The Biggest Mistakes We're Making with Horses (And What to Do Instead): Supergroom Mel Borrego Shares Some Wisdom
These days, Mel Borrego makes a living caring for some of the most elite equine athletes in the world. But while he’s always chosen to spend his time in the company of horses, Mel says he fell into the show jumping world mostly by chance.
“I’ve been [in] the industry since around 1990. I grew up in Colorado and we did rodeo stuff there, and then I worked at a racehorse farm, and then I think I just sort of happened into the show jumping. I’d leave and come back, and leave and come back,” Mel says.
About a decade ago, Mel found a solid position within the world of show jumping, working for Mario and Lisa Deslauriers, taking a grooming job for their daughter, Lucy, who was then just eight years old. “I watched her grow up,” Mel says. “She started in the ponies, and then to the equitation, and now onto the big stuff,” he adds with pride, noting, unprompted, that the up-and-coming rider is “obviously, the nicest kid on the planet.”
Lucky for us, Mel shares his knowledge, know-how, and years of experience as a groom and all around horseman with the NF.insider community, so we can all carry a little bit of Mel wisdom with us around the barn.
What is a common horse care mistake you see that you would like corrected?
A lot of people, when they’re bathing horses, they’ll spray them in the face, and I don’t think that should be allowed. The horses are fighting them—they would break the cross ties if they could – and some even rear. They’re backed into the wash stall, so they can’t run away. I would never do that to one of my horses. I don’t really like to force them to do something that they don’t want to do right away because I don’t want to get into a big fight. Sooner or later, they’ll soften up and let me do what I need to do with them.
Another thing you see a lot of people doing is getting their horses out every 30 minutes or so to hand walk them or do something with them. For me, when the horses have done their job, I like to leave them alone. I also don’t like to walk them too much on the concrete. It loosens the nails in the shoes and if something spooks one of them when I’m walking them, they'll light up, and I don’t want them to fall. I try to treat the horses like I would like to be treated – if I’ve done my thing, I just want to be left alone.
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What is your claim to fame as a groom?
I groomed for Anne Kursinski at the 1996 Olympics [in Atlanta] when the team won the silver medal.
If you were stuck on an island with a horse and you could only take five things with you, what would you take and why?
- Mrs. Pastures cookies
- Grooming supplies
- A camera (horses with big personalities, like Hester, genuinely love to be photographed)
What is your biggest splurge item for horse care?
Probably Mrs. Pastures horse treats. I don’t like to spend money on silly stuff, but I always like to have those for Hester.
What are your favorite horse care products?
I don’t use a lot of soap and other products with the horses – they might get two baths a week, but I mostly just rinse them off since it’s not great for their coats. I keep it simple:
- Corona shampoo
- Arnica gel for their legs
- Rubbing Alcohol
- Epsom salts hoof packing
What is your personal motto for horse care?
I like to be quiet around the horse and take my time. I don’t like to hurry, so I’m always early to the ring. I keep everything simple. I think that’s one thing that helps the horses is to be quiet and not too quick.
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What is your ideal morning routine with your horses?
I typically start a 7 a.m. and feed – only a few of the horses get turned out. We try to protect the show horses a little bit but we’ll take them out to hand graze when we’re at the farm [or on a casual hack]. We try not to let them get too fat because they are athletes.
At the shows, I’ll feed and then cold hose the legs for around 30 minutes, and then head back to the barn and clean the horses up so they're ready to ride. Then I’ll usually have a coffee while I’m waiting for [the day to really begin].
What is your ideal evening routine with your horses?
We usually feed around 4 p.m. and I’ll do more cold hosing before we feed, and then wrap them up for the night. If they're jumping the next day, I’ll wrap the feet with poultice and then feed. Whoever is doing night check will come back after 8 p.m. and we’ll give them hay and make sure they’re okay. We give carrots and cookies [after rounds] if we have them – they are spoiled rotten. When they come out of the ring, the first one they want to see is me.
How do you deal with a difficult horse with poor ground manners?
When we first got Hester he was seven. A lot of the horses from Europe aren’t used to being sprayed off in the wash stall. He was scared at first and actually broke the ties and got free once. But that’s when I started feeding him the cookies and just taking my time with it. In situations like that, I just take it slow.
My horses are pretty good, and would never kick or anything like that – they know I’m not going to hurt them. They have to trust me and I trust them, and they have to have the respect too. They can get a little pushy sometimes, but they're smart enough to know [not to push it too far].
Do you have any tricks for sensitive skin?
Not clipping their legs a lot, especially in Florida. A lot of people clip them every week, but in Florida, they all get boot rubs or summer sores. When I was growing up [in Colorado], the horses lived in a field and had hairy legs but never had fungus – they might come in with icicles on their legs, but they never got that stuff. Clipping that hair [all the time] takes away their natural protection.
What is your favorite treat to give the horses?
Definitely Mrs. Pastures – although some of them can't eat at the ring if they get super slobbery!
Photographs and interview by Tori Repole.
Written by Mel Borrego
Mel Borrego is a lifelong horseman, growing up in Colorado and working professionally with horses since 1990. Mel has seen it all – from rodeo to racehorses, and in recent years, the top levels of show jumping.