Grooming

Pro Grooming Tips

Grooming a horse well is about far more than just elbow grease; it reveals a lot about the overall professionalism of the barn.

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By: Jessica Lefroy |

Bo Vaanholt is one busy lady. As part of the grooming team for Canadian Olympic rider Eric Lamaze at Artisan Farms LLC, she travels the world with his large string of horses and makes sure he arrives ringside with his mounts happy and sparkling from ear to hoof.

The 28-year-old hails from Hengelo, The Netherlands, and has been working for Artisan and Torrey Pines for two-and-a-half years. During that time she has groomed horses for the 2015 Pan Am Games and 2016 Rio Olympics. She was recently the recipient of the 2017 Ollie O’Toole Perpetual Trophy (further sweetened with a cheque for $2,000), awarded to the groom of the top prize-money winning horse in grand prix competition at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL, which this year was Artisan Farms’ Fine Lady 5.

Horse Sport caught up with Bo during the Longines Global Champions Tour in Mexico City to talk about keeping things running smoothly behinds the scenes, and share some tricks of the trade which make it all possible.

Plan Ahead

Bo stresses that organizational skills are the number-one priority. “This is one of the most important things. When we are showing at venues like WEF and the Spruce summer series, things can get busy and hectic. There can be a lot of showing in one day, especially when all of our horses are at the show [as many as 50!]. I start thinking about my plan for the next day the night before, that way I will be prepared and can make the most of my time. I always know the day schedule, which horse goes where and when. It’s important to know what is happening in order to plan the day efficiently. Communication is also key to organization.

“It’s really important to get things done as soon as you think of them – don’t wait until the last minute to do something, because inevitably another thing is going to pop up that needs to be done!

Everything in Its Place

“It’s very important that I have all my stuff organized,” says Bo. “I like a neatly packed trunk and grooming box where everything has its own place. It makes my days go a lot smoother not having to search for things!”

Bo is responsible for all the packing; for a typical show she will include in the show trunk:

• saddles

• girths

• bridles

• draw reins

• breastplates

• spare stirrup leathers

• polos

• boots

• bonnets

• slip pads

• extra bits

Bo’s Special Supplies:

• staple gun for stall setup

• gloves for applying poultice

• electrical tape for emergency repairs

• batteries for flashlight

• extra clipper blades

• extra rubber bands for braiding

• zip ties for power cords, feed bags, repairs

“In my grooming box I keep all the brushes, Show Sheen, baby wipes, Quic Braid, fly spray, head numbers, safety pins, and creams. I also bring one trunk for Eric everywhere, which contains his boots, helmets, gloves, show gear, rain gear, shoe polish, etc.

“My ring bag is basically a life-saver. The stables are not always close to the warm-up arena, so I need to make sure I have everything I might possibly need in that bag. You never know what happens and a lot of times things might get changed in the warm-up.

“My bag always has a lot of stuff for both Eric and the horses, such as extra tack, different sets of boots, a variety of chains, a hole punch, spare reins, draw reins, boots, converters for the bit, blinders, spare gloves, and safety pins for Eric’s tie. When we jump on grass there are always extra studs.

“I always carry a towel to clean the horses if they get sweaty and to clean Eric’s boots when he gets on the horse. There’s sticky spray [for boots/breeches] that he uses before going on each horse and I always have a bottle of water for Eric and treats for the horses for when they come out of the ring. Then there’s always some Advil and Bandaids just in case.”

Know Your Horses

A groom’s job clearly goes far beyond grooming. Keeping the horses calm and happy in the high-stress world of horse shows is just as important as making sure they are well-presented, and to do that, you must know their character. “Keep in mind that every horse is different,” says Bo. “Some routines or grooming products that might work really well on one horse may not have the same effect on another. You have to spend the time and care enough to find out what works best for each horse.”

For example, “Fine Lady can get pretty worked up when she’s showing, so just before her class and while getting her ready I try to leave her alone as much as possible so she can relax – she’s not much for attention. Coco Bongo or Chacco Kid, on the other hand, love the attention beforehand, because it makes them feel important.

“How often and when I take them out [of the stall] depends on when they show and when they are flatting. Eric likes to flat Lady close to the class, for example, so if she jumps a Saturday night grand prix at WEF I will hand walk her in the morning and around lunchtime; after that, she will have some quiet time in the box and have her dinner. If they are flatting in the morning, then I’ll take them for a long walk in the afternoon before dinner and they have some quiet time from dinner until I need to get them ready.”

This is another time when communication is important. “Most of our horses have their standard flatting and show bits. If Eric wants to have something else he will usually let me know, and if he’s been using different bits on a certain horse I always text him to ask which one he wants so that the horse is ready when he arrives.”

Bo advises to take your time while grooming your horse, whether before or after a class, or even at home in between shows. “If you are in a rush to get finished for the day you’ll most likely miss out on noticing maybe small things about your horse that could cause big problems later. It is your responsibility to know their legs, how they eat, their mannerisms in the stall, and how their attitude on show day may indicate how they will perform.”

Never be afraid to ask for help. “Talk to other people about your horses. Asking for advice doesn’t mean you’re incompetent, it shows a willingness to learn. Everyone does things in a different way and they might have a good solution to any problems you run into with your horse.

“The grooms really stick together – we are all friends and try to help each other out if needed. It’s a big family.”

Bo’s Top Grooming Tips

Good nutrition is the foundation to a shiny coat. A shiny horse indicates a healthy horse, and the shine can be brought out even more with good grooming, which includes consistently good brushing, especially currying, and washing to keep them clean.

I bathe the horses pretty much every day with moisturizing shampoo in Florida, at Spruce Meadows, and at the shows in Europe. This prevents sun-bleaching from sweat and also prevents any bacteria from the footing from causing skin irritation. When we’re at home in Europe [Vrasene, Belgium] during the colder periods, I only bathe them when it’s necessary or if they’ve been sweating a lot.

I use a lot of vinegar for the skin, as it keeps them very clean. After the horses have had a regular bath, mix three quarters water to a quarter vinegar, then sponge it on and don’t rinse it off.

Cowboy Magic Green Spot Remover is the king of removing manure stains from sneaky horses who roll at the most inopportune moments. Another quick fix is baby wipes.

I brush the face with the same brushes as I use for the body, just with a softer curry that is like a glove so it’s easy to get the whole face done.

Most of our horses really enjoy getting their face washed, but make sure the water pressure is not too strong and keep the stream in the middle of their forehead so that you’re not spraying any water in their ears or eyes. The ones that don’t like it I will do with a wet sponge.

Quic Braid is one of my all-time favourite products! It’s a spray you apply to the mane before braiding that will make sure all the stray hairs are nicely tucked in and it helps to braid down really tight, which will make the result look its best. I can’t live without it.

I like my braids quite small, depending on the mane and the horse’s neck shape. For a small horse with a thin mane, I do fewer braids; for a horse with a thick neck, I do lots of small ones.

Baby powder is another item that is always in my grooming box. It’s very useful for a lot of things, but apply it to your horse’s white legs before going to the ring and they’ve never looked whiter. It’s also very practical to use after bathing to make sure the legs dry fast.

Bridles and breastplates can give your horse rubs very easily if your tack is not clean or doesn’t fit right. The same goes for boots – make sure they are well cleaned after use, as the sand that gets in there can cause nasty boot rubs. I always clean the leather first with only water and after that I use saddle soap. It’s also very important to keep the bits clean. I clean up my tack as soon as possible; there’s nothing worse than a tack hook full of dirty bridles at the end of the day.

We clip the whole body as necessary during the season, except for a patch around the withers and the spur patches on some horses with thin or sensitive skin. You can usually see where your rider’s spurs would touch the horse. If you’re not sure on how to get the patch right, make a pretty big one and go smaller from there.

I use a basic hoof grease on the horses with good feet. On some I use Keratex, as it makes the hoof stronger. It is very good for horses that have problems with their hooves breaking off in little pieces.

A light application of baby oil on a damp towel before you make quarter marks will help them last.

One part rubbing alcohol and two parts water makes a great stain remover for laundry if you don’t have time to put in a full load at the show.

Visit the local dollar store for micro-fibre cloths, spray bottles, and rags for the groom stall.

Remember, show grooming = regular grooming with a few flourishes!

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