Make Grooming a Cinch

Article by Absorbine: Professional Julie Goodnight weighs in with some tips

Whether you’re headed out to the first show of the “season” or keeping a horse quarantine clean, with ShowSheen® from Absorbine®, you can get the job done quickly and easily. While ShowSheen is well-known for putting the finishing touch on horses’ coats, adding radiance, conditioning and protection, this barn grooming staple has many other uses.

Trainer and clinician Julie Goodnight says her favorite use for ShowSheen is prior to clipping. “Using ShowSheen before clipping helps reduce the friction on clipper blades, allowing them to glide through the hair better, reducing clipper lines and helping keep clipper blades sharper longer. Before clipping, thoroughly curry and brush the coat up before applying ShowSheen. This will ensure that the underside of the hair is also treated.”

Want to produce your own professional-looking results? Try these tips for using ShowSheen:

  • To reduce burrs and sand spurs, apply prior to heading out for trail rides and before turn-out
  • For more comfort using fly sheets, use to reduce rubs and static cling
  • To help repel dust and keep horses cleaner longer, use liberally all over the horse’s body
  • To prevent skin and hair from drying out, let the pro vitamins and silk proteins work their magic and keep horses’ coats and hair deep-conditioned
  • When summer showers lead to the possibility of muddy legs, keep mud from sticking by spraying legs before turn-out.

“For more than 40 years, ShowSheen has been world’s number one detangler and grooming aid,” says Amy Cairy, director of marketing for Absorbine. “Horse owners are always looking for ways to make the grooming process easier – and have the results last longer. ShowSheen is a staple for every horse owner’s grooming box.”

Discover why professionals and horse owners worldwide rely on top-rated ShowSheen to keep their horses’ coats and hair shiny and healthy. To purchase ShowSheen, click here.

Jealous Little Girl

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Dear Julie,
I have a two-year-old mare that’s an eager learner and wants to spend time with me. She readily approaches me and wants to be in on the action when I work with other horses. It’s been snowy and icy here so I have not had the opportunity to do the groundwork I usually do with her. So today I spent time brushing and cleaning her up and I took her for a walk. When I brought her back, I let her loose while I was grooming another horse—a gelding I am bonded to and have worked with for many years. While I was grooming him, the mare put her head on his back and placed her nose on his hoof. I continuously backed her off and returned to grooming. Then she nipped at my arm. To my surprise, I hit her and said “no.” I’m embarrassed to admit what came automatically. How do I teach her to not to interfere when I work on another horse and how to I teach her not to bite to get my attention?
Sick of Envy
Dear Sick of Envy,
First of all, give yourself a break for your reaction to your mare’s nip. You followed your instincts and acted much like a dominant horse would in the same situation. Think about what would happen in the natural herd setting if a subordinate horse bit a dominant one. The dominant horse immediately restates his or her position by biting, kicking and even running the subordinate horse away. Your reaction matches what would have happened naturally—and shows your reflexes are working! When a horse bites or nips she is challenging your dominance and he needs to be immediately and firmly corrected. You’re keeping yourself safe by teaching your horse you’re in charge and won’t put up with aggressive moves.

While we’re talking about safety, I think the scene you described may not be the safest way to teach your young horse or the safest place to groom your older horse. With one horse tied and the other loose in the same area, you’re inviting trouble. There’s no question that this is dangerous—I once saw a person get killed in a similar situation. I’m guessing that the older gelding is dominant over the mare. When he’s tied and can’t react like he usually would, the young mare may find it tempting to challenge him. Tie them both up or move the horse you’re working with to a separate area where you can’t be bothered. If you tie your mare, she’ll learn to stand patiently at the same time you are working on the other horse.

Now lets talk more about horses and jealousy. Horses are emotional animals with feelings more simplistic, but similar to humans’. Horses can certainly be jealous. Some of the behaviors you describe indicate that this horse is jealous of the attention you pay to your older horse. Horses can become very possessive over another horse and will sometimes go to great lengths to keep that horse from interacting with other horses. You may see a horse in the pasture or turnout herding another horse to keep it away from the others and he may even make threatening gestures and aggressive actions towards the others to keep them away from “his” horse. It is always helpful to understand how horses interact in the herd so you know the origins of their behavior and how you fit into the mix. You definitely don’t want your horse to treat you like another horse and you don’t want to be one of your horse’s possessions.

Even though it is pleasing to us when our horses want our attention and interaction, you must be very careful not to give the impression to this filly that she can control your actions and gain your attention any time she wants. Be very clear about not letting her invade your space and do not let her prompt you into giving her attention and learn that she can control your actions.

To start your anti-jealousy training, make sure you only give your mare attention when you choose. In other words, make sure not to give attention when she’s seeking it, but only when she’s calm and relaxed. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Horses will try to get your negative attention if they can–by acting up then causing you to come to them to provide discipline. Even though it’s negative attention, the horse is still in control when she nips, kicks, paws, chews, etc. in an attempt to get a reaction from you. For example, if I have a horse tied and I am doing something with another horse, the first horse may paw in impatience and frustration. If I go over to her and reprimand her, she has successfully won my attention—getting me to stop what I’m doing and move into her space. She’s controlling my actions. The best thing to do is ignore her behavior; it will eventually go away.

Your filly sounds very gregarious and that is a great quality. Just don’t let that turn into her being pushy. Biting is the most dominant behavior of horses and you need to “nip it in the bud,” so to speak.

Until next time,

Julie Goodnight
www.juliegoodnight.com

Horse Behavior: Mutual Grooming

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Question Category: Horse Behavior

Question: Dear Julie,

First of all, I would like to thank you for your website and the information you share on it. Your Training Library is quite extensive and I am learning so much by reading through your responses. I am new to horsemanship and the background and experience you provide are invaluable to me. The other thing I appreciate is how clearly and systematically you explain/describe things. Your step-by-step directions are exactly what I need! I don’t feel so overwhelmed when you break things down into smaller pieces like you do. Thank you.

My question is regarding grooming. I love to groom my horse and frequently go into the pasture to do so. However, I am now wondering if a “lead” horse grooms other horses. In other words, am I losing ground with my horse, from a leadership perspective, by grooming her (especially at times when she isn’t being saddled or unsaddled)? I am trying very hard to make sure I am being the leader my horse deserves. With the information on your website I have really begun to look at everything I do, and I want to make sure that I am not inadvertently giving her mixed signals.

Thank you for everything,

Tracy

Answer: Tracy,

It’s a good question you propose, regarding both the horse’s natural herd behavior and the practicality of what you are doing. Armed with the right information, you’ll be able to evaluate what you are doing and possibly make some positive changes.

Mutual grooming (technically referred to as allo-grooming) is the only known affectionate behavior of horses that is not reproductive related. It occurs only between bonded horses within the herd and they stand facing each other and groom each other using their teeth and lips, mostly in the wither area and down the back.

Yes, lead horses mutual groom with other subordinate horses, BUT the lead horse always begins and ends the grooming session. And she ends it by biting the subordinate horse as a little reminder of who is indeed the boss. It’s okay for you to rub on your horse and scratch him where it feels good, but make sure you are the one initiating and ending the grooming session and never let your horse put its mouth on you and “groom” you back. If at any time the horse gets rude or is demanding to be groomed, you should hiss and spit at him and shoo him away.

I do have a practical concern about grooming your horse in the pasture. If you are working on your horse while she is loose out in the field and she can walk away from you or move around whenever she wants, you may be instilling some bad manners in your horse. I want my horses to stand perfectly still any time I am working on them and, like most rules, this one has to be strictly reinforced. I would prefer to put a halter and lead on my horse and either ground tie or hard tie her so that I can take control of her if needed, to remind her of her ground manners.

As an example, a friend of mine liked to go in his colt’s pen and rub on him and play with him. Of course the colt loved it too and then my friend started grooming the colt and picking up his feet—all without a halter on. He was very proud of being able to pick up the colt’s feet, but paid no attention to the fact that the colt would just pull his foot away and walk off any time he wanted. All this time, my friend had been teaching this horse that he could walk off and move away while he was being groomed and pull his feet out of your hands anytime he wanted and that the human had no control over him. He was not learning to respect authority, hold his feet up, stand patiently or have any restraint put on him. Additionally, foals are so tactile and love being rubbed on so much that when over-handled they start leaning into you demanding to be scratched. When you comply, not only are you letting the horse control your actions (in other words, be dominate over you) but you are also teaching him to lean into pressure—a VERY bad habit since normally we train horses to move off of pressure not lean into it.

It’s excellent that you are taking the time to understand the horse’s natural behavior and reflecting on how that impacts the way you handle your horses. What you are doing with your horse might be okay, as long as you keep these concepts in mind. But with a better glimpse at the big picture, you may find you want to modify what you are doing just a little to make sure you maintain authority with the horse.

Good luck and be safe!

Julie

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