How to Groom Your Horse to Shine
In 4 easy steps
Horse owners know how confusing the multitude of shine and gloss producing products, spray, shampoos and gels can be that are the staples of any well-stocked tack shop or horse/farm supply store.
From detanglers – leave in or rinse out – over lotions, potions and even specialized supplements, there seems to be no end on how much money you can spend and how many different products you can apply to your horse in order to produce show-ready shine. But are these horse coat shine miracle products really necessary?
“there seems to be no end on how much money you can spend and how many different products you can apply to your horse…”
The Case for Elbow Grease vs. Cowboy Magic
Let’s just time travel for a moment: When I got started in horses in 1970’s Germany and groomed 5-10 horses every day plus show grooming on weekends, there were two elements that determined how shiny and well groomed your horse would look: A) your determination and elbow grease and B) a good quality brush. The End (Not).
Admittedly, there is also a certain level of technique and skill that – while easily learned – is key to getting it right. In this article, I will break down the basic grooming process into 4 easy steps. We will focus only on your horse’s coat.
“…there were two elements that determined how shiny and well groomed your horse would look: A) your determination and elbow grease and B) a good quality brush.”Stefanie Reinhold
How to Master the 4-Step Grooming Process
NOTE: When I talk about shine, please keep in mind that shine very much depends on the color of the individual horse. A dark bay or black horse can look real glossy, a white or grey horse will shine in a more subtle kind of way. Shine is the hair’s ability to reflect light. This can become very obvious when the horse moves and is harder to show on a static image.
IMPORTANT: Do not skimp on the right tools. You cannot (CANNOT) get good results with inferior tools.
- Massage curry (rubber or very good quality, otherwise torture instrument!)
- Stiff curry (good quality, rounded edges!)
- Flick or dandy brush
- Finishing brush
- Shine cloth or brush
- A caddy or bag for storage (protected from dust and dirt)
As a rule, your brushes should be made of natural materials.
Synthetic bristles are torture instruments that cause static, trap and reapply dirt, and—the stiffer, coarser kind—develops micro-cracks in the plastic bristles that function like little blades, causing small scratches on your horse’s skin.
Plastic brushes trap and re-apply dirt and prevent shine (more explanation below). You may then be tempted to use ‘shine sprays’. This nonsense keeps some people in business but does not make you or your horse happy.
Your Technique – 4 Easy Grooming Steps
The 4 steps to groom your horse to shine are easy. Take it from 1-4 in this sequence:
STEP 1: CURRYING
Your tool: The massage curry. A massage curry increases the blood circulation of the skin, helps relax the tiny erector muscles that are connected to each hair follicle (aha! relaxed muscle = flat hair = shine…) and brings dirt and debris up from the skin in a gentle way.
How to curry: Start behind the poll and curry your horse in a circular motion from head over chest, shoulder, back, belly, hind end to hocks. Don’t work the curry from knee or hock down. We’ll get to that later. Do this on both sides of the horse.
Your goal: Massage the skin, increase blood circulation, relax the tiny erector muscles and bring up all the dirt and move it to the surface.
“A massage curry increases the blood circulation of the skin, helps relax the tiny erector muscles that are connected to each hair follicle (aha! relaxed muscle = flat hair = shine…).”
Step 2: FLICKING
Flicking is a sort of sweeping hand motion in short strokes to further bring up more dust, debris and dander from the horse’s skin up to the surface of the coat. It also serves to distribute the oils on the skin over the hair (shine alert!).
Your tool: A natural-bristle (plant or root bristle) flick or dandy brush. The bristles must NOT be stiff, but ‘springy’ and flick back when you push against them. Remember, synthetic brushes should be called ‘anti shine brushes’ and stiff brushes do not ‘flick’.
How to flick: Use the same motion you use when sweeping with a corn broom. This is best done in short flicking strokes with the movement coming from the wrist.
Start behind the poll and brush the horse’s coat in the direction of it’s growth in short strokes. Brush the whole horse this way on both sides. If desired, follow up with a second brushing with longer strokes, but still flicking. (See images below.)
Your goal: Lift dust, debris and dander from the horse’s skin up to the surface of the coat and flick it off, distribute the oils on the skin over the hair coat.
HOW TO USE A FLICK OR DANDY BRUSH
Technique is everything! Be sure to let the movement come from the wrist. Use short strokes and start behind the horse’s ear, moving toward the tail. Repeat if needed
STEP 3: FINISHING
Finishing is brushing with a ‘finishing brush’ to clean and create shine.
Your tool: A natural-bristle finishing brush. Better quality means perfect bristle density and bristle type. Some good traditional brushes have a raised edge for a little additional ‘flicking’.
Your technique: Move in the same direction as with the flicking brush, always with the direction of hair growth. Now you will want to work in even, long strokes to remove all surfaced dirt from the coat. Give the horse a second brushing with this finishing brush, if needed.
Your goal: Clean off the finer dirt, dust and dander particles, smoothen the coat and distribute the horse’s own skin oils evenly over the coat to create this wonderful shine we are looking for.
TIP: Clean the brush against the rubber curry every couple of strokes! This is very important, you don’t want to reapply the dirt to a different area of your horse’s body.
STEP 4: SHINE
Bring on the Shine (and not the ‘Magic’…) in this last, optional but fun step.
By now you should have a reasonably clean and good looking horse with some shine to it. You will now want to take it up a notch.
Your tool: My favorite tool to remove fine dust particles and smooth the hair is a soft goat hair brush, followed by a cloth diaper or a lambskin mitten such as the ones used for washing cars. Of course, the ultimate luxury is a Haas Diva Exklusiv!
Your technique: Again, work in the direction of hair growth. Brush the entire horse, several times if needed, with the goat hair brush. Then follow up by wiping with a good amount of pressure in the direction of hair growth, either with a cloth diaper or a lambskin mitten. You can also just use the brush, cloth, or mitten.
Your goal: To move all fine dust off the surface of the horse’s coat and smoothen the hair flat, creating that extra shine!
LAST STEP: ENJOY!
It’s a pleasure to look at your horse all clean, gleaming and looking healthy! Enjoy the clean horse—as a horse person you know it will not last long!
Enjoy the clean horse—as a horse person you know it will not last long!