literally jump onto anything that comes near them.  They are spiny all the way around and once they have found their way into your horse’s mane or tail, you are going to have a lot of fun picking them out.  Be prepared for bloody fingers, trucker’s mouth, and a severe dislike of Mother Nature.  I don’t hate many things…but I despise cockleburs.  I have threatened to move, burn my place down, and take the scissors to my horses.  Rest assured, I haven’t actually done any of those things.  Instead, I stomp around, pout, moan, groan and complain as I grab my handy dandy cocklebur removal kit and go to work.  What, you may ask, is in my cocklebur removal kit?  Needle nose pliers, WD40, a brush, and patience…lots and lots of patience.  Here are the steps I use to remove burs from my horse’s mane and tail:

  • Lubricate. Just as you did to remove the witch’s knots, you will need to condition the hair so that the burs will slide easily.  It doesn’t matter what you use, just so long as you use it!
  • Get a grip. Grab a hold of the bur with your pliers.  DO NOT try to grab them with your fingers and if you do, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  You can grab them with your fingers in a pinch, but if you have several to remove, you are bound to get stabbed…and just like a papercut, they can’t kill you, but they hurt for days.
  • Pull the hair from the bur, not the bur from the hair. Say it with me!  “Pull the HAIR from the BUR, not the BUR from the HAIR.”  Very good!  This is a difficult concept from many to grasp.  When you try to pull the bur from the hair, it will simply grab more hair on the way, ripping a hole in your pony’s mane or tail and really ticking you off in the process.  However, if you pull the hair from the bur, it will dislodge it the point where it will easily slide through your horse’s hair.  This may mean that you have to pull just a few strands at a time.  It’s time consuming, but I assure you, if you follow these steps, it will save you so much frustration.

Rub-a-dub-dub

The final step in your spring grooming is giving your horse a bath.  Make sure that the weather is nice enough to do so.  You don’t want your horse to catch a cold.  I’ve mentioned a few times in this article that I am lazy.  I am not saying that to downgrade myself, I am simply stating facts.  I enjoy working smarter, not harder.  Therefore, I like to use the horse shampoo that connects to the end of the hose.  It’s brilliant and it saves me a lot of time, plus it foams up nicely and I like that.  Spray your horses down from head to toe (avoid spraying them in the face…it’s not nice), shampoo, rinse, and repeat if necessary.  I actually just read that on the back of the bottle so if you don’t have access to this article when it comes time to give your horse a bath, rest assured that you will still have some guidance if you need it.  If you own a gray, buckskin, palomino, cremello, perlino or any of those other light colored, always dirty horses…I apologize.  I have owned several buskins and a gray and after spending what felt like hours daily trying to get and keep them clean, I gave up and started buying dark colored horses.  After bathing, I like to tie my horses out in a sunny spot to dry.  You can use a squeegee to remove excess water, if you feel so inclined.  I will then spray a leave-in conditioner in my horse’s mane and tail, braid it, and call it a day.

Grooming seems like such a simple task, but truth be told, it can be tedious and time consuming.  This can be avoided if you are diligent in your grooming, but if you are like me and turn your horses out in the winter, there is a fair chance that you will be following these steps in the spring.  Have no fear, Spring only comes once per year!

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Written by Lacey Maddalena

Lacey grew up on a cattle ranch in Northern California where she learned to ride and rope at a very young age. Her dad was an avid team roper, and unlike most little girls who dreamed of the adrenaline of chasing barrels, Lacey dreamed of being a team roper just like her dad. She won her first jackpot at just 13 and has been hooked ever since. She is not only a passionate team roper and a writer, but also an artist and an outdoorsman. When she is not in the arena, she enjoys painting, archery, fishing, hiking, and traveling the world.

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