I think the start of every formal lesson program starts with how to groom a horse. You start out by taking your little grooming bucket over to Buttons the school pony and you then proceed to try to make sense of the variety of brushes and combs you have at your disposal. The riding instructor went through this with you, so you know each brush has a specific function, but what is it?! What the heck is this oval shaped rubber thing for?? Holy cow, I just want to ride a horse already!
As a part-time stable hand, I’d be lying if I said I had never overheard a student say “I thought we were paying for a RIDING lesson…” The truth is, when you pay for a riding lesson, you’re paying for a horsemanship lesson. You wouldn’t run around with a backpack on with rocks in your shoe and mud all over your back, so it’s our job to make sure our horses don’t have to either!
Other than the obvious importance of making sure your horse is clean before you ride so they don’t get sores from the tack or bruises on their soles, grooming offers you the opportunity to check the horse over carefully and pick up on any developing issues. Many a serious injury has been avoided by a diligent groom catching a problem before it got worse!
It’s important not to skip any steps while grooming (more on what those steps are in Part 2). Each step offers a unique “test” of your horse’s well-being. For example, my Off-The-Track Thoroughbred was very sensitive over his lower back to a curry comb for a few years, until we ran into some other issues and discovered chronic ulcers/stomach discomfort and addressed the issue. Now I can curry him as hard as I want over his lower back and he barely bats an eye. I’ve also found numerous swellings (with and without heat), cuts, bite marks and other minor injuries; that could impact our ride/work, while grooming.
Last but not least, it offers you the opportunity to bond and get to know your horse. This is a good time to get to know his nuances, or perhaps notice that they may have changed. Grooming is one of the best ways to get to know and enjoy your horse’s personality and build your relationship. Most great partnerships are built from the ground up, so use this time to lay a solid foundation.