It’s something we know, but often forget, as we dig through our totes full of Show Sheen and hoof oils, brushes and combs: Grooming, at its core, is really about maintaining the health and soundness of our horse, not just making a coat shiny for a shiny coat’s sake. No one knows this better than Masterclass instructor Max Corcoran, who has been a top international event groom for decades and is currently serving as President of the United States Eventing Association.
In fact, maybe ‘grooming’ isn’t the best word for what we do in those 20 minutes before and after our rides. It’s detail-oriented horse care, a survey done of our horse’s body and mood, with brush in hand. So while we do want our gray horses’ tails to be white for show day (after all, taking pride in your horse’s appearance is important!) grooming is really about prevention - catching the little things before they turn into bigger things. Here are some of Max’s tips for ensuring you’re doing it right.
1. Study Your Horse’s Legs and Feet By Look And Feel
Every grooming session should involve a thorough check of your horse’s legs. Look them over and run your hands over them to feel for ticks, scabs, filling, warmth, etc. “Daily grooming can be your first clue to where your horse is uncomfortable. It’s the best way to get to know your horse’s ‘normal’ - so you’ll be the first to know when something is amiss,” says Max.
It’s a great idea to take photos of your horse’s feet and legs periodically as well, so that you can notice if his hoof angle changes or you find yourself wondering, ‘Has this lump/bump always been there?’
2. Plan Horse Care Seasonally
Each season presents a new set of challenges for your horse to cope with, so it’s important to be armed with the knowledge to best help him through those seasons. This is especially true for nutrition, skin care, hoof care, and conditioning - but it also applies to the aspects of stable management that we sometimes forget about, like truck and trailer maintenance, blanket cleaning, etc.
Don’t wait until spring to plan for spring! Know what needs to happen ahead of time so that you’re crafting a truly comprehensive horse care plan - not just reacting to problems once they arise. Max’s Masterclass details each season and how to best approach these challenges - as well as lots more information, how-to’s, and checklists.
3. Pay Attention to a Horse’s Cues
Training or riding for weeks on end (or, for that matter, stall rest for weeks on end) can take its toll on even the sturdiest horse. “A lot of times, behavioral issues start coming up for horses that aren’t happy. They start getting nippy, they start getting sour, and something needs to change,” Max says. If you notice a physical or mental shift in your horse, call your vet rather than trying to temporarily fix the issue. “People are so quick to throw a band-aid on what the symptom is and they don’t really find out what the cause is. I think that’s universal throughout all horses and all disciplines.”
4. Keep a Journal or Calendar
Max recommends keeping a yearly calendar broken down by days, weeks, and months. Throughout your seasons, scheduling out your next few months as much as possible (especially when working back from a competition or clinic date on your calendar) is an important pillar in horse care. How do you know what your horse needs if you don’t know what he’s had, or what to plan for?
Things to consider adding to your yearly calendar:
- Lesson schedule
- Farrier schedule
- Equine dentist schedule
- Vet schedule
- Vaccine, teeth, and deworming schedule
- Dates that you’re away or unable to ride, and what your plan is for training or care for your horse during those times
- Withdrawal dates for medications prior to a show (i.e. when your horse needs to come off of certain meds or supplements in order to be able to legally compete)
- Expiration dates on paperwork (passport, coggins, health certificates, etc.)
- Truck and trailer maintenance dates
- Dates before show to have your trailer packed, show clothes clean, tack clean, etc.
Keeping a weekly calendar is helpful because it can help you identify patterns that were successful or helpful for you. For instance, if you have a fabulous time at a show and your horse felt the best he’s ever felt, and you look back in your calendar and notice that you gave him a relaxing hack day the day before the show, this can help you strategize what works best for your horse. Also, it’s fun to look back at what you used to do with your horse, year after year!