Monday, July 30, 2012

Groomed for Success

Roxy’s coat gets far more attention from me than my own “coat” does. That’s not just because she’s got more hair and I have no sense of decorum.

Roxy cleans up so well.
Grooming is one of the rituals of horsemanship that may at first seem arbitrary but in fact has an important purpose. Grooming a horse’s coat removes dirt and loose hair. It also stimulates the skin and encourages blood flow to maintain a healthy coat.

If I rode Roxy without grooming her, she could easily develop nasty sores where her saddle and bridle rub against her. Horses, despite their size and power, are fairly delicate creatures in some respects.

At Touchstone Farm, riding students groom horses before and after every ride. As a beginner, I was little stunned to realize that I had to go over Dusty’s coat – head to tail, legs and feet too – THREE times with THREE different brushes.

Then there’s the other crucial task of grooming: picking the horse’s hooves to remove packed dirt, manure, and stones. I wince just thinking about how painful it would be for Roxy to have a stone digging into her hoof while she carried me.

(A little horse trivia here, courtesy of Denise Hopkins, Equine Manager at the farm: wild horses don’t have much trouble with impacted material in their hooves. Unshod, the bottoms of their feet are relatively flat. They don’t have the pronounced frog that can trap debris.)

Not as easy as you might think
Horses are trained to let us pick up their feet and dig away at them with a hoof pick. This was a little daunting when I first learned to do it. Damn, those feet are heavy. And it’s hard not to feel vulnerable and awkward bending down and hefting a hoof with one hand and picking at it with the other. I’ve had manure up my sleeve more times than I care to admit.

At some stables, you don’t groom or even tack up your lesson horse. Since riders aren’t born knowing how to do these things correctly – and more important, safely – this seems like a mistake to me. Learning to groom also helps a beginner like me get comfortable in such close contact with horses. And it helps my horse get comfortable with ME.

I’ve come to love grooming Roxy. I think of riding as something Roxy does for me. Grooming is one modest way I can repay her for that.

Relaxing after another job well done.
(Please note Roxy's gleaming coat.)
Some of my favorite “riding” moments have been grooming Roxy, especially after we ride. Roxy is relaxed because she knows she’s done and will soon re-join her BFFs, Annie and Velvet. Our ride finished, I’m happy to do a slow and careful grooming. I end by scratching Roxy’s ears and stroking her face as her eyelids flutter closed.

“Thank you,” I say. “You’re the best.”

“I know,” I imagine Roxy replying. “Got any treats?”

See you around the farm.

Kathy McDonald
Rider and Volunteer at Touchstone Farm


  1. Croak! I didn't know wild horses didn't have frogs : ) P.S. You're doing right by Roxy.

  2. There is nothing like the sweet barn smell of manure, leather, and horse breath.

    1. And the sweat. Don't forget the sweat.