Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How to kit your horse out for the year

I may as well start with the summer as that is what we are apparently currently in?! As anyone in England has experienced in the last few years you can need all sorts of rugs to cover you for the summer season!

Again, everybody does things very differently, and please feel free to add your views and comments. Every horse is different, even within our yard (e.g in winter) we have a number of fully clipped out German Warmblood event horses, and even they have completely different rugging systems dependent on their individual needs. Obviously different breeds vary, as well as their routines, (whether they live in or out) and whether or not they are good doers or spend the winter clipped or furry.



Squirrel and Acco enjoying a good scratch after
all those rugs have come off!
During the summer, if it ever gets hot enough, it’s nice if the horses can spend plenty of time without rugs.

Fly rugs

However, if they are out a lot, it is likely that they will need a fly sheet and mask. Most fly sheets are pale in colour or white to help keep them cool, and although they are made out of breathable material, some are shower proof. Saying this if there are repeated downpours, the horse will get very cold as the fly rug will hold in the moisture more than their coat would naturally. So, if you are leaving your horse out overnight or if you’re away all day, just keep an eye on the forecast before leaving them out with a fly rug on.

They are essential to stop midges, horseflies and other insects biting or irritating them, which can cause them to gallop round to try and avoid the fly bites. Obviously galloping round in the middle of summer, with hard ground and hot weather likely, brings it’s own complications.

Fly masks are another highly recommended product, keeping flies out of their eyes and ears, and some of the slightly more expensive fly masks go down as far as their nose, preventing sunburn and fly irritation. This makes horses so much more comfortable, plus can reduce the risk of eye infection, or problems related to them rubbing their eyes. 

Has anyone ever had problems putting their horses’ bridle on in the summer because they become really sensitive around the ears? It’s probably because of the midges. Itch stop cream is great for keeping midges out of the ears and keeping irritation at a minimum.

Squirrel all ready to face the flies!
(Minus fly mask for photo)
There are many different features of fly rug and fly mask to suit all kinds of budget. I’ve had my weatherbeeta fly rugs and Roma fly masks for 6 years and despite a few rips they look as good as new. There are no faults with weatherbeeta, but if I was to buy again, I would buy premier equine fly rugs, and probably their masks as well; they do a  lot of research and have pretty advanced technology. The fly masks are huge around the eyes, but have two chin straps, meaning you don’t need to squash the horses’ eyes, causing rubbing, to keep them on. They also go down over the nose.

Fly rugs are handy because they are breathable, you can turn a horse out wearing one that you’ve just washed off; putting a wet horse out in scorching sun can cause it’s skin to burn, particularly thin coated or sensitive horses.


The other benefit of fly rugs is keeping coat colour and shine. Unfortunately for horses who need to look nice all year round, they spend a lot of time wearing rugs. Black horses go lighter or orange if exposed to sunlight, so to keep a dark coat very dark, fly rugs are great to keep the sunlight off without the horse getting too hot. Sadly to keep a fine, shiny coat, they need to be kept slightly too hot all the time (although not so they are sweating.)  It depends on what you compete in and your preferences.
Jungle enjoying the September sunshine...
His spring dapples have gone but he stays shiny

My black stallion stayed pretty black when exposed in sunlight apart from getting yellow dapples on his tummy, which we really liked so we just left him in the sun. However, poor Tiny has to be rugged up nose to tail all the time when she’s in the sun to keep her coat really black. Squirrel gets blonde highlights and goes almost palomino in spring and deep chestnut in winter, so we leave him without rugs (but with fly mask) whenever it’s hot and sunny.

Waterproof Rugs

It is vital to have a lightweight and medium weight turnout rug, as summer can throw all sorts of strange weather. Sometimes it can rain so persistently that you can find yourself with a soaked through lightweight turnout rug and nothing else to put on while that’s drying. Even in the middle of summer, the last few years have been so cold and wet, that overnight my horses’ have worn their winter heavyweights with necks, and not been too hot.

Former ride Rigo prepares for another wet summer!


Tiny drying after her pre-Badminton bath
Quite often it’s nice to think that you won’t need any rugs during the day, but quite often a fleece or lightweight stable rug ends up being needed.

It can be useful to have a sweat rug, for those days that aren’t that cold, but just something to cover their backs when it’s not that warm either.

Overnight, quite often just a fleece or lightweight stable rug will do, but again the weather can be so changeable, often a heavier stable rug can be required, particularly if trying to keep the horses a bit too warm to keep their coats nice.



Again turnout, weather and coat dependent – my horses tend to be pretty heavily rugged up, plus they go out for long periods of time every day (with hay), so need to be kept warm.

In the middle of winter on a very cold/snowy day when my horses are fully clipped, Tiny, who I would consider to be a ‘hot horse’, would wear a fleece, thick stable rug with neck, thick stable rug and heavyweight turn out rug with neck.

Tiny thinks the snow is the best fun ever!

Leo, who really struggles with the cold, would wear 2 fleeces, a lightweight stable rug, a heavyweight stable rug with neck, a heavyweight stable rug without neck and a heavyweight turnout rug with neck.


Last winter he got very cold and ended up also wearing his bandages in the field. This is not really advisable as a horse can panic if a bandage starts to unravel, and obviously this is really dangerous if it starts to gallop round the field with half an unrolled bandage following it. So, if you are going to do this, make sure you’re on the yard and can see the field that horse is in the whole time that it’s out with bandages on, make sure the Velcro is well taped, and make sure you know the horses’ character, and consider whether or not to leave a headcollar on in case you may need to catch it quickly.

All my horses’ are used to being turned out in individual paddocks, but led out in a group of 3 or 4 (again only advisable with well-behaved horses who you know and they don’t kick), so they are used to having to wait while I put the other one in the field, meaning they learn how to deal with treading on their ropes and not panicking etc, so I know Leo is unlikely to react to a loose bandage.

I turn them out like this for a number of reasons; obviously with co-operative horses this is extremely time saving if you have a long walk to your fields, but don’t want to turn horses out together; but also I think if you can teach them to get used to being loose with a rope,

1st - if you fall off their first reaction is just to graze and they are very easy to catch (tried and tested), and
2nd - if for any reason they get loose at a competition or if you fall of while riding, and they tread on their rein, they are used to the feeling of just moving their feet to remove the pressure, rather than just panicking and pulling their head up, either breaking a very expensive rein, or if it doesn’t break, dealing with what can be a very nasty injury, which can be as bad as a broken jaw.

Not everyone agrees with this theory but I have most of my horses from a young age and know their characters well.

Anyway, back to rugs!

Obviously regularly check the temperature and feel under your horse’s rugs regularly and work between the amount of summer and winter rugs depending on the weather, type of horse and type of clip.

With a non clipped, roughed off horse, no rug or just a medium weight turnout should do for the whole winter, particularly with native breeds. Saying that, it is advisable to have more than one rug if the horse wears one all the time just in case it gets soaked through and needs to be changed. Squirrel had the winter off and despite being a dressage poof who’s used to living in, he survived a hard winter in a field very fat and fluffy with just a medium weight with neck.

Squirrel and Pig enjoy the snow at home
Clipped or not clipped, if it’s snowing and the horse is kept warm all the time, I really like to turn them out for a bit with no rugs on to have a nice roll and play in the snow. Obviously don’t do this with a horse that’s difficult to catch as it could get very cold! I’d leave them for a maximum of 5/10 minutes just to have a roll and a play. They love this when they spend their whole time with rugs on.


Everybody does this differently too; personally I keep the same rugs on in the stable as they have on in the field (but they come off once to be ridden and a second time for their groom in the afternoon/evening.) It’s not advisable to leave the same set of rugs on all the time in the field or the stable and even if they are not in work or not being groomed they should be taken off and put back on at least once a day to prevent rubbing and irritation.

The reason mine live with the same rugs on is because:

·         This way a turnout rug that is wet on the outside  is dried out (if you take it off but have nowhere to dry it out, the moisture can seep through to the inside and you can end up with a damp cold rug to put on your horse.) This means you don’t need a second heavyweight turnout rug if the horse comes in every night as it will always be dry by the time you turn it back out again.

·         It saves lots of time in the morning; the horses can just be fed and turned out.

·         I always think that overnight out of the wind in the stable is usually roughly the same temperature as during the day out in the wind in the field, so as there is no necessity to change the number of rugs/warmth level, why change the turnout rug, which is only the top rug anyway to a different top rug; adding more unnecessary work and costing more money as each horse would then need an extra stable rug.

If it gets really cold, an old-fashioned whitney blanket can provide a lot of warmth, as can ‘thermatex ears’, which are good for regulating temperature.

Rambo have invented a ‘combo’ rug, which is a turnout rug with a detachable neck, and also a detachable lining, which means the rug can be made warmer or colder as and when necessary without the horse wearing two or three separate rugs.

A few things to consider

Gets quite cold at Boomerang sometimes!
Look at your horse's weight - if it's fat it won't need so many layers to provide warmth, plus being a little bit cold will help it to lose weight. If it's skinny, then keep it as warm as possible without overheating it so that as little energy as possible can be wasted on keeping warm.

Take your barn/stable into consideration, as well as your clip and type of rugs. For example, my current yard at Boomerang is quite drafty, so although I strongly believe this is fantastic for the horses' health, we need to keep them well rugged. However, they are brilliantly cool in the summer. 

Last winter, Squirrel was in a very warm stable, which although well ventilated, was not drafty. Combined with his trace clip and the warmth that a heavyweight Rambo stable rug provides, he spent most of a cold winter just in that stable rug. 

Play around with different rugs directly on the skin - I like to have a fleece directly on their skin, but sometimes a well designed stable rug will be warmer. 

Squirrel in his warm stable wearing just one rug

Exercise Sheets

I always like to have two types of exercise sheet in my yard, one removable waterproof exercise sheet and one under-the-saddle fleecy one, either a material like Bijou make, or a newmarket fleece. (If you have more than one horse I would recommend a few of each for hacking days in the torrential rain, and so they can be washed regularly). 

The waterproof one can be thin or fleece lined. Personally I don't see the point in just a waterproof sheet, as if it's not cold enough to use a fleece, it probably isn't cold enough to worry about the horse getting wet. 

The fleece is great for the drier cold days or for the absolutely freezing days when you can put the fleece under the waterproof exercise sheet. 
Acco has a play in the snow
(Not reccomended, we did this for picture purpose only!)

I don't put a fillet string on the fleece exercise sheet; as it is not removable; you can pull it up/forward and sit on it if it gets too hot if there is no fillet string stopping you from doing that. It is unlikely you would use this fleece on it's own on a wet and windy day so therefore it is unlikely to blow up and frighten the horse.

I would however ensure there is a fillet string on the waterproof sheet. The removable sheet can be taken off if it gets too hot to need it, plus if you are on a very windy hack miles from home, at least it won't blow right up all over the place and potentially cause an accident. 

Competing and Travelling - winter and summer

After spending ages bathing and plaiting them, make sure you have something to cover it with! I always bandage down over socks, if they are short socks, as long as the bandage isn't too tight round the tendon, you can bandage just the area of the sock, so for example from the middle over the cannon bone down over the hoof.

I would also strongly recommend a 'horse hoodie' to keep the plaits clean and straight. Not all horses like these and it can make them rub, but for the majority they are life savers! Also, stains can make their way through these, so just to be sure (and if it's not too hot) a turnout rug with a neck is a must-have as well or instead as a cheaper alternative.

Sometimes these hoods can get quite tight round the eyes, but just tie the middle bit closer together with string and it won't rub the eyes.

Squirrel all bathed and ready to go -
above and below

For travelling, again horse (temperament and temperature) and weather dependent - Leo in winter would travel in 2 fleeces and a stable rug, Tiny (in winter) in a thin sheet - this is just because they cope with temperature differently, but also Leo is really laid back mentally and although Tiny stands on the lorry impeccably, she is very excited about what's coming next so she gets too hot with too many rugs.

Squirrel, JP and King at Twesledown
Most of the time, a sheet or thin fleece will do, occasionally 2 if it's cold, and in the summer, often no rug is fine. Horses have to work quite hard to stand travelling and there is lots of body warmth in a small space so they should wear less than they would in the stable but it is important to still keep their muscles warm. 

Take extra rugs in case it rains while you are waiting around outside, or in case you break down or are waiting (stationary) at the show for a long time. We had an incident once which meant the horse had to stay at the competition overnight and it was snowing, but luckily I had brought all his night rugs and bandages.


Summer RugsField

·         Fly Rug
·         Fly Mask
·         Lightweight turnout
·        Medium weight turnout


·         Fleece/Sheet
·         Sweat rug
·         Light weight stable rug
·         Medium weight stable rug

Winter RugsFieldFluffy horses living out

·         Medium weight turnout rug/maybe with detachable neck
·         Heavyweight stable rug/with detachable neck

Clipped horses being turned out

·         Fleece
·         Lightweight stable rug
·         Medium weight stable rug
·         Heavyweight stable rug with neck
·         Heavyweight stable rug
·         Medium weight turnout rug with detachable neck
·         Heavyweight turnout rug with neck
·         Not all these are needed at the same time but are useful under rugs and cheaper than buying loads of separate turnout rugs. Depends on the type of horse and type of clip.

Stable (clipped horses)

·         Fleece
·         Lightweight stable rug
·         Medium weight stable rug/with or without neck
·         Heavyweight stable rug with neck
·         Heavyweight stable rug

·         Turnout rugs are fine in the stable if you need extra rugs but don’t want to buy any more stable rugs

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How to groom a horse thoroughly (on a day-to-day basis)

*More pictures coming soon*


Everybody grooms their horses slightly differently and even sometimes the same person grooms different horses differently depending on their individual likes and dislikes.

My routine would vary depending on the season and the timing – for example, if you are grooming before riding in them middle of winter, sometimes the priority is just to get all the mud off! But usually, with clipped out rugged horses, or in the summer, when grooming before riding, presentation is important to us being based at Boomerang stables where so many outside people come and go - and obviously the horse needs to be comfortable, so no mud/dirt on areas where tack will sit. This means that my routine is tailored to that – before riding, we get the feet picked out and oiled and mane and tail brushed, because if we then run out of time at least they look well presented.

After riding, it's important that the horse gets a good stimulating groom, with all the sweat from work removed.

Before Riding


I find it’s always good to start with spraying the tail with mane and tail conditioner (if necessary), because this way, by the time you come to brush the tail, it’s dry and detangled. Unless your horse has a very long thick mane, or is never going to be plaited or pulled, don’t put mane and tail conditioner in the mane! It is virtually impossible to pull or plait!

Then I usually pick out their feet and oil them with cheap but shiny hoof oil.

Then brush the mane over to the right (unless you have a really stubborn left sided mane when sometimes on a daily basis it’s just easier to keep it on the wrong side). If it bothers you that the mane is on the wrong side, down plait it over to the right. By brushing the mane before the body, this also means that any mud or dirt that falls out of the mane doesn’t fall onto your clean horse, it falls onto a dirty neck that you are about to groom, saving you from brushing it twice.

By now the mane and tail conditioner should have worked in the tail. I use a hair brush, or a plastic curry comb, but you can get specialist tail brushes for horses. You can also use a dandy brush to avoid pulling out more tail than necessary.

Twist the tail from the bottom of the dock to the bottom of the tail and then brush the bottom section until there are no tangles left, untwist it a little, brush that next section and continue like this until you can brush it from top to bottom. This way, you don’t rip the hair out and the tail stays thick. Some people don’t like to brush tails on a daily basis, but I think if you keep them soft with mane and tail conditioner, it doesn’t do
much damage and looks really nice. What do you do?

My massage brush doesn't look very well any more
but the horses love it!


I then like to start on the body with my lovely massage brush that I bought years ago on a trip to America, massaging the horse in circular movements all over it’s body. The horse will tell you how he likes it, but most of them really enjoy it and you can press really hard as you massage them!

This has a similar effect to a curry comb, working loose hair and grease to the surface of the skin so it’s easy to flick off with the body brush later.

This also switches the horses’ off and gets them really relaxed and enjoying their groom!

When all the dust and hair is raised to the surface, you can then flick it off with a body brush. If the horse still looks dusty, get a damp hot towel or microfibre cloth and just gently wipe this over the skin, which should help to lift any further dust and grease off. When done daily, there shouldn’t be very much dust anyway, but if the horse is really bad it might need a bath before starting a daily grooming routine.
This bobbly brush is brilliant for getting mud off clipped horses

If the horse is caked in mud when you start, use a dandy brush on a non-clipped (and to an extent, not so sensitive) horse to quickly remove most of the mud. There are lots of mud removing brushes available now so this is just down to personal preference – I have a different massage brush which is more bobbly, which is very useful to get mud off clipped horses. Some people use a grooming glove – what is your preference? Please feel free to add anything I might have missed!


I then have a third, softer massage brush that the horses really enjoy being used on their faces. Once I’ve lifted all the hair and dirt off the face, mine are a bit spoilt and have a goat’s hair face brush, which is really soft (and not actually necessary!) for flicking off the hair and dust. A body brush or normal face brush does just as good a job.

Softer massage brush, ideal for their face
(A bit dusty!!)

I also always have baby wipes in my grooming box for cleaning eyes, noses and under the tail! Slightly more expensive than the conventional sponge, but I find more hygienic and quicker.

Now your horse should be feeling fresh and looking great!


Oiling the heel
I would use this routine where possible before riding, and/or as an evening groom. The only difference in the evening is that I would put Effol Hoof Ointment on the inside, outside and heel of the hoof, as I believe the hoof oil is great for presentation, but Effol is brilliant for the condition of the feet. The other thing is I would put sudocreme around the corners of the mouth, inside and outside where the bit sits; just to keep the mouth soft and heal any minor rubbing before it has a chance to get sore.

After Riding

Immediately after riding, the routine is slightly different. If the horse isn’t really sweating, it can either have it’s full ‘evening’ groom then, but usually I like to go over them thoroughly with the massage brush and then either turn them out or leave them in the stable, where possible with no rug so they can have a nice roll.

If they’re sweating, I like to wash them off with warm water, with some lavender wash in the water.

Lavender wash is soothing and relaxing and helps draw out any excess dirt or sweat.

Rugs whilst grooming

If it’s the middle of winter or even just very cold, particularly if the horse is clipped, it’s really important that it has a rug over it at all times. Grooming tends not to be a 30 second mission and it’s not fair on the horse for you to be wrapped up in a scarf, coat, hat and gloves working away while he’s standing there naked in the freezing cold – unless of course you are fortunate enough to have a solarium at the yard.

I tend to rug my horses up a lot, so when grooming I would take all their rugs off, find a heavyweight stable rug within that pile of rugs and put it back on without doing any straps up. To do the neck, shoulder and most of the back, just fold the rug back over the hindquarters. To groom the hindquarters and top of the tail etc, just fold the rug forward so it’s covering the middle section of the horse’s back. Although it is important to let their skin breathe a bit, when 23 hours of the day they are suffocated by rugs, it is bad to let them get cold and cause the muscles to tense.

Grooming at shows

At shows, we have a slightly different grooming routine. The horses are already pristine from lots of washing, so they just need final touch-ups before they get going.

First we put studs in, then get cleaning – we have chalk for any white bits (socks and face markings), baby wipes for any stray chalk dust and for your hands, then, after chalking, you’ll know why when you do it the wrong way round, we put black hoof polish on (all feet including white – but this is down to personal preference).

While waiting for the black hoof oil to dry, we do the quarter marks, wetting the hindquarters with a sponge, then doing the quarter marks and sharks teeth with a firm body brush, then spraying quick plait spray over the finished quarter marks to keep the hair set (similar effect to hair spray.)

Then we brush out the tail, which having been loosely plaited the night before, should fluff out really well. Then we baby wipe the nose and eyes to make sure they’re really clean, then apply baby oil to make them shiny. The last thing before we go is to apply shiny hoof oil over the now dry black hoof oil to give a really nice touch.

Everybody does things differently – this is how I present them out eventing - please add your ideas and comments. I have picked up different ideas along the way but there’s always more to learn and reasons why people do or don’t do certain things, so I hope you’ve found this blog helpful and feel free to add anything I may have missed.



·         Tail spray
·         Pick out feet
·         Hoof oil
·         Brush tail (twist and brush from bottom to top, then brush through)
·         Brush mane over to the right
·         Massage in circles all over body including legs with massage brush
·         Flick off the dirt with the body brush
·         Massage in circles on the face with soft massage brush
·         Flick off the dirt with small body brush/goats hair brush

·         AFTER RIDING

·         If not sweating
-         Massage brush
·         Body brush
·         Sudocrem on mouth

·         If sweating
·         Lavendar wash and hot water
·         Sweat scrape
·         Sudocrem on mouth

·         *Rugs whilst grooming* (Cold days/clipped horses)

·         All rugs off
·         Thick stable rug on, fold back to groom neck and back, fold forward to do hindquarters
·         Fully on (doesn’t necessarily need to be done up) for neck/face/mane

·         Competition Grooming

·         Chalk
·         Black hoof oil
·         Quarter Marks
·         Tail
·         Baby wipe and oil nose and eyes
·         Shiny Hoof oil