Tips for grooming muddy ponies and horses

For those of us in the Northeast, it's that time of year, when we are bound to look more dirty than our equine friends by the time we leave the barn.  Everything has melted, spring showers have arrived, and our horses are shedding like bandits.  Shedding also means they feel itchier than normal, and that means they are rolling like mad.  The warmer temperatures also mean that sometimes they get to go out without a sheet.  The result: an almost daily grooming battle, with a crusty, mud-covered, shedding horse. 

There are two ways to tackle the cleaning of your muddy friend:

1.  If it is warm enough, you can rinse your horse off with the hose when they come in from the field.  This is the simplest solution, but at this time of the year, it's often not warm enough to do this in New England.  If you are unsure about whether it's okay to hose them off or not on a particular day, ask someone with more experience, such as your barn manager or instructor for guidance. If it's just slightly too cool to do a total body hose off, but I am in a desperate situation, a bucket of warm water and a sponge can be useful to spot wash any areas that really need it. 

2.  Brush off the mud.  The key here is timing.  Timing is important because mud must be brushed off when the horse is dry.  If your horse isn't dry, you'll pretty much grind the mud further into his coat, rather than removing it. 

  • Use a rubber curry comb or rubber mitt to loosen up the dry mud and hair.  Feel free to do this pretty much all over the body, except the face and any sensitive spots (know your horse!). 
  • Then take a dandy brush, aka a hard brush, and use short, firm, flicking motions in the direction of the coat to remove the dirt and hair.  Every few strokes, remove dirt and hair from the dandy brush, by using a metal curry comb (never to be used on a horse), or the stall door, or whatever you have handy so that you aren't just moving the dirt around on your equine pal. 
  • If your horse is shedding buckets, take the time to use a shedding blade, ferminator or some other product (there are many out there on the market) to continue to remove extra hair.  At this point it's also a good idea to check for injuries and skin issues.  Run your hands over your horses body and legs to make sure there are no bumps, hot spots or anything unusual going on with their skin.
  • Then give them a brush with a body brush, aka a soft brush.  I consider this more of the polishing stage.  Use plenty of elbow grease to help bring the shine out of their coat.  Each hair follicle is tied to a sebaceous gland which secretes sebum.  Sebum is what we would consider the natural oil in the coat, and the action of the body brush will help to work the sebum through the coat to create shine. 
  • For the face, try to very gently brush off any mud with a soft brush or face brush.  If that isn't working, a clean cloth wet with warm water normally will do the trick. 
  • Be sure to take the time to pick out feet properly.  Mud can mean that picking out one foot can take a couple of minutes and the apparent strength of an ox, but it is very important to ensure no hoof conditions are developing and there are no rocks mixed in with the mud. 

If you run into the situation of having a horse covered in wet mud, but needing to ride, my best advice is to use a damp towel or sponge to try and remove the mud from anywhere that the tack will be - face, and saddle and girth area in particular.  You might have to rinse and repeat a few times.  Mud left in those areas can cause rubs and discomfort.  I would personally leave the remainder of the mud, and brush it off after my ride, once it's dry.  Still, before riding, be sure to give the horse a once over making sure there are no injuries or skin issues.  And never neglect hooves, even if you end up looking more muddy than your horse by the time you've picked them out! 

The only upside to the "muddy pony" situation is that you usually end up spending more quality time with your horse.  Often times, especially in the spring, they enjoy getting groomed more than any other time of the year.  Here's a video of my pal Jake enjoying a good scratch.  He expresses his delight well, doesn't he :)


Photo/video credits: Andra Constantin

This post is based on experience, learning and opinion.  You may or may not agree with what is written, but we hope that you will be left with information to consider, mull over, laugh at, or even agree to disagree about.  Thank you for reading. 

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