Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC
Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Grooming Once-Over

When grooming your horse it's important to keep one hand on the grooming tool such as the brush, and the other hand on the horse.  This posture has several purposes.   Safety is the first reason, since keeping a hand on the horse allows him to feel where you are at all times.  Horses have blind spots around their body where they can't see a human (directly in front of them and immediately behind them), so keeping a hand on the horse lets him know where you are even if the brush changes places quickly, decreasing the chance that you'll surprise him and get kicked.

Keeping a hand on the horse also lets YOU know where the HORSE is at all times.  Horses can move very quickly, called a "spook", and if you were concentrating on that one dirty spot you might not realize he is getting ready to jump sideways.  If you have a hand on him and he jumps, you have advanced notice before he lands on you.  So keeping a hand on the horse during grooming is definitely a safety rule. 

Another reason to keep a hand on the horse when grooming is to make sure you don't miss anything about his body.  In preparation for riding it's important to groom the horse to clean him and make sure there is nothing irritating under the equipment such as burrs or dirt.  Grooming also frees up loose hair, dirt, and brings the natural oils in the skin to the surface to protect the coat.  Another benefit to grooming thoroughly, even if you don't plan on riding, is that you can often spot things on the horse's body or in his demeanor that will give you advance notice of trouble brewing.  For example, when grooming the horse's legs, make it a habit to run your hands down the horse's legs and hooves and notice what "normal" feels like.  That way, if your horse were to injure himself you will recognize the difference between normal and injured.  Signs of injury can include heat, swelling, skin redness, or reluctance to put weight on a limb.  These are all flags to get your attention.  If there is something wrong, often you'll notice the horse is hesitant to have you clean out his hoof on the opposite side, since he would have to stand on the sore foot.  

Other reasons to keep a hand on the horse while grooming is to note how his weight is doing.  Horses are like people, some gain weight more easily than others.  Keep a mental note of how clearly you can feel his ribs, hips, and shoulder.  I have a binder in my tack room where each horse on the property has a section.  Anything odd or potentially relevant to a later problem I jot down in his file, that way if an issue were to arise weeks later I have a record of the history.  For example, a jumper I had years ago had just a very mild swelling in his front leg which I found while grooming him.  He was a little bit lame on it, but after the vet did his assessment and we did some diagnostic ultrasound to look at the internal structures, we found it was a strained tendon that needed 6 months of rest before he returned to riding work. 

When taking the time to groom your horse it's important to be thorough.  Even if I'm not riding, I still look at and put my hands on each horse in my care daily.  This alerts me to anything odd that might be brewing, and as we all know, the earlier you can attend to horse problems the better (and generally less expensive) the outcome!

Here are some things that have been found on my horses during grooming and daily checks.
Samson's facial swelling.  This picture shows he's in pain with the closed eye.

Cecil had an allergic reaction to something and his face swelled up until he looked like a hamster.

Swollen R hock
Another note on keeping a hand on your horse:  as prey animals, horses are hard-wired to run or kick in self defense first, and ask questions later.  They are able to do these things much faster than we as humans can react to them, and horses are capable of great movement and speed even when sedated.  Drugging a horse slows down his brain, but not his body, which actually makes it more dangerous to handle sedated horse than awake ones.  Since the instinct is to react, we train horses' brains to think and consider so that we can manage them.  When the vet sedates a horse to slow down the thought processes, the horse's reasoning slows dramatically, while the "fight or flight" reflexes remain at full speed.  

While handling horses and working for vets for years, keeping a hand on the horse at all times became a really good habit for me.  For example, when removing stitches from a healed wound the horse can be a little ticklish if I were to go at the thread with just the tiny pointy end of the scissors.  The horse will twitch or jerk a leg away as though I were a fly, and voila' the thread is nowhere near where I was aiming.  It seems counter-intuitive to put more pressure on the horse to get him to stand still, but just the steady pressure of your hand near where you are working keeps him quieter because you're not surprising or tickling him with pokes, and if you are able to keep the hand with the instrument on him then your hand moves with the horse as he moves.  These techniques tend to keep a horse calmer during procedures.

Keeping a hand on the horse is a good general practice, and now that I'm considering the benefits perhaps these are examples of "keeping the situation in hand' and "handling a horse".

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