September 2018 - Grooming: Timeless Pony Club Tactics
Written by Leslie Nelson
Wednesday, 29 August 2018 22:33
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Leslie Nelson’s step-by-step grooming guide.

"People forget the horse’s skin is an organ,” says Leslie Nelson, an amateur jumper rider whose U.S. Pony Club upbringing directs the care of her horses. “Grooming is the daily attention that you must pay to keep the horse clean, to check all over for injuries and skin problems, prevent sores under the tack, and maintain good skin condition and a beautiful coat.” She’s used to getting complements about her horse Cornetto’s shiny coat and being asked what supplements explain it.


“Supplements have something to do with it, but it’s really about the work you put into it to make the coat look that way.”


A successful 1.2M division jumper competitor, Leslie has a long-time groom, Adolfo Garcia. But she opts to groom her own horse every day, using the systematic approach she learned in her youth. The Pony Club purist recognizes the three grooming phases: the pre-ride “quartering,” the post-ride “strapping,” and the end-of-the day “set fair” before blanketing. Quartering typically takes 20 minutes for Leslie, an hour for strapping, and just a few minutes for the set-fair.

“I know it’s old fashioned, and that not everybody can spend the kind of time that I do on grooming,” she acknowledges. “I’ve done it for so long and, for me, it’s the right thing to do.”

Leslie grooms with “Coco” secured in the cross-ties, though she sometimes picks hooves in the stall to keep that dirt out of the cross-tie area. Before the after-ride groom, she first takes him to his stall so he can relieve himself and drink water.

Start grooming from the horse’s left side and always pick up each left hoof from that side, and the right hooves from the right side. No reaching underneath to save time!!

Here’s her step-by-step grooming process:

1. Whole Body Check: Run your hands all over the horse: the legs, chest, back, under-belly, for any signs of something abnormal. That’s part of grooming. If you do this every day, you’ll notice new cuts, heat or inflammation that helps you catch things before they become a big problem.

pick the hoof in a downward direction and use the bristle end of the pick to remove all dirt, then check the hoof wall for loose or protruding show clinches.

2. Hooves: Starting on the “near” side, the left side, pick up each hoof individually to clean it. Because they are usually handled and mounted from the left, horses are often most comfortable with people working on that side. Reaching underneath the horse, from the left, to pick up a right side hoof is dangerous for you if the horse moves unexpectedly and pulls the leg in an awkward direction.

Pick in a downward direction, working toward the toe and looking and smelling for thrush. Use a pick with a small stiff bristles at one end to get all the dirt and mud out. Run your fingers over the shoe clinches to ensure none have come loose or are sticking out.

Leslie finishes post-ride grooms by dressing the hooves in a homemade mix of turpentine and cod liver oil, inside the hoof, over the whole exterior and covering the coronet band. The growth-stimulating effect of the former is balanced by the soothing effect of the latter.

Brush hair in the direction of the lay of the hair, with a firm wisking motion to remove dirt.

3: The Curry: Using a rubber mitt or curry-comb, work in a circular motion, moving from the poll to the hindquarters. Put some muscle into it. The purpose of the curry is to stimulate blood circulation. Most horses love it, but if yours does not, do as much as he will tolerate. Grooming should be a pleasant experience. Always do at least a little bit of curry or mitt grooming every day to promote circulation.
4. The Clean: With the curry in your left hand and soft brush in your right (or reverse if you’re left handed), brush in the direction of the lay of the hair. Have a bent elbow and a supple wrist to brush vigorously to get the dirt out. Every three or four strokes, draw the brush over the curry to remove dirt, then tap the curry against the floor to get that dirt out. Don’t do this on the wall: that’s rude! And don’t tap so hard that you spook your pony!
5. Head & Dock: Quietly and softly, brush the face and head, under the cheekbones and gently inside the ears. You’ll see a lot of horses with a caked dirt deposit at the tip of their ears because they don’t get brushed. That’s a recipe for fungus to grow. With horses that are sensitive to having their ears touched, use a cotton ball and, again, work on it a little bit at a time. It may take longer, but it needs to be done.

Use three designated colored sponges to clean the nose, eyes and dock and do not mix them. Leslie washes the sponges in the dishwasher every other day to disinfect them. Disposable baby wipes are a pricier alternative to sponges, but make sure they don’t contain alcohol because that dries the skin out and will sting if it gets in the horse’s eyes.
6. Legs: It’s extra important to clean the legs after riding because some arena footings contain material that’s foreign to the horse’s skin. Skin on the legs is sensitive, so use a soft brush on the hocks, canon bones and fetlocks. With caked mud, use the rubber mitt or stiff brush gently to clean it off.
7. Mane & Tail: Leslie uses a regular wide-tooth comb or a tail brush (a human hair brush) for the mane, and the hair brush for the tail. You don’t want to pull hairs out of the tail because that is the horse’s fly swatter. Holding the bottom of the tailbone firmly with one hand, brush from there down to prevent hairs getting pulled out.

8. Shine: Finish the bodywork by going over it with a plain, dry towel, and put a little muscle into it. That’ll put a big shine on it.

General Tips

Minimal Water: The post-ride strapping is the most time and labor intensive, often because it involves removing sweat or dirt caked on the legs. A hose-down and dry-out in the cross-tie is the easiest way to get rid of sweat, but Leslie considers that a lazy option that doesn’t provide the benefits of grooming. To promote skin and coat health, a bath should be followed up with a good grooming session.

She avoids using water whenever possible. When sweat or mud make it necessary, she uses a bucket and sponge, often with a little Vetrolin liniment to help soothe muscles. A sponge bath is more relaxing to the horse than a hose-down, fulfilling Leslie’s belief that grooming should be a pleasant experience. Most important, when she does use water, she ensures the horse is completely dry, especially his legs, before going into the stall. Moisture is a magnet for drawing stall bacteria onto the legs, where it can work its way into the skin and cause infections.

If she does bathe her horse, a thick hoof dressing with lanolin in it is applied to keep water off the hoof surface.

Blanketing: When removing a blanket, undo buckles from back to front. When putting it on, fasten chest buckles first and work backward. If the horse gets loose during blanketing or unblanketing, having the chest buckle still secured has the best chance of keeping the blanket in place. That’s versus a blanket that’s flapping backward and possibly dropping down over the horse’s legs, exacerbating things if the horse is already loose.
Saddle Pads: Along with cleaning tack daily, at least using a damp sponge to get rid of sweat, saddle pads should be washed frequently. Having seen dirty saddle pads lead to sore backs, Leslie washes hers every other day to prevent accumulated dirt and sweat from getting put back into the horse’s skin.
Brush Maintenance: Every four days, Leslie soaks brushes in a bucket of water with a little Pine Sol. They are thoroughly rinsed and dried before use.

Courteous Horsemanship: Cleaning the cross-ties is the last step of a good grooming session.
Leslie Nelson, a 70-year-old active jumper rider from Northern California, was profiled in our June issue. You can find it online at