Grooming, Pros & Cons

lotBy Maddy Butcher

On a recent day trip, we pulled our trailer up to a few other ones in a big parking lot.
Several ladies were diligently grooming their horses.
We saddled up and headed out on the trail.

The ladies were still grooming their horses. Or trying. We watched as the horses stepped from side to side and whinnied at us.

I started thinking about the pros and cons of grooming.

Turns out there aren’t many pros:

  • Yes, it’s good to put hands on your horse so you’re aware of any nicks, scratches, or swellings.
  • Yes, it’s good to check their feet daily.

But there are plenty of cons. That might explain why prominent horsemen and women have so little to say about grooming. It might explain, too, why working cowboys typically clean the saddle area, check horses’ feet, and call it good.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s a sampling of how grooming can be detrimental:

  • Vibrissae or whisker trimming can lead to injury. Each of those whiskers has its own nerve. Horses use their whiskers like we use fingers, to feel an object, a food item, another horse.
  • Feathers and fetlock hair helps shed water, according to Dr. Stephanie Larson, of Abraham’s Equine Clinic in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Trimming them can lead to potential hoof problems as moisture from dew or rain collects there instead of shedding off.
  • Excessive bathing and sheath cleaning can lead to dermatological issues, said Larson.
  • Grooming products aren’t cheap. The equine industry encourages us to spend billions annually on everything from color-enhancing shampoo to contoured, extra-soft bristled face brushes.

Read Dr. David Ramey’s take on the cost of ‘over-caring.’

In Evidence-Based Horsemanship, Martin Black wrote:

brooke“The horse can roll in the mud, have knots and trash in his mane and tail, and have no sense of embarrassment around other horses…They don’t have egos.”

So why groom?

  • Grooming is great if you are unable to ride. (Disabled? Fearful? Don’t have time?)
  • Grooming provides us humans with feel-good moments.

I’m all for a clean horse. But when you consider grooming, don’t assume you’re doing your horse any favors.

Those horses in the parking lot clearly would have preferred to be moving out on the trail.


  1. Grooming is important to detect any injuries, swelling, heat sore spots, etc. You should touch or carefully observe every inch of your horse every day.
    I have a Welsh Cob, so we already leave the fetlock hair in place. It takes getting used to, but it protects the joint from wetness and scratches.
    We know show horses must have more grooming than other horses. Simply a fact of competition.

  2. Horses mutually groom each other. Touch is something that they enjoy and that bonds them to other beings – including their riders. So, grooming your horse is a simple way to connect. It’s also a way to teach the rider to pay attention to what the horse is saying. I find that my students who are having behavioral issues with their horses learn a lot when I ask them to groom their horses. They learn body language The horse will tell you what they like and what they don’t with the flick of an ear or a shift of a leg. You need to have that conversation with your horse on the ground before you can understand what they’re telling you from the saddle.

  3. Agree and agree. I admit I’m an all over groomer. But just the big chunks and mostly to check all over. I do find lots of little (and sometimes not so little) bites and cuts from being turned out with other horses, usually requiring no care, but not always. However this has been a big year for hock fungus for us, so that needs care and of course saddle area. Also like to do a general brushing before sponging on my fly essential oil based deterrent.

    Interestingly, Gene Ovnicek says that dirt in hooves actually serves a purpose, so I dig out manure and check for rocks (a lot of gravel here) and that’s it. He says horses who DON’T get religious hoof cleaning have less abscesses! Unless of course they’re standing in urine and manure. Mother Nature, doncha know?

  4. Grooming with the wife and I was a morning ritual of a head to hoof quick brush down (currycomb in the spring sheading time), hoof cleaning. Trimming this and that was not part of the plan, what you see well meaning people trimming off has a purpose. If it didn’t have a purpose,God would not have had it as part of the package. This quick once over gives you a chance to see if any thing has gone amok since the day before.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *