Something to ponder - is going "natural" with your horse always the best? I say no.
When it comes to horses, natural is not always best.
By now, you have an idea of how things go here at Pro Equine Grooms. You guys ask me questions, I answer, I ask you questions, you answer. There are a few general topics in which there are several answers that go something like this:
“It’s not natural to __________”
“It has a purpose for being there, why mess with that?”
“It was put there for a reason.” (Don't even get me started on this one - you can apply the same sentence to tumors, which most of us can agree are dreadful things that we want gone!)
For example, clipping ears, blanketing, trimming fetlock feathers, and the like all garner these responses.
So a few things first. YES I agree with all of your statements about things being natural and having a purpose and why interfere. AND YES there are many instances where natural does not equal BEST. My goal is, and has always been, to give everyone lots of options as to what is BEST, not what is natural. I accomplish this with your help - you guys supply some awesome answers and innovative tips and ideas.
So I’ll go ahead and open this can of worms to dive into some instances where natural may not equal best. Here we go. Getting ready. Counting down.
-Clipping your horse. Be it body clipping, a trace clip, or a racing stripe down his side. If your horse is exercised to the point of sweat with a wooly coat, doing some sort of clipping can make him more comfortable and reduce the risk of gnarly skin funk. Not to mention all of the time you will save drying him. If you live in a climate, like the south, where the winter days can reach 70 or more consistently, your horse can become miserable with a winter coat. I’ll bet you are not wearing your jacket during the day!
I once read an article that was basically the Riot Act to anyone who came near a horse with clippers. I'll bet that the author never lived in Florida, SoCal, or Texas with a horse that has Cushings disease and a winter coat that resembles an Old English Sheepdog.
-Blanketing your horse. Most horses that are unclipped won’t need a blanket in the winter. Those horses with thinner coats and skin, metabolic issues, or senior horses will appreciate the help a blanket can provide. Also, if you have to clip your horse because he sweats too much, he shows in the winter, or he has any other need to be clipped, blankets are your friend. And let's just all admit it's really fun to pick out new colors of blankets for our guys.
-Feathers and other leg hairs. For some horses, depending on their living quarters, having a lot of leg hair can increase the chance of scratches. Your grooming routine may be hideously long with feather maintenance Or, the opposite may be true for you. If you need to be able to see, feel, or medicate the fetlocks or any feather covered area on a daily basis, clipping may be best. I'll be the first to admit that if I owned a horse with crazy beautiful feathers, they would be gone in a nano second. I like to know my horse's tendons and joints and hooves like the back of my hand, feathers get in the way.
Photo courtesy of Courtenay Fraser
-Any clipping that may be appropriate for a show horse. During the off season, I’m a huge fan of the natural look for horses. During show season, especially for high caliber horses and rides, the trimming and clipping of horses is a must. You can also modify the way the ears or tail top is clipped. You don’t need to trim the ears totally, but you could trim away the crazy wispy stuff at the bottom that tends to wildly poke out. This is not an all or nothing situation - there is a sliding scale of making thing appropriate!
-Turn out vs. Stall time. Boy, this one is a hot button! In some perfect fantasy land, all horses would live freely outside all the time. But, we have land issues, or the barn is full of stallions, or a horse needs stall rest due to an injury. We also have show horses that compete all over the state, country, and world. Personally, I think all horses should be comfortable in stalls and paddocks, for short or long periods of time. Just in case you have that instance where stalls (or paddocks) are your only option. It's just good training.
Stalls are great options for the horse that is sunburn susceptible. Night turnout is an option!
My goal here is to simply allow some thought and respectful discussion about natural and best for horses. Sometimes they mean the same thing, sometimes not. What have you experiences been with doing something that may be un-natural but is certainly best?