BY JESS CLAWSON
One of my favorite things about going to horse shows is seeing all the beautiful, well-groomed horses. It takes a lot of work on the day of the show to turn the horses and riders out so well, but one of the key elements of proper turnout is a shiny coat.
A proper coat takes a long time to develop, and has different elements (besides endless currying) to get that optimum shine.
I hate to start with a bummer, but it’s true that some horses are naturally going to be shinier than others. It’s all about the shape of the individual hair shaft. Longer hair shafts that end in a point are going to have more natural shine. Shorter, blunt hair shafts are going to be less shiny. My POA has the latter hair type, and nothing we can do with her will ever result in the same gleaming coats my thoroughbred and warmblood have.
We have a lot more control over what our horses eat than their DNA. Good horse health starts from within. There is no grooming substitute for high quality hay, good pasture, and a balanced diet. Every year I have a representative from my feed co-op come evaluate the horses and help me tweak their diets to optimize their nutrition. I’m also a big believer in high quality grass (except for those tricky metabolically challenged horses and ponies who need grazing muzzles). It’s good for their tummies, their brains, and their hair.
Supplements may or may not be helpful in balancing your horse’s diet, but a lot of horses I know have done wonderfully on Springtime Supplements bee pollen. It’s a great all-around addition to supplement their nutritional needs.
Deworming and Vaccination
It’s not going to do much good to feed great hay and grain if your horse has parasites or isn’t vaccinated against disease. Listen to our podcast episode with a vet to learn more than you ever thought possible about deworming and vaccination.
Horses need to go outside. As much as possible, let your horse move around. Not only will this likely improve their attitude and get them access to that yummy grass, but walking around is going to help them keep that muscle tone.
That said, there are some turnout don’ts to keep in mind too, and in the summer especially. Daytime turnout can bleach their coats, which may or may not tip the scales for you on whether to turn a horse out, but it will dull shine. I turn my horses out at night in the summer.
Also, never turn your horse out sweaty. Not only is it uncomfortable, but sun plus sweaty coat equals dull hair and is going to bleach the coat more.
Another great reason for night time turnout in the summer is that there are fewer bugs around to bite the horses. Bug bites are uncomfortable and itchy for your horse, but can also cause swelling and encourage your horse to rub against a tree or a fence–not ideal. You can also prevent bug bites with a garlic supplement (Springtime makes a good one), a long lasting fly spray like Ecovet, or a spot on treatment.
One of my favorite parts of the new Show Strides book is a kid learning about what elbow grease means–you really need to read it if you haven’t already. If you’ve got a healthy, fit horse, your grooming efforts will go far.
Quality brushes make a difference, as does your horse’s preference. I’ve found that curry combs in particular are so widely varied that it’s worth trying a few to see which ones your horse enjoys most (or is least offended by, if currying isn’t your horse’s thing).
Taking the time to thoroughly groom your horse every day has a few other advantages, too. For one, it lets you see or feel their whole body so you can get a sense of what’s normal and what’s new on your horse. It also builds rapport. I bond with my horses while grooming them. I talk to them, scratch their itchy spots, give them a lot of affection. It helps me get to know who they are as individuals and it helps them learn that I’m not just there to swing a leg over and put them to work. As jumper coach Chris Hickey says, if a horse likes you, they’ll do things for you they wouldn’t do otherwise.
Bathing is important, but it’s not going to make a horse shiny if the rest of these pieces aren’t in place. It’s also very important to use high quality shampoos and conditioners on your horse that rinse clean and don’t dry out the hair.
There really isn’t anything better on the market than the Effol shampoos. Made in Germany, they use only human-grade ingredients and leave the hair healthy and soft. For grey and light colored horses or white socks, I love the White Star Spray shampoo. I just spray it on the horse and scrub, and it rinses cleanly and leaves the white hair nice and bright. The Ocean Star Spray is perfect for darker horses. It doesn’t get too sudsy, which means it rinses out clean, and the pearl extract helps leave a special glisten. If you like concentrated shampoos, their Horse Shampoo removes grunge without stripping the coat of oils.
I always follow up a horse bath with the Superstar Shine spray. It helps repel dust and softens the hair. Many sprays will dry and damage the hair and skin, but this one conditions. It’s a great tail detangler too.
There’s no magic potion that will, on its own, create the gleaming coat of your dreams, but if you put all the right steps in place, you can maximize your horse’s genetic potential for a glossy beautiful appearance.
About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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