“A shiny horse is a healthy horse. But wait a minute … you can create shine with product. An overweight or underweight horse can be shiny, but his weight indicates a less-than-ideal state of health. So the opposite is true: a healthy horse is a shiny horse.” So says Liv Gude, creator of proequinegrooms.com, a website devoted to networking and resources for professional grooms (with great tips for horse owners in general). She notes that your horse’s coat indicates a little bit about what’s going on inside him, as well as environmental and seasonal influences, your grooming practices, even his genetics.
Liv offers the following tips for stunning show coats that will have people reaching for their sunglasses.
The Health Factor
Your horse’s diet must be balanced for his age, exercise level, hay quality and type, access to pasture, past medical history, the type of soil he lives on … the list goes on. Dietary imbalances reduce performance and appearance. An equine nutritionist and/or your veterinarian can help you figure things out.
Consider his internal parasite load. As the ability for parasites to become impervious to wormers increases, fecal testing can ensure you are worming for the types of worms your horse has. Working from a set schedule is unnecessary and can contribute to parasite resistance. Your vet can help you out on this one.
Then there is your horse’s external parasite load. Mange, rain rot, bacterial infections, weird horse skin crud, can all dampen the shine on your horse.
A dull coat doesn’t necessarily mean your horse has worms or an improperly-balanced diet, so it’s worth a conversation with your veterinarian about what you are noticing and how to go forward in case he or she feels it might be a more serious medical issue.
As horses age or struggle with other health issues, you might notice a dulling of the coat. For older horses, it’s a good idea to do some bloodwork to be sure all systems are go. This just gives you the inside peek into brewing issues that might be causing a dull coat, such as pituitary problems.
I receive a lot of questions about shine. The answer: elbow grease, a lot of it. Using your curry gloves or rubber curry comb first brings the dust and dander up. Use the dandy or stiff brush after, otherwise you are just moving the dust around.
Curry, brush, curry, brush, keep going … You can also dampen your dandy or stiff brush and this will get more dust off.
Note: Avoid metal curry combs. They are not forgiving at all, have no flexibility to them, and can be painful for a sensitive horse. Even if your horse does like it, avoid using a metal curry comb over any bony areas like the shoulders, hips, or below the elbow and stifle joints.
A hay wisp (see below) is an almost-forgotten art of weaving damp hay into a handheld wisp to be brushed and rubbed along the lay of the coat for mega-shine. The modern-day alternative to a hay wisp is the cactus cloth.
A tea towel is the next best thing to create shine, then perhaps a super short and tightly bound natural finishing brush or sheepskin mitt. This adds another layer of shine.
Unless your horse’s coat is full of naturally-occurring oils, you may not want to shampoo too often. If it’s post-workout to get rid of sweat, you can get away with a rinse. If it’s to remove a stain, try spot cleaning first. If it’s to remove two weeks of stain residues, you can go for the shampoo!
If your horse is like the Sahara desert, do your best with a curry, vacuum, and rinse so that the oils can build up over time. I often shampoo tails and manes without doing the whole body, or you can only do legs if need be.
Look for a product with mild, gentle, ‘shiny’ words. It likely won’t be the tough stain-removing version or the heavy-duty shampoo. A milder shampoo does the trick.
For an extra shiny coat, add a few drops of essential oils (aloe vera, chamomile, burdock) to the shampoo.
If you have a show next week, skip the shampoo this week and wait until just before the show.
Chestnuts: Chestnut horses have special needs – and not just because of their reputation. Body clipping has a definite effect and the glow of the coppery chestnut is replaced with a dull pumpkin colour. Use grooming oils on a scrubbed-clean horse before clipping to make the clippers zip through, and after clipping to restore shine. You may want to bathe in a few days with a colour-restoring shampoo, too. Be sure to allow two weeks or so before a show/clinic/big event for the pumpkin colour to recede a bit.
Greys: Avoid going all out on detergents. You will end up with a more brittle hair coat which will just soak up stains more easily. Curry like there’s no tomorrow. And then curry some more. Use a touch of baby oil in a bucket of water sponged on after a bath (avoid the saddle area!). Shine products are also great for creating a coat that stains have a hard time sticking to.
Icing on the Cake
Top off your hard work with your favourite commercial shine product. This will also help repel stains. Look for products designed to create shine; these double up as stain guards and can help future stains slide right off.
You may want to invest in a sunscreen spray to protect from bleaching/dulling of the coat.
Horse clothing can protect your horse – and protect your elbow grease investment. Sheets, coolers, blankets, fly masks, and the like will make your horse more comfortable and help his coat stay more brilliant longer by keeping dirt off and preventing sun bleaching.
Nothing can replace your horse’s natural oils that he himself makes. Too much water, too much shampoo, too much product, poor diet, and no elbow grease = dull coat and flaky skin. You can help your pony along with lots of curry comb action, massage, a super diet with well-balanced supplements, and even a wisp if you are so inclined!
Twenty minutes of daily grooming can never be replaced by anything else on the planet … and you have the added benefits of building a strong bond with your horse. As you get to know and memorize his very landscape you will be alerted to any changes, which can only help keep your horse healthy.
MAKE YOUR OWN HAY WISP
- Lay dampened, soft long-stemmed grass hay out down the barn aisle in a pile about 20’ long x 1’ wide x 6” deep
- Begin rolling and twisting it until you have a rope about 6’ long
- Create two loops at one end of the rope, one loop slightly larger
- Braid the two loops and the tail of the rope together, keeping the loops tight
- Dampen the finished product and compress it by stepping on it
- The hay wisp should be firm and small enough to hold in one hand