In May 2019, a French Study showed traditional grooming methods can cause horses stress. They appreciate more gentle massage techniques.
Read more on the study mentioned above here.
When I read Lea Lansade’s report regarding grooming related stress, I did a fist-pump and shouted, “YES!” It is always good to have your observations verified by science. People are not gentle when they groom horses.
I have seen it so often. From children in riding schools to experienced professionals at large shows. I wince along with the horse as the brush comes down with another “loving” thump.
I face-palm when witnessing horse grooming that resembles the scrubbing of an oven.
Simply put? Because they are focusing on cleaning the horse. Not on the horse.
The reasons for this are myriad. In a rush? In a mood? Learned behavior? Their own stress?
It does not have to be like this.
We can all be gentle if we take the time. Grooming should be about assessing the mental and physical health of your horse. As much as about cleaning him or her.
About spending non-work time with each other. About bonding. Not about creating a stressful situation that no-one enjoys.
1. Don’t Look at Your Horse — See Her
You think your horse bit you without warning.
Your horse thinks you rude for not noticing all her previous polite requests.
She is a living, breathing being. With a right to respect. Both body and mind.
With a gentle nudge, she let you know you were grooming her legs too hard. But you carried on scrubbing away. A firmer nudge to warn you.
Then you went too far and … chomp!
2. Stop Talking. Listen to Your Horse
She also has the right to communicate with you. In fact, encourage it.
Instead of listening to music, or talking with your friends at the same time as grooming, be with your horse. In that moment. And then in the one after that.
It is permissible to talk to your horse. But not a constant barrage of noise. Some horses would perceive this as sensory-overload.
And it is NOT permissible to shout. Shouting is not gentle.
3. Breathe Out That Stress Together
And be at peace.
If you are happy your horse will know it. As she will know when you are angry. Or frustrated.
When you are calm and content your body language will follow suit.
You will be more gentle when you groom. More inclined to get close and take your time.
4. Horses Don’t Do Deadlines
These are definitely a human thing.
If you are in a rush, don’t work with your horse. Simple. Do something short and sweet instead.
It is impossible for a person in a rush, or a panic, to be gentle. This must be the biggest reason behind non-gentle grooming.
Your class, or lesson, is about to begin. Ah! The stress! Must get my horse ready quick!
Not good. You will now ride a stressed flight animal.
5. Gently Feel Your Horse
Get right in there with your hands. Gently! I have fewer grooming tools than any showjumper I know.
What better way to be gentle than to feel what you are doing. To feel the skin and muscles of your horse. To check for tick bites. And scratch those itches.
It is difficult for a horse to feel stress while you massage that very bit that they … just … cannot … reeeeaaach!
“Ooooo! Thank you, mom!”
I shouldn’t have to include this, but I really do.
I am certain vast numbers of horse riders don’t like horses. They like riding their organic motorbike.
And horse sportswear is fabulous!
Yet, even gentle people who love their horses can experience stress or frustration. When this happens, step back. Take a moment to calm down.
Your horse will forgive you.