Grooming is a very important activity both among the horses in the herd and between the guide or owner and the horse. Horses groom each other to show care and attention to each other. Grooming between owner and horse has numerous health benefits and also establishes a connection and bond between horse and handler. Most horses love it, but some horses get cranky and just don’t want to know.
Brushing is important for health and wellness, so how do you manage a horse that doesn’t really want to be brushed? Here are 8 tips to help you overcome this particular problem:
- Make sure the horse respects you and that his outward aggressiveness is not just a sign of bad manners. If the horse behaves this way while being herded or led, it could be that there is a bigger problem than just brushing it and the problem needs to be addressed with a few retraining sessions.
- Lighten your touch Some horses are fine-skinned and sensitive and find it uncomfortable to brush them vigorously. Think about what you are doing and how you are doing it. Arabians and Thoroughbreds have a very light, fine coat that hardly changes from summer to winter; they are typically much more receptive and sensitive to touch on their skin than, say, a native Cob or pony. Sometimes it’s just a matter of lightening your touch. These horses often benefit from baths to keep their skin and coat in good condition rather than vigorous grooming sessions. If you have a horse with sensitive skin, be careful with bath time products, as sensitive skin often reacts to harsh chemicals, use something natural and hypoallergenic.
- Take a look at your brushes – How soft are they? If your horse has a fine coat or sensitive skin, you can use a brush with softer bristles or even a grooming mitt. Start with a rubber or gel curry comb instead of a stiff brush and then move on to a wide bodied brush with super fine bristles. If the horse is very muddy, a grooming glove may work better than a fancy brush in dry mud if your horse objects to a coarser brush.
- Try to increase the pressure– Horses are all different just like people. Your horse’s dislike for what he’s doing may be because he’s not really brushing hard enough, not the other way around. Some horses object to brushing that feels more like tickling rather than strapping, so experiment with the amount of pressure you use to see if there is a level the horse enjoys and doesn’t object to.
- Find out which places they like and dislike: Some horses only react during brushing sessions to the ticklish areas, typically around the girth or belly area, especially if the horse breaks when the girth is lifted. Between the front or hind legs is a no-go area for some and also around the face and ears, although conversely, some horses love to have their faces brushed. One of the ways to treat horses that have a part of their body that they don’t like to be touched, or even all of it, is to go through a desensitization process. There’s no big mystery to this, it’s just a matter of starting very slowly, sometimes even with just your hand, and very quietly increasing the amount of touch and encouragement you give the horse as he becomes more tolerant. If there is any resistance, withdraw to a part of the body the horse is most comfortable with, such as the neck or shoulder. I went from using my hand to stroke and pet the horse to working with a cloth like a small towel and finally a brush.
- Try the TTouch system- Touch stands for Tellington Touch, a method that develops a bond of trust between horse and rider and can offer a solution to physical and behavioral problems. TTouch encourages horses to think instead of just instinctively reacting to a process they don’t like or worry about
- Introduce each step very gradually – Horses that have been mistreated so have experienced rough treatment or simply not been handled will be very suspicious of something as up close and personal as grooming. He introduces each step very gradually and quietly, he only uses very soft materials at first, so nothing rough, abrasive or noisy; remember that those hissing sprays can be very scary to a horse that is on a leash. Don’t expect to make anything but slow progress, but be happy to go at whatever speed your horse is comfortable with, it will pay off in the long run. Other activities and time spent with you will build confidence and help the horse trust you in other situations, not just grooming.
- allow plenty of time to brush your horse and you’re not just squeezing it at the beginning or end of a riding session. Horses are super sensitive and react to the urgency and haste of your actions, which may not be apparent to you.
A horse that develops a sudden sensitivity, dislike, or aversion to grooming where none existed before should always be checked for illness or pain.
There are many reasons why we should groom our horses. It is important for their hygiene and general cleanliness as we remove dirt and sweat from their fur. Brushing a horse allows the handler to closely inspect the horse for injuries, detecting minor wounds or scratches, scuffs and scratches, insect bites or more serious bumps and bumps, such as sarcoids. Grooming is also an integral part of the unique and satisfying bond an owner can have with their horse. Like all good relationships, it will require some commitment and some horses just don’t like being groomed, either because of a bad past experience or because they just don’t like it. Respect your horse and find a technique that works for him.