Regular grooming gives the horse and handler an important opportunity to connect and establish and strengthen a good working relationship. Horses are relationship animals. All of the horses in a herd know where they stand in the herd hierarchy. They live, play, and work together according to this hierarchy. Grooming sets the handler apart as a caregiver for the horse so the horse learns to defer to and trust the handler.
For competition horses, grooming can account for up to 40% of the score. And that is obviously not just grooming on the day of competition; judges can distinguish between a horse that gets regular grooming and one that does not. But whether the horse is in competition or not, the horse and rider both benefit from daily grooming as it contributes to the horse’s overall well-being, performance, and happiness.
During the daily grooming process, before the horse gets worked, the handler has an opportunity to examine the horse’s overall well-being. Is the horse acting strange for her personality? Are there any missing horseshoes? Does the horse have any cuts or swelling? Is he favoring a leg? Are there any signs of abscess such as swelling or hot spots? All of these potential concerns are more easily noticed during a grooming session than when the handler and horse are busy with a work task.
The horse’s skin and coat are greatly improved when he or she has regular grooming. It is true that wild horses may get by without it, but one need only compare the coat of a wild horse or un-groomed horse and a horse that receives regular brushing and cleaning to see the difference made by regular grooming. Brushing keeps dust and debris at bay while spreading the animal’s natural skin oils, lending shine and strength to the hair.
Keeping the horse clean through appropriate and timely washing helps prevent chafing that can occur when dirt and oil builds up underneath tack. Problems such as thrush, sores, and itchy skin can occur if the horse’s coat is not cleaned, particularly in the areas covered by the saddle.
Grooming for a horse show can involve some extra steps, like using highlighter, a substance that is spread on the horse’s face (which is sometimes shaved) that draws attention to certain of the horse’s facial features. Neck sweats are neoprene wraps that are wrapped around the horse’s neck or jowl to make it sweat just at that location. This makes the neck or jowl look temporarily thinner and thus more fine, when the look is important for a show. Coat treatments are also often used for competition, making the coat smoother, shinier, or glossy.
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