The old adage tells us that first impressions are everything. More often than not, in the horse world first impressions are more than just aesthetic; they can (with some exceptions) be a mirror to what is actually going on inside your equine partner and depending on your discipline it can win (or lose) you ribbons.
No matter what your equestrian discipline is, a shiny coat on your horse is a deeply satisfying goal that we horse owners nearly all strive for. Here at Foxtrot Horsewear, we do a lot of photoshoots with our horses so keeping them in prime condition is essential.
We canvased our favourite horse showing, eventing, dressage, and racing grooms to put together this package of their favourite tips on how to improve your horses coat condition.
Groom Always + Often:
Sorry! We know you wanted the easy way out, but in truth the simplest way to a better coat for your horse is regularly grooming, often. As well as being a time for relaxation and bonding between horse and human, it’s a great time to assess and inspect your horses skin and limbs for overall health, irregularities and knocks. Top horse grooms recommend a total of 30 minutes per session 3-4 times per week minimum (every day if possible) in order to achieve optimal coat quality. The consensus process to achieve top quality coat shine is:
- Rubber curry comb with and against coat over neck and body to loosen hair, dirt and dead skin cells – 5-10 minutes
- Next use a Dandy/Hard bristled brush to take off the dirt and hair brought out by the curry comb. Brush out in a short flicking motion, whisking the dirt outwards, once again on the neck and body for at least 5-10 minutes.
- Next clean up any remnants and the areas you haven’t brushed yet (head, legs) with a soft body brush for 5-10 minutes, followed by a good old fashion wipe down all over with a soft chamois or towel.
Many grooms and riders are still a fan of ‘banging’ the large muscles before a ride, which warms the muscle as well as giving the coat a final polish. Laura Bechtolsteimer did a great video on this a few years back which you can view here.
Then, after exercise it is really important to remove all sweat and dirt – dry sweat bleaches dries and bleaches coats. Always rinse your horse after any session of work, and repeat 5-10 minutes of grooming with a soft brush again before you put them away.
Bathe them better!
Shampooing your horse too often or using harsh products will lead to your horse’s coat to becoming dry and dull, as it will strip the natural oils that let it shine. If you wouldn’t use it on your own skin – you should definitely NOT be using it on your horse. Top grooms suggest that investing in a high-quality specialist horse shampoo product formulated for horses only is key to retaining moisture, as well as limiting the amount of times you shampoo to a maximum of once per week (a horse in full work), instead opting for a rinse in fresh water only after riding.
Because you will only be using ¼ of a cup of shampoo on an average size horse per week, a bottle should last many months. We are big fans here at Foxtrot Horsewear of Kohnke’s Own Kleen-Sheen and the Cowboy Magic products.
A good technique for washing you horse is to first rinse your horse in water, then apply shampoo to a bucket of warm water. Sponge the water on to your horse and then grab your ruby curry comb and work the shampoo in all the way through the coat to the skin. Allow it to sit for one minute, then rinse the entire horse twice with fresh water. Repeat these steps with conditioner if using that is your jam (many grooms don’t condition the body hair unless it is in preparation for a competition).
Try using a little white vinegar to rinse on your horse after a trip to the wash bay. This helps to add coat shine and can assist in remove any remaining suds if you shampoo.
How do I get stains out of my horses coat?
Try lifting any heavy stains out with a steamy warm washcloth - if your horse is naturally oily this typically works really well. You can also add in a specially formulated spot remover, once again pick a product that is low in chemicals and patch test it first.
A horse’s tail MUST be conditioned
You can use a conditioner for horses at bath time, or you can use a spray in conditioner or de-tangler. Top horse show grooms believe that healthy hairs don’t absorb stain as easily as brittle and damaged hair, so they feel that keeping tails hydrated will help.
Keep the tail square!
Simple and easy – this is the best cheat we have come across. Top grooms recommend that keeping the tail blunt and straight always gives an instant impression of a neat, well-kept horse.
If in doubt – Oil, Oil Oil!
If your horses skin is dry, many top-class grooms like to add a capful of the human product QV Sensitive Baby Bath oil to a final rinse bucket of warm water, which you then pour over the horse and brush off using a dandy brush. No need to rinse. It’s extremely gentle and not ‘oily’ as such.
You can also some diluted Coconut Oil to a small spray bottle and use this on your horse’s mane and tail in place of a horse conditioner.
Worms could be damaging your horses coat
Worms are tiny horrible creatures, that have can have a huge impact on your horse’s overall wellbeing and in turn, their coat.
In days gone by, many horse owners (and vets) have managed worms using an “Interval Deworming Program” in which all horses were treated with a different worming drug every 8-12 weeks. More recently vet have realised that this system has many disadvantages and are now moving away from this approach to a “selective deworming program”. In this approach, vets or specialist faecal testing labs will identify horses with a high parasite burden (high egg shedders) and vets recommend treating only these horses so as not to build wormer resistance in the herd.
It’s important to test your horse regularly to ensure those horrid little critters aren’t damaging your horses chance to shine, shine, shine! The cost is small, in Australia we pay between $10 - $25 per horse to test, it is simply a matter of bagging up a tiny portion of fresh poo and posting it off for testing. You can find companies online who will arrange this for you.
Keeping horses skin condition primed is key
We know that long term appearance starts with skin health. If the protein level in a horse’s diet are low, evidence suggests this can lead to slower hair growth and slower shedding. Hydration is also important for skin health, and just like us humans, getting the right balance of vitamins, essential amino acids and minerals have been shown to improve surface of hair and coat health. If your horse has ongoing itchy or flaky skin, it’s important to assess the reason for this – is the horse photosensitive, missing a mineral or reacting to a topical shampoo or even a processed feed? If you are implementing all of the steps above and you’re still not seeing a significant improvement in coat condition – you should consider consulting your vet for blood tests and medical advice. There may be something going inside that the skin is trying to tell you.
This is not intended to be medical advice and is each individual persons’ experience with their individual horses. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinary physician or other qualified health provider if you have concerns. You should always spot-test any new product you use on your horse for reaction first, and introduce new feed or supplements slowly.