At one point or another, everyone has seen or heard a piece of horse grooming advice that doesn’t sound quite right, like recommendations for using products such as WD40, Pledge wipes, or harsh detergents on your horse. For less obvious grooming “don’ts,” see the tips below from professionals working in the industry. They just might make grooming time more safe, enjoyable, and beneficial for both you and your horse!

1. Don’t Over-Bathe

“When you bathe too often, you’re taking away natural oils that your horse’s skin produces,” says Lauren Fitzpatrick, professional groom and clipper, and owner of Lauren’s Equine Services in Braeside, Ontario. “Leave bathing for show days.”

Petra McGowan, owner of the Canadian natural grooming products company Ecolicious Equestrian, agrees that over-bathing is her biggest pet-peeve. “While we all pride ourselves in having impeccably turned-out, clean horses, bathing too often is not the way to go as it can strip natural oils from the horse’s coat.”

2. Don’t Forget the Basics

Hoof picking is a part of the standard grooming routine for a reason. “This is something you should never skip,” says Fitzpatrick. “Hoof health is extremely important for the overall performance of your horse.”

Amanda Geerlinks, professional groom and owner of A. Geerlinks Grooming, says a strong grooming practice, starting with currying, is essential. “Don’t neglect the curry comb!” Geerlinks says. “Currying helps to bring up the natural oils out of the coat, which will make your horse nice and shiny! Not only that, currying helps to stimulate the muscles, giving your horse a nice massage. I once was grooming for a horse that was qualified for the Royal, and I was determined for her coat to gleam. I committed to currying her for thirty minutes every day for a month before, and it worked! She was so shiny you could see your reflection in her coat.”

Show groom and professional body clipper Kathleen Munroe agrees that the curry comb, when used correctly, is one of the best tools in your kit. “The curry comb is to be used in a circular motion, lifting dirt, loose hairs and dandruff out to the surface. …Currying your horses daily before and after exercise is important to remove build up of sweat and dirt, improve circulation, and avoid skin infections. The curry comb should be used on the horse’s entire body, including the legs. There are many different types of curry combs – plastic, metal and rubber – and finding one that’s comfortable for your horses is important! Some horses are more sensitive than others.”

3. Don’t Ignore Behavioural Issues

It’s very important to pay attention to how your horse responds to grooming, says Lauren Fraser, clinical animal behaviorist, horse trainer, and owner of Fraser Animal Behaviour Consulting.

“When grooming your horse, don’t disregard any ‘misbehaviour.’ When horses find things painful, scary, or unpleasant, they often behave in ways that people don’t like, for example, biting, kicking, or trying to avoid or escape what is happening to them. This can occur because the grooming itself is causing pain, or even because grooming predicts what happens next. For instance, a handler may do up the girth or cinch in a way that causes pain, the saddle may not fit, or the riding that follows may be stressful. If you see any of these signs, your veterinarian and a qualified animal behaviourist can help.”

Breanna Pearce of Holistic Touch Equine Massage in northern Ontario, agrees that grooming should be a comfortable, relaxing experience. “It’s very important for the horse to be in an environment that’s supportive and inviting to them … sessions can take place outside, in a shelter, arena, or stall, instead of cross ties.

“Also, make sure your halter has ample room for the horse to yawn. Halters that are too tight can apply pressure to the poll and jaw and make for an unhappy horse.”

4. Don’t Clip a Dirty Horse

“Clipping a freshly-bathed horse makes the job easier and faster,” says Geerlinks. “The end result looks better, the horse is more comfortable, and it saves your blades from dulling.”

Fitzpatrick adds, “Never clip with a dull blade. Dull clipper blades not only leave lines, but they will snag the horse’s coat, which can be irritating and painful. A sharp blade will always leave you with the best finish.”

5. Don’t Over-Trim

“Many people love the clean look of a horse’s face, so they trim whiskers and clip inside the ears,” says McGowan. “We say whoa; whiskers are extremely important for sensory processing. They aren’t redundant hair to get rid of. They are sensory organs that help horses experience the world around them and process distance, texture, they help horses evaluate food, as well as protecting the sensitive face.” The FEI banned trimming of sensory hairs on competition horses in 2021.

The same is true for those fuzzy ear hairs. “Horse ears are vertically placed on horse’s head and, as such, a variety of debris can end up lodged in them from sand, pollen, dust etc. In order to avoid these objects sliding further into the ear canal and potentially creating a fertile ground for infection, the ears are lined with dense, interlocking hairs. Snipping or clipping the protruding hair for cosmetic purposes is fine, so long we do not cut hair inside the actual ear. The best way is to lightly squeeze the ear and remove the hair that is protruding outside the ear.”

6. Don’t Over-Bandage

Emma Edwardson, professional groom, rider, and owner of Imagine Equestrian services, says how you wrap can have a huge impact on your horse’s long-term health. “Rather than dry bandaging right after intense work without any previous therapy, cold-hose, ice, and/or rub the legs down with a product.”

Over-bandaging can compromise a horse’s natural ability to adapt, resulting in weaker tendons and muscles in the long-term. “When riding, especially if working with young horses, I believe it is imperative to expose them to many kinds of footing to help strengthen their feet and tendons. The best thing you can do for your horse is make time for as much movement as possible in their daily life, to mimic their natural environment, combined with icing and rubbing their legs down after work.”

Before applying bandages, “Ensure that you are taught by an experienced horse care professional, as there are multiple options for wraps, and they are all wrapped using a slightly different technique, and when done incorrectly, can potentially cause damage or injury to your horses’ legs.” (Ed. note: use of post-workout bandages is increasingly being discouraged and has even been banned in some countries as they have not been proven to effective leg protection and can even have a negative effect on horses’ legs.)

7. Don’t Forget Good Grooming Products

Quality grooming products designed specifically for horses can do the job properly and save you time and money in the long-run. “Take advantage of good grooming products,” Fitzpatrick says. “I love Healthy Hair Care’s Hair Moisturizer. My go-to for tails is Cowboy Magic Leave-In Detangler.”

To avoid over-using products, McGowan recommends “Selecting a gentle shampoo with natural ingredients, bathing with water only, spot cleaning or using a coat conditioner like our Silky Rinse Out Moisturizing Conditioner can help to preserve the natural oil and keep skin hydrated.”

A woman checking a horse's leg.

Emily Randall shows the importance of taking your time when grooming, checking for tight muscles or areas that are reactive to touch.

8. Don’t Skimp on Grooming Time

“These days, everyone is busy and often in a rush at the barn, but the negative effects of rushing the grooming process are two-fold,” says Emily Randall, certified equine massage therapist and owner of Royal Performance Equine Massage. “First, being in a rush and having ‘quick’ energy can cause your horse to pick up on that energy and make him or her on edge and tense. Second, if you rush, you miss the opportunity to take stock of your horse’s muscles, fascia, and general well-being.”

Randall says establishing a baseline for your horse’s “normal” musculature is perhaps the most important part of your regular grooming practice. “During grooming, you can take notice of any ‘tight/hard’ muscles and any sensitive or reactive areas. You can also observe any muscle atrophy, one-sidedness, or overdevelopment of any muscles or muscle groups. Muscles and fascia should not be tight – tight isn’t right!”

To help loosen tight muscles, Randall encourages currying: “A vigorous curry can help loosen restricted fascia and increase circulation, both of which help with post-ride muscle recovery.”

9. Do Have Fun!

Above all, do always prioritize your horse’s immediate as well as long-term comfort and safety. And don’t forget to have fun spending precious time with your horse!