How can I groom my very sensitive horse?
Some horses are just plain bothered by grooming, to the point of pinning ears, swishing tails, and striking out or trying to bite. It’s up to us as Grooms and caretakers to figure out why, and then we can modify our grooming routine.
Try using softer grooming tools, like sponges and rags for the sensitive horse.
Bristle stiffness is key here - go super soft...or maybe your horse is telling you to groom with a stiffer brush? Time to experiment.
Some common reasons for hypersensitivity include:
- A thinner skin! Literally! Some breeds, like Thoroughbreds and Arabians are known for a thinner skin.
- An underlying injury. Muscle soreness, a spine that is out of alignment, and even an estrus cycle can create very uncomfortable feelings in your horse. Your Veterinarian can help you out if you suspect any of these issues.
- General propensity for drama.
- An obedience issue. If you observe similar cranky behaviors when you are leading your horse or cleaning his stall or any other time you are not grooming him, it’s likely the result of a horse that needs to take Manners 101. And stay there a bit until the final exam is passed.
Another great tool for currying the sensitive guys, instant feedback on your fingers.
So you have an idea of why, now we can tackle how to groom your cranky equine more comfortably.
- Identify the “yes” spots and the “no” spots that your horse will tolerate. Work lightly on a “no” spot, then reward good behavior and work on a “yes” spot. Work slowly and gently, reward often, and take breaks on those “no” spots. This will help if there is an underlying behavior that needs modification. Remember that if you make everything a non-issue, your horse can eventually learn to do the same.
Try some different brushes and stuff. Grooming gloves are great for varying the pressure you use and for getting into all of the itchy places on your horse.
- Consider some new grooming tools. Loosely translated, go shopping!! Or, use what you have around the house to modify what you already own. A curry comb make of a stiffer rubber can be replaced with a pimple mitt or jelly scrubber, or you could even use a wash cloth over your existing curry comb. Or toss the curry comb and use a dry sponge or rag. Consider making a switch from nylon bristles to natural bristles, or to a softer natural brush.
The cactus cloth is a great alternative to a curry comb for the sensitive horse.
- -Alter how you use your tools. If your horse is acutely sensitive, move slower and with a softer touch. For your brushes, lay them parallel to your horse before you sweep so that the pointy ends of the bristles don’t come into too much contact with your horse.
- OR... consider using more pressure when you groom. I spent a long time being super delicate with one horse I worked with, only to figure out that his protests were him trying to tell me to scratch and rub and curry harder.
- Check again and again for proper tack fit. A horse with tender skin will likely also be sensitive to his tack. Routine and regular saddle fittings are a must, as are soft and smooth saddle pads. Try and avoid pads with too much piping, it can lead to rubs and irritations.
What tips do you have for grooming your sensitive horse?