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Step-by-Step Horse Grooming: The Beginner’s Guide

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My grandchildren often get frustrated waiting for me to groom the horses before they ride. They think I’m old and slow, so I decided to teach them how to groom their horses. After all, it is an essential part of being an equestrian.

The three primary steps to grooming a horse are to brush its coat, comb through its mane and tail, and take care of its feet. Start with a curry comb and brush the horse’s entire body; use a comb to detangle the mane and tail and pick the hooves.

Grooming your horse is a task that many people take for granted. It’s not just about making sure they look good on the outside; proper care must also be given to their health and happiness too. In this guide, I give you the information you need to groom your horse the right way.

Grooming gear you’ll need.

Many people think horse grooming is simple, but it takes time and knowledge to do it right. If you intend to groom your horse regularly, ensure you’re equipped with all the necessary tools for safe and effective grooming!

Picture of a woman grooming her horse,

There are suitable horse grooming kits available that come in a handy carry case. But be aware that some kits have useless accessories, and others are explicitly made for kids, so check them out good before buying one.

I prefer to buy my grooming tools separately as I have specific brands that I like to use. However, if you’re new to grooming or prefer to have everything in one place, you can find some well-equipped grooming kits.

Before making a purchase, be sure to review the list below to ensure the kit includes all the necessary tools and equipment. Here are some essential grooming tools and gear that horse owners should have:

  1. Hoof pick: This tool is used to remove dirt and debris from a horse’s hooves. Keeping the hooves clean can help prevent injuries and infections.
  2. Curry comb: This tool is used to loosen dirt and hair from the horse’s coat. It is typically made of rubber and has small teeth or bumps on the surface.
  3. Body brush: This is used to remove loose hair, dirt, and sweat from the horse’s coat after using the curry comb.
  4. Mane and tail comb: This is used to detangle the horse’s mane and tail. It’s important to be gentle to avoid damaging the hair.
  5. Sweat scraper: This is used to remove excess sweat and water after the horse has been bathed or exercised.
  6. Grooming mitt: This can be used to clean and massage the horse’s coat and can be especially helpful for sensitive areas such as the face.
  7. Scissors: These are used for trimming the horse’s hair, such as the bridle path, fetlocks, or mane.
  8. Grooming tote: This is a container that can hold all of the grooming tools and gear in one convenient location.
  9. Hoof conditioner or sealant: This is used to help maintain the health and integrity of the horse’s hooves and can help prevent cracking or splitting.
  10. Tail conditioner and detangler: This can help keep the horse’s tail healthy and tangle-free and can make grooming easier and more comfortable for your horse.
  11. Horsefly spray: This can help repel flies and other biting insects, which can significantly annoy and even pose health risks to horses.

In addition to these basic tools and gear, horse owners may also want to invest in other items, such as shampoos, conditioners, and coat sprays, depending on their horse’s individual needs. Regular grooming and proper care can help keep horses healthy, comfortable, and looking their best.

Picture of horse getting bathed

The Steps to Groom a Horse

1.   Curry (massaging)

Start with the rubber curry comb; it loosens dirt and dead skin and removes old hair. Rub your horse with it all over, using it in circles. Be gentle on areas with any cuts or injuries and where there is little fat or muscle.

Currying relaxes the muscles and hair follicles which makes the hair lay flat, enhancing shine. It also brings dirt and debris to the surface, making it easier to remove.

Pro tip: While grooming, watch out for bumps, scratches, or irregularities. Gently use the curry brush to massage the cannon bones of all four legs.

Always ‘listen’ to your horse – every horse has a different tolerance level – so watch out for signs of pain or discomfort.

Below is a YouTube video that offers some grooming tips for show and performance horses.

2.  Remove stubborn dirt (flicking)

If your horse is filthy, use a mud brush to flick out the clumps of mud. You can also use the medium bristle brush to perform the ‘flicking. Mud brushes typically have inch-long tapered bristles to reach deep between hair shafts and loosen and remove crusted mud, dirt, dandruff, and dead hair.

Flick against the skin using short, hard strokes. This movement helps remove the mud near the skin and also eliminates dander while distributing the skin oils. Thus, regular brushing gives your horse a natural shine.

Always move from the neck to the rump using the flicking motion. It is best to use short strokes and brush in the same direction as hair growth. Brush on both sides of your horse and repeat the process with longer strokes to do a thorough job.

Gently brush your horse’s face too.

Pro tip: Use soft or small brushes for the face and larger ones for the body.

Picture of a thoroughbred stallion.

3.   Brush out its tail

Brushing out your horse’s tail is essential to keeping it healthy, shiny, and beautiful. It also promotes growth which is necessary for horses that have difficulty growing a long tail.

When brushing your horse’s tail, use the comb, start from the tail’s bottom, and work your way up. Be gentle if there are tangles because you can hurt your animal. Apply a tail conditioner or detangler to help you get through mats and tangles.

When these commercial products started getting popular, I was skeptical about them. However, I’ve learned over the years that they work and save time.

If you have a horse with a thick mane and tail that gets tangled, buy some detangler. I find most brands work about the same. You can find Mane n Tail Detangler on Amazon; it’s the go-to brand for many equestrians.

Pro tip: Never rip your comb through the middle of the tail in a hurry. It will cost you dearly later.

4.  Grooming the mane

You can groom even the most challenging horse’s mane and make it look more attractive, neat, and healthy.

The grooming process for your horse’s mane starts with the following:

  • Brushing and combing out the knots.
  • Removing debris from the hairs with a comb or stiff brush.
  • Trimming off the ends of split or matted hairs.
  • Train the mane– Horses with thick manes may need it pulled to lie over. Don’t attempt to pull your horse’s mane unless you have an experienced person with you. Pulling the horse mane thins it using a comb; you wrap the hair around the comb and pull out small sections. Another way to train a mane is to place a hot towel (not too hot-check the temperature first) on the mane to tame it – heat helps it lie flat.

Pro tip: If you want to tame the mane further, use a little beeswax pomade to make it smoother.

Picture of a person brushing their horse

5.   Take care of your horses’ feet.

One of the most important parts of horse care is picking out your horse’s feet. This is because a lot can happen to their feet between groomings, and keeping your horse’s hooves healthy and clean is crucial.

Picking a foot may seem easy, but there are many things to consider when doing this, such as checking for any stones and assessing the shape of their hoof walls. It’s also super important that you check for any wounds, thrush, and abscesses in their soles, especially around the frog area.

If your horse’s hoofs are dry or cracked, you might have to use a sealant to keep out moisture or a hoof oil to seal the moisture in. Apply the hoof oil to the coronary band but avoid applying it on the soft coronary bands or heels.

Hoof conditioners treat your horse’s hoofs and make them look good. A hoof conditioner I find works well and is reasonably priced is Farnam Horseshoer’s Secret Deep-Penetrating Hoof Conditioner, but there are plenty of other good brands available. I do strongly recommend you have some hoof conditioner on hand.

Pro tip: Use a lanolin-based hooves conditioner once a week to protect and condition your horse’s hooves.

Picture of Farman hoof care

6.  Treat common skin issues.

Horses typically have a sleek, shiny coat. However, some develop skin diseases that profoundly affect the way they look. The most common of these is called rain rot. This condition causes the horse’s hair to become brittle and fall out, revealing irritated, red skin.

To treat rain rot, bathe your horse with a medicated shampoo and apply a topical solution to the area to keep it from getting too dry. This will also soothe any pain or irritation in the area. Absorbine Fungasol Ointment is a good choice because of its consistency; it keeps moisture out and protects them against infection.

Horses are also prone to getting ringworm which is contagious. You must isolate your horse, clip the hair around the ringworm and apply antifungal medication. If the condition persists, contact your vet; he may prescribe a more aggressive treatment plan.

Pro Tip: Never share brushes between horses because this can spread infections around.

7.  Apply coat conditioner.

Some horses have dry hair that is thin and breaks easily. This makes their hair look dull and can also be painful for the horse. To fix this, use a coat conditioner.

Spray-on conditioners are the best way to keep your horse’s coat bright and shiny. Simply spray on some leave-in conditioning treatments after you’ve finished brushing your horse coat.

I like to spray the conditioner on a mitt or towel and wipe down my horse from neck to rump. You can use the sheepskin mitt to provide a final smoothening touch, bringing extra shine to the coat. Don’t forget to wipe your horse’s eyes, face, and mouth with a moist towel.

Pro tip: Know your horse’s ticklish areas and avoid the same.

8.   Finish up

  • If your horse has light or pink skin, it needs sunscreen, and now is the time to apply it. Use a high-SPF sunscreen and put it on its muzzle and other spots with sparse hair. You can also get a fly mask with UV protection.
  • Give your horse a good going over with an effective horsefly spray.
  • Apply hoof polish
  • Put baby oil on the horse’s muzzle and ears.

How long should it take to groom a horse?

Horse grooming might be the most tedious of all equestrian tasks, but one that is necessary for a healthy horse. Grooming a horse takes time, especially for a beginner, but you’ll get quicker after a few months.

I usually give myself an hour to groom my horse thoroughly, but that includes taking breaks. If I worked at it straight, I could easily groom a horse in 30 minutes or less, depending on its condition.

Many people spend just a few minutes on grooming before they ride, which is fine. I typically check the horse’s feet, give the horse a good brushing and throw on a saddle; this usually takes no more than 10 minutes.

After riding, I typically do thorough grooming of at least 45 minutes to an hour.  Grooming after a ride is not only good for the horse physically, but it’s time to socialize and bond with your animal.

Picture of a quarter horse.

Should you groom your horse every day?

Ideally, you should groom your horse daily, even if it is kept in a stall. You need not do all of the steps but brush and check your horse’s feet before riding. It also allows you to evaluate the health of your horse.

How often you groom a horse depends on how dirty it gets and how often you take it out. If you rarely take your horse out, you can cut the grooming to three times per week. Grooming not only massages your horse but also redistributes the skin oil to impart a natural shine.

What does it mean to rub a horse down?

The phrase “rubbing down a horse” is used when you use a curry comb to groom your horse. You hold it in your hand and move it in circles. It looks and feels like you are rubbing the horse with your hands.

Rubbing down a horse is an integral part of grooming which helps the dirt and hair come out. Horses also rub themselves down to exfoliate their skin and remove dirt and mud. They do so by rolling in the hay or rubbing their bodies against the trunks of trees.

You can rub down a horse before you ride to remove sweat, dust, and debris from the horse.

Key Takeaways – How to Groom a Horse for Beginners

Horse grooming is an essential chore that all equestrians must perform daily. Grooming massages your horse removes dirt and debris and prevents skin problems from escalating. It is also a great way to foster a loving bond between you and your horse.

The basic steps of daily horse grooming include currying, flicking, conditioning the coat, detangling the tail, and setting the mane. You can perform these steps before or after a ride. Every once or twice a week, trim the hooves to prevent them from causing discomfort to your horse.

With regular grooming, your horse will be a pleasure to behold!


How often should I bathe my horse?

Depending on how often you take your horse out, you may want to bathe it once a week. The number of times a horse needs bathing depends mainly on the use of the horse. Avoid giving baths in winter when it is freezing. Horses can get sick if not dried properly. In summer, you could bathe your horse more frequently.

Should you brush your horse’s teeth?

Horses do not need teeth brushing. You could use products to remove tartar buildup, but brushing isn’t necessary. Ensure your horse’s teeth are checked and floated once or twice a year to keep its teeth healthy.

How often should you clean a horse’s sheath?

Generally, a horse’s sheath should be cleaned every six months to a year. However, if the horse is particularly dirty, has a lot of build-up of smegma in the sheath, or is experiencing a problem such as inflammation or infection, it may need to be cleaned more often.