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What is the itchy horse telling you?

This might seem like an easy question to answer – but it goes a little bit further than the obvious sometimes. Of course the itchy horse is telling you that he’s itchy there! But when we take a moment to investigate why he is itchy, we might discover something more.

Some horses just like being scratched. It’s their spot, it feels extra good there, it takes them to their happy place. Simple.

But when a horse has a new itchy spot – it might be due to something else. It’s always a good idea to involve your Veterinarian if you find something new.

Bugs. Insects like flies, mosquitos, and various other biting critters think your horse is delicious, and in exchange for a blood meal they leave your horse itchy. You might find a raised bump, you might not. You can indulge your horse with some scratches and perhaps a topical anti-itch medicine to help.

Ticks. Ticks often leave giant itchy welts after they release, and in weird places like between the folds of skin around the elbows. While it’s true that some tick bites leave rings around the wound, you can’t see this on a horse with a hair coat and dark skin. Besides being carriers of dangerous diseases, ticks can cause significant discomfort.

General dermatitis, AKA a skin infection. Just like humans, a horse’s first line of defense is his skin. But sweat, dirt, and bacteria in the environment can sometimes cause skin infections. However – not all types of skin infections cause itchiness – which means your hands and eyes need to discover these possibilities.

A healing sore or wound. Scabs can be itchy! Even the smallest of scrapes can cause an itchy scab. The best course of action is to carefully avoid scratching off any scab, they will fall off in due time.

A sore muscle. Sometimes, a horse may decide that he needs a massage, and will be happy to lean into you to get some added pressure on a spot. You might also notice that your horse likes to move and adjust himself so you are working on the spots that need some massage.

Allergies. A horse with allergies can sometimes display itchy skin – which is your signal to investigate further. Many times an allergy is tricky to track down, but your Veterinarian can give you a plan to determine if allergies are the cause and which allergens are to blame.

Too much product! It’s in a horse’s nature to want to be dirty – which is fine! But when we start to shine them up, we sometimes use the wrong product or leave a product residue which might be irritating. Diligently rinsing and scraping off shampoos is key, as is using topical products in moderation.

It’s always a learning experience when you groom your horse – and the more you start to listen to his body, the more you can investigate and learn more about him. It makes for a great partnership and a healthy horse!

How to groom your fuzzy horse in the winter!

If you’re a horse, winter is the time to get fuzzy. Really, really fuzzy. A horse’s winter coat is signaled to start growing as the days become shorter. First he will decide to shed his summer coat, so you’ll have a lot of hair. Luckily, the hair is short so it seems like less than the spring shed. Then, his winter coat will start to come in. Some horses are clipped for a variety of reasons, but the fuzzy horse has some winter grooming challenges.

In the winter, skip the gym and head to the barn. A furry winter coat has extra challenges, so you will need to spend more time with your grooming gloves. Your horse’s long winter coat will trap dirt, shavings, sand, dust, stains, and sweat easier than in the summer. You also have a lot more hair that needs some protection from your horse’s natural oils.

There’s not much that can replace a heavy duty grooming session, but may opt to use any of these techniques to help your horse be comfortable and tidy in the winter.

Add a horse vacuum into the grooming routine! Most horses can learn to like the vacuum, and it helps remove every last bit of grit from your horse’s skin.

Use hot steamy towels to remove stains. Thoroughly groom the stained area, then thoroughly wring out a washcloth that’s been soaking in hot water. The steam can lift away a stain. You can also use a tiny amount of dry shampoo or spot remover.

Consider clipping the areas of your horse that get sweaty. Many skin issues arrive in winter as sweat gets trapped against the skin. You might have to supplement with blankets.

Use sheets to protect your horse’s hair from mud! It’s very difficult to remove all traces of dried mud from your horse – which can lead to discomfort under a saddle. Sheets provide a barrier.

Don’t forget to pay attention to the tail and mane – detanglers can help keep them knot free and help to resist stains.

However you choose to groom your fuzzy horse this winter – be sure to pay extra attention to all of his favorite itchy spots as you use your grooming gloves!

Winter Horse Grooming Tools

For colder weather, you may consider changing the horse grooming tools in your routine to better deal with fuzzy winter coats! As you change out grooming tools, give your stored tools a thorough cleaning so they stay fresh until spring.

Keep the grooming gloves! They are not just for shedding and bathing – their nodules can get through the fuzziest of fuzzy horses, bringing dust and dirt to the surface. They are also super for removing clumps of mud.

Add in a stiffer brush. Stiff brushes, if tolerated by your horse, can be great for removing all of the dirt that your grooming gloves bring up. Their extra durability and stiffness can also get through more of a winter coat.

Add in some washcloths! A steamy hot washcloth is perfect for removing stains. Use a warm washcloth for noses and sensitive parts.

If you don’t have hot water at the barn, you can use an insta hot kettle. Perfect when you need to warm up a bit or remove a stain with a warm cloth.

Find a good grooming oil. This adds luster to a winter coat, repels stains, and can be used in hooves to help keep snowballs from forming. A little bit goes a long way!

Fleece or wool coolers. Super for helping sweat marks dry, and can be used by you to get warm at the barn! And, they come in a ridiculous number of colors and patterns.

A hoof pick with a brush if you don’t already have one! The brush is great for getting mud out of the nitty gritty areas of your horse’s hooves.

How else do you mix up your winter grooming routine?

Shiny Horse

What creates a shiny horse?

A shiny horse is always nice to look at – and sunlight seems to just dance off their coats. Some of us with more “mud loving” horses know the challenge – but a few simple habits to get into will create shine on your horse.

It starts with proper nutrition! High quality hay and feeds are best. Your Veterinarian can help you determine if your horse’s nutrition plan matches his lifestyle, exercise levels, and medial needs.

It also includes proper parasite control. Intestinal parasites harm your horse’s digestive system and create a dull and lifeless hair coat.

Groom until your arms fall off! Part of grooming is bringing the natural oils on your horse’s skin to the individual hairs. The oil, called sebum, is the skin’s first layer of protection and this is the shine!

Avoid too much shampooing. While it’s so tempting to keep your horse covered in suds, frequent bathing with shampoos can lead to a dried out coat. Using a mild shampoo is also best.

Deal with mud. Lots of grooming, and use a sheet for turnout when you know a roll is in the works. You can always rinse away any residue with plain water if the weather is nice.

Remove dried sweat from your horse! Sweat is dull and dusty when it dries, so a quick few minutes on sweat marks with your grooming gloves solves this situation.

Supplement your grooming routine with shine creating sprays. These products should complement the shine, not create it. Use sparingly, especially under the saddle area, and enjoy the stain repelling help.

Remember to groom daily, and grab your sunglasses to admire the shine you create!

Shedding Tips

Help your horse shed with these tips!

The fall will bring about a big change in your horse – the winter coat! You might think that the only big shed happens in the spring, but your horse will also shed his summer coat in the fall to prepare for winter. All of this is triggered by the diminishing daylight – as sun rises later and sets earlier, your horse knows to start letting go of the summer coat and grow a winter coat. Here are some tips to help your horse shed evenly and smoothly!

  • Get your elbow grease going. Use your grooming gloves before and after riding/turnout. Not only does this help the hair shed, it really spreads out your horse’s own natural oils so that his new winter coat comes in as healthy as possible.
  • Let your horse roll as much as possible! A nice patch of sand in a paddock or round pen is an excellent idea. Rolling is great for your horse’s back anyway, and the sand helps the shedding hairs come loose. Then just brush out the sand (and more hair).
  • Use a grooming oil or sheen spray on a cloth to wipe your horse. The oil will act like a magnet and remove any stray hairs. Bonus – your horse gets some more shine!
  • Use a horse vacuum! These are great for gathering all of the hairs that are loosened from your diligent use of grooming gloves. The vacuum also comes in handy after a sandy roll to help your horse be sleek again.
  • Keep exercising your horse! This promotes overall health, stimulates circulation, and helps create a healthy shiny coat. Even if it’s chilly outside, exercise will loosen up some of the shedding hairs and make grooming that much more effective.
  • Avoid metal blades. Not only can these rust, they can damage the hair coming in. And, you want to be able to groom your horse’s legs and face – which doesn’t works so well with a metal blade.

These tips will help your horse have the best transition between summer and winter coats! Happy grooming!

Grooming With Kids

Many kids want to learn how to groom horses – but we need to balance the fun of grooming with some simple safety tips so no toes get squashed in the process. Start with a happy and quiet horse, add in a safe space with safe tools, and do a little hands on supervision to help your child be safe around horses.

Make sure the horse is happy!

  • His belly should be full.
  • The horse should be able to see his buddies and not feel isolated.
  • Grooming after your horse exercises is also a good idea, just in case he has some energy to burn off.

Add in a safe space.

  • Use cross ties so that his movement is limited, but he can still see what’s happening around him.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of space between the horse and the walls or edges of the grooming space.
  • Use mounting block to help your child reach the high spots, but only if there’s ample room for the block.
  • Use kid friendly tools that are smaller for a child’s hand. Tools that stay put, like gloves, are also less likely to end up under your horse.

Hands on supervision.

  • Stand on the same side of the horse as your child. If you are on one side, and your child is on the other, a spook will knock one of you down. If you are on the same side, you can keep a hand on your horse to push away if need be.
  • Demonstrate safe techniques. Walk around the front, keep a hand on your horse, brush with the direction of the hair.
  • Use frequent praise for your horse, this sets a good example for your child to respect horses.

Have fun grooming with kids!

How Often Can You Bathe Your Horse?

This is often a tricky question to answer, because it’s not one size fits all. Horses have different grooming routines, different living environments, different access to mud…. But there are a few things to look for that will help you determine if you are over bathing your horse.

Ideally, your horse is super shiny from a naturally oily coat. This is the result of genetics, a good diet, lots of daily grooming with elbow grease, and perhaps a few hair coat products as well. The oil on your horse, called sebum, creates shine, helps with his immune system by coating the skin, and repels stains. A dry and brittle coat is a stain magnet!

photo courtesy of TAG Equine Services

The shampoo you use and how you use it can affect the amount of natural oils your horse has. Harsh shampoos left on for too long strip the hair. Mild shampoos can leave a bit of natural oil on your horse’s skin. If it’s a harsh shampoo, like the stain removal styles, you should go longer between shampoos so the oils can build up.

Consider the reason for bathing your horse. Did he just have a sweaty workout? Then a rinse with the hose or sponge off is fine. Is he head to toe in manure stains and you have a show in two days? Then bust out the shampoo! Does he have one or two smaller stains that can be treated with a cloth and some stain remover? Then that’s your plan.

Also think about his schedule. Is he showing frequently? In which case you likely want to use a milder shampoo more frequently, with extra curry glove sessions in between to bring out the oils. Does he stay at home? Then perhaps only shampoo when it’s really necessary.

What about the horse that looks great except for his mane and tail? Or his legs? It’s ok to do a spot bath in the wash rack when you need to. No use in wasting shampoo or stripping those natural oils if you don’t absolutely have to.

In between baths, keep up the daily grooming routine. A good curry session before a ride makes sure there’s no dirt trapped under the saddle or bridle. This also lets your hands do some checking to be sure his body feels good. After a ride, use your curry gloves again to remove dried sweat, massage your horse’s muscles, and work on distributing those natural oils.

How often do you bathe your horse?

The Horse Hair Shedding Cycle – This explains everything!

As horse owners, we have come to know that spring time is shedding “season” as our horses lose their winter coats in favor of a cooler and sleeker summer coat. But hair is constantly growing and shedding! It’s part of the life cycle of hair – which means year ‘round curry glove action is needed.

The three stages of a hair’s life cycle are anagen, catagen, and telogen. The anagen phase is happening when hair is actively growing. This is a function of time, not length. The length of the anagen phase is set, and it’s up to good nutrition, good grooming habits, and a healthy skin to make the hairs as long as possible during that phase.

Then comes the catagen phase, where the hair and hair follicle just rest. A new hair might be forming to take it’s place, but mainly there’s nothing going on. This phase might last a few weeks.

Lastly, there’s the telogen phase, where the hair falls out in preparation for a new hair to start the anagen phase.

This explains why your horse will lose hair all year long! A nice curry glove session in the heat of summer will loosen and remove those hairs in the telogen phase. Same in the cold of winter. This also applies to the mane and tail, which of course have much longer anagen phases. There is nothing to do to prevent this natural hair loss – it’s just the same and a human finding hair in their hairbrush.

Animals have one other trick up their sleeve when it comes to shedding and growing a new coat – the length of day. Fall shedding season happens as the daylight decreases, triggering the fuzzy winter coat. There are other minor influencing factors, but light is the big one. The same is true in the spring. More daylight tells your horse to ditch his winter coat for something more comfortable!

It’s perfectly normal to have your horse lose hair all year long. If you find that it’s not growing back, that’s a reason to call the Vet for some intervention! Otherwise, enjoy the daily curry glove grooming with your horse.

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