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horses and horsemanship
4-H HORSE PROGRAM
4-H HORSE PROGRAM
HORSES AND HORSEMANSHIP
This educational material has been prepared for 4-H use by the Cooperative Extension Services of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture and State Land-Grant Universities in cooperation with the National 4-H
Council and the American Quarter Horse Association.
Trade or brand names used in the publications are used only for the purpose of educational information.
The information given herein is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no
endorsement of products or breeds of horses by the Federal Extension Service or State Cooperative
Extension Services is implied, nor does it imply approval of products or breeds of horses to the exclusion
of others which may also be suitable.
This material was originally published by the National 4-H Council, 7100 Connecticut Avenue, Chevy
Chase, Maryland 20815.
Programs and educational materials supported by National 4-H Council; Extension Service, United
States Department of Agriculture; and all Cooperative Extension Services of the State Land-Grant
Universities are available to all persons regardless of race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin or
handicap. All are equal opportunity employers.
GROOMING AND PREPARATION FOR THE SHOW
Good grooming is essential to the health and
appearance of all horses that are stabled or that are
exercised or ridden. Grooming cleans the hair and the
pores of the skin. This results in a cleaner and healthier
skin which is less likely to become infested with skin
parasites such as lice and mange mites. Good vigorous
grooming massages the body muscles underneath the
skin and thus improves their condition or fitness.
However, no amount of grooming will make your horse
look his best if he is thin and out of condition. Proper
feeding must accompany regular grooming in order to
present your horse looking his very best.
Efficient grooming is possible only when you take
personal pride in the appearance of your animal. The
value of grooming depends upon the thoroughness and
speed with which it is done. You should learn to work
hard and rapidly and to do a thorough job in a
Most good horsemen will use the following pieces of
equipment to groom their animals:
1. Brushes. Two types of brushes are generally used -
(a) a stiff-bristled cleaning brush (rice root or corn
brush), and (b) a smooth fibered body brush which will
pick up the fine dust and dirt particles missed by the
2. Currycomb. A rubber currycomb is preferred to the
metal type. A metal currycomb is used only to remove
thick dry mud or heavy loose hair. For ordinary
cleaning, a rubber currycomb is used since a metal
currycomb is too severe for the thin skin of a horse.
3. Hoof pick. Several types of hoof picks or hooks are
available for cleaning out the feet. If a commercial hoof
pick is not available, an old screw driver will serve the
purpose. Bend it over about an inch from the blade
4. Grooming cloth. Old Turkish towels or a woolen
blanket can be cut into pieces of suitable size. These
are used to wipe around the eyes, nostrils, ears, lips,
dock and sheath. A grooming cloth is also used to give
a final polish to the haircoat and to aid in drying off the
coat of a wet, sweating horse. Sometimes a clean,
damp sponge is used to clean around the face.
5. Mane and tail comb. This small metal comb is
sometimes used instead of the brush to keep the mane
and tail free of tangles. The comb is also used to aid in
thinning heavy, shaggy manes and tails by plucking or
pulling out some of the excess hair.
6. Clippers and/or scissors. In order to have your horse
presented in a neat, trim appearance, it is necessary to
clip or trim the hair in certain areas of the body. An
electric animal hair clipper with sharp blades is
necessary to do a smooth clipping job on many areas
such as the mane and legs. Sometimes scissors are
used, but with them it is usually more difficult to do a
STEPS IN ROUTINE GROOMING
Horses that are stabled should be groomed thoroughly
every day. If they are exercised, they should be
groomed both before leaving the stable and again on
Most horsemen develop a procedure that they follow in
grooming. The following steps are routine with many
If the horse has just returned from exercise, his tack
should be removed and quickly put aside. If he is wet
from sweating, his haircoat should be rubbed briskly
with a grooming or drying cloth to partially dry the
coat. Sponge the eyes, nostrils, lips and dock. He
should then be blanketed and walked until he has
"cooled out." A couple swallows of water every few
minutes aids the cooling out. However, if you do not
have time to walk your horse following a hot work-out,
do not give him his fill of water until he has cooled out.
A "cooled out" horse is neither hot to the touch nor
ARABIAN-FULL MANE AND TAIL
FIVE-GAITED SADDLE HORSE
GROOMING AND PREPARATION FOR THE SHOW
CLEANING THE FEET
Inspect your horse's underpinning and clean out his
feet. This is usually the first step if the horse is just
leaving the stable or being readied for the show ring.
Daily inspection of the feet will give you an
opportunity to check on injuries, loose shoes, small
stones or other objects that may have become
embedded in the foot, and thrush.
Follow a procedure when cleaning the feet so that your
horse will know what to expect. Most horsemen work
around the horse in a counter-clockwise direction
starting with the near fore foot, then the near hind, the
off hind, and off fore.
To pick up the fore foot, stand beside your horse's
shoulder facing his rear. Place the hand nearest the
horse on his shoulder and run your other hand gently
but firmly down the back of the leg until the hand is
just above the fetlock. Grasp the fetlock area with the
fingers and at the same time press your other hand
against the horse's shoulder, thus forcing his weight
onto the opposite foreleg. Pick up the foot and support
the weight of the horse's leg on your knee.
The hind foot is picked up in much the same fashion
except the hind leg is usually grasped just above the
fetlock on the cannon. As you press against the horse's
hip with your inside hand, lift the foot directly toward
you with the other hand so that the leg is bent at the
hock. Then move to the rear placing your thigh
underneath the fetlock so as to support his leg firmly.
Once the underside of the foot is exposed, it is rather
simple to clean out and inspect the foot. Work from the
heel toward the toe with your hoof pick. Most
important is a good cleaning of the bottom of the
commissures or depressions between the frog and the
CLIPPED OR REACHED MANE AND CUT
SET AND SHAVED TAIL
bars. The deepest part of each depression is near the
heel. It is the part most often cleaned improperly, and
is the usual seat of thrush.
If the wall of the foot is dry, brittle and cracked, it is
wise to use a hoof dressing on the feet occasionally.
The frequency of this will depend on the condition of
the feet. For most horses once a week is enough.
Several good commercial hoof dressings are on the
market. If your horse is going into the show ring, make
sure the wall of the foot is clean. This may require
washing with water and a stiff brush to remove caked
mud or manure. Hoof dressing or light oil, such as
neatsfoot oil, often improves the appearance of the feet
GROOMING THE BODY
After the feet have been cleaned, the body is groomed.
Some horsemen will go about this job differently than
others; but regardless of the procedure, the idea is to
remove dirt and dust from the haircoat and skin and
bring out a sheen and gloss on your horse's body. Some
horsemen will use the currycomb in one hand and the
brush in the other using both tools at the same time.
Others feel they can do a more thorough job if they
completely curry one side of the horse and then use the
The usual procedure is to start on the left or near side,
beginning on the neck, then the breast, shoulder, fore
leg, back, side, belly, croup, and hind leg. Then move
around to the right or off side and follow the same
pattern. Then complete the brushing job with the head,
mane and tail.
The currycomb is an excellent tool for removing
excessive mud, dirt, loose hair, and saddle marks.
Unless the horse is extremely dirty, a rubber currycomb
is preferred over a metal currycomb. The currycomb is
WESTERN OR STOCK HORSE
CLIPPED MANE WITH FORETOP AND
WITHER LOCK REMAINING
TAIL SHORTENED AND SHAPED
GROOMING AND PREPARATION FOR THE SHOW
never used over the bony areas on the head and below
the knees and hocks. A vigorous circular motion will
prove most effective when currying. Clean the
currycomb out frequently by striking it on the back of
the brush or the heel of your boot.
Follow the currycomb with the stiff-bristled brush.
Effective brushing requires plenty of "elbow grease"
plus some "know-how". Short, strong strokes with
outward action away from the horse's body removes
more dirt than long, gliding strokes. A strong, stiffened
arm backed up by the weight of your body and
vigorous wrist action is necessary to get the hair coat
clean. Brush the hair in the direction of its natural lay.
Follow the same order as when the currycomb was
used, except that in brushing the legs brush down to the
hoof. Clean the brush every few strokes with the
To pick up much of the fine dust out of the haircoat,
follow the stiff-bristled brush with the fine, smooth-
fibered body brush. Finish the job by brushing the
head, mane and tail.
MANE AND TAIL
When cleaning the mane and tail, begin brushing at the
ends of the hair and gradually work up to the roots. On
breeds, such as the Arabian and 5-gaited Saddle
Horses, that are normally shown with a full mane and
tail, be very careful that you do not pull out any hair.
Washing the mane and tail two or three times during
the week prior to the show will make this hair clean
and soft. Be sure that all the soap is rinsed out or else
your horse might start rubbing his mane and tail. After
rinsing and shaking out the excess water, "pick" the
mane and tail by separating the locks with your fingers.
This will keep them from drying in tangles.
Of course, a horse that has not been groomed regularly
will not be ready for the show ring with only one
grooming. A well-groomed hber 1989orse is cleaned
faithfully every day for several weeks prior to the first
show. He is certainly not clean if you can pick up scuff
and dirt when passing the finger tips through the hair
coat or leave gray lines on the coat where the fingers
Your show horse should be kept out of the sun most of
the time in order to avoid a dull, sunburned
appearance. If you are grazing your horse, turn him out
to pasture at night or early in the morning and late in
Washing your horse or pony all over is another method
of getting him clean. However, washing is a poor
substitute for regular grooming since it removes the
protective oil of the hair and skin. But if you decide
that washing is necessary, use lukewarm water and a
mild soap. Rinse thoroughly with cool water and keep
him out of drafts while being rubbed dry with a clean
cloth. It is usually not advisable to wash your horse
except the mane, tail and feet within two weeks of a
If you have a gelding, don't forget to clean the sheath
occasionally. Some horses require it more often than
others, especially those which urinate without
protruding the penis. Use warm water, mild soap and
remove the secretions, including the "bean" or ball of
waxy secretion which sometimes develops in a
depression in the head of the penis and which may
interfere with urination.
In addition to the regular grooming procedures of
currying and brushing. some horsemen will bring out
the bloom on their horse by hand rubbing. Hand
rubbing removes loose hair, stimulates the circulation,
TAIL-THINNED AND SHORTENED
GROOMING AND PREPARATION FOR THE SHOW
and helps to produce a glossy coat. It is also restful to
tired muscles after a long ride.
THE FINAL TOUCH
Before exhibiting your horse, the final touch consists of
going over the horse's body with the grooming cloth.
This should be done just before entering the ring if you
are at a show, since the cloth will pick up any dust
which may have accumulated since brushing. Avoid
using an excessively oily rub rag for this final
grooming because oil on the surface of the haircoat will
cause dust to stick to your animal. With a clean cloth or
damp sponge wipe about the ears, eyes, nostrils, lips,
sheath, and dock.
A good showman will carry a small rag concealed in
his pocket just in case it is needed in the show ring. Of
course, it is used to "touch up" your horse only when
the judge is occupied elsewhere in the ring.
CLIPPING and TRIMMING
As a rule, the program of most 4-H club members does
not necessitate clipping the horse's entire haircoat for
winter. Clipping is usually practiced when the horse is
worked regularly during the winter and only when the
horse receives very careful attention. When not actually
at work, clipped animals should be stabled and
blanketed during cold weather.
During severe weather it is not advisable to clip the
legs. Where animals are to receive considerable work
under the saddle, it is advisable to leave a saddle patch
the size of a folded blanket. This will give protection
from abrasions and infections and from wearing away
the hair on the back under the saddle.
Clipping must not be used as a substitute for proper
grooming. Clipping reduces the labor of grooming, but
the clipped animal needs the same thorough and
THREE-GAITED SADDLE HORSE
TAIL CLIPPED 6 TO 8 INCHES FROM BASE
vigorous grooming as an animal in full coat.
Practically all horses being prepared for the show ring
require some trimming about the feet and legs, the
head, the mane and tail.
FEET and LEGS
The hair around the fetlock joint is trimmed to give the
legs a neater, cleaner appearance. Some exhibitors clip
the legs from just below the knees and hocks down to
the hoof head. Run the clippers with the natural lay of
the hair. Clipping a couple of weeks before show time
will allow the hair to grow enough to eliminate clipper
marks and contrasting shades of color.
The long hair on the inside of the ears and under the
chin and jaw is usually clipped. Some horsemen prefer
not to remove all the hair from inside the ears since it is
there for a purpose to help keep dirt and insects from
entering the inner ear. Some also prefer not to remove
the long feeler hairs or whiskers from around the
muzzle because they serve the purpose of helping the
horse make contact with his surroundings, especially in
Treatment of the mane varies considerably depending
on the type and breed of horse being exhibited. On all
saddle horses, the mane is usually clipped where the
crown-piece or head stall of the bridle crosses behind
the ears. This clipped area is called the bridlepath. It is
usually about 1% to 2 inches long, but some gaited
Saddle horses are trimmed 6 or 7 inches down the
neck. This is to make the horse's neck appear longer
6 TO 8 INCHES FROM BASE
GROOMING AND PREPARATION FOR THE SHOW
and neater and finer through the throatlatch.
The forelock or foretop from the bridlepath forward is
seldom clipped and is pulled down under the center of
the browband. This is braided with three strands of
brightly colored ribbon on some ponies, the five gaited
Saddle Horse and the Walking horse. About the only
horse that is shown with a clipped foretop is the three
gaited Saddle horse.
The entire mane is clipped on the three gaited Saddle
horse. Many exhibitors of western or stock horses
Show them with a closely clipped mane except that the
foretop and a tuft of hair on the withers are left intact.
Care must be exercised in clipping the mane to perform
a smooth job and not get down into the body hair on
the side of the neck.
Stock horses whose manes are not clipped and hunters
usually have them shortened and thinned for the show
ring. This is accomplished by pulling or plucking the
hair until the remaining hair on the mane is about 4 or
5 inches long. Plucking is done by grasping a few hairs
at a time, sliding the hand up close to the roots, and
pulling the hairs out by the roots with a quick jerk.
Begin on the underside and pull the longest hair first.
The hunter is usually shown with the mane braided into
small braids tied with yam along the horse's neck. The
five gaited Saddle horse, the Walking horse, the
Shetland and a few other breeds are shown with two
braids on the mane the foretop and the first section of
hair on the mane behind the bridlepath.
On stock horses the tail is pulled or thinned (not cut
off) to just below the hock. The hair is pulled as in the
mane, working on the longest hairs and mostly on the
underside of the tail. Most hunters and polo ponies also
have the tail thinned and shortened. The three gaited
Saddle horse has the tail closely clipped for a distance
of 6 to 8 inches from the base.
Most hunters are shown with the tail braided for a
distance of 8 to 12 inches from the base.
1. This document is 4HHSG02, one of a series of the 4-H Youth Development Program, Florida Cooperative
Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Printed. Please visit the
FAIRS Website at http://hammockifas.ufl.edu.
2. T. B King, Pennsylvania State University, Debbie Glauer, member of 4-H Animal Science Design Team,
Department of Family, Youth and Community Science, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611.
.LI, UNIVERSITY OF
Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, Christine
Taylor Waddill, Director, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this information to further the purpose
of the May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress; and is authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only
to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, age, sex, handicap or national origin. The information in this
publication is available in alternate formats. Single copies of extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available
free to Florida residents from county extension offices. Information on copies for out-of-state purchase is available from Publications
Distribution Center, University of Florida, PO Box 110011, Gainesville, FL 32611-0011. Information about alternate formats is available from
Educational Media and Services, University of Florida, PO Box 110810, Gainesville, FL 32611-0810. This information was published
December 1989, Florida Cooperative Extension Service.