How to Groom a Horse for Beginners

Updated December 15, 2023
A woman grooming a bay horse with a soft brush on the cross ties

Before we ever swing our leg over and hop in the saddle, the first step is to make sure your horse is clean and groomed. There are many different tools, tricks, and tips recommended for grooming, so it can be hard to figure out how to properly groom a horse. We’ll help you understand the fundamental grooming techniques, choose the right tools, and establish a routine, you can get your horse looking great in no time!

Benefits of Grooming Your Horse

In addition to giving the coat a clean, glossy shine, there are many other benefits of a grooming session for your horse:

  • Helps keep your horse clean and decreases the chances of them developing funky skin conditions like rain rot or scratches.
  • Cleaning the horse’s hooves with a hoof pick reduces the chances of them developing conditions such as thrush.
  • Helps maintain your horse’s skin and coat health by stimulating blood flow to the skin’s surface and spreading the horse’s natural oils.
  • Allows you to bond with your horse and get to know their body so you can quickly and easily pick up on any changes in their health or skin, like cuts or scrapes.
  • Gives you an opportunity to notice any changes or swelling in their legs before riding.
  • Grooming after riding is important in removing sweat and dirt that accumulated throughout your ride under the saddle pad, girth, or boots, and allows you to check for any minor rubs or sores.

What Brushes Do You Need to Groom a Horse?

kensington grooming tote filled with essential horse brushes and grooming tools.

A well-groomed horse starts with having the right tools. There are basic tools and then tons of extra products and grooming accessories that can help you achieve a better finished result in less time. For details on essential horse grooming tools and products, read our guide on horse grooming tools every rider needs.

When grooming a horse, these tools, brushes, and products are typically used in the following order:

  1. Hoof pick with a brush
  2. Curry comb
  3. Shedding blade or spiral curry (if needed)
  4. Hard brush and/or medium brush
  5. Soft brush
  6. Face brush
  7. Mane and tail brush (if needed)

Other handy horse grooming brushes include:

  • Pulling comb
  • Sweat scraper
  • Grooming mitt
  • Scissors
  • Sponges
  • Clean rags or towels
  • Detangler or conditioner products

You may find that some horses only tolerate certain brushes on sensitive areas of their body, or that you need to use various tools during different times of the year, such as shedding season versus in the summertime.

Shop All Grooming Supplies

How Often Should You Groom a Horse?

Using a metal curry on a horse's hindquarters.

Daily grooming is best since it allows for daily checks of the horse’s entire body and overall health. With daily grooming, you can catch a change in your horse’s health or skin, such as hives, swelling, or cuts, sooner than later and address the issue. Even a blanketed horse should have his blankets removed regularly to make sure there isn’t anything problematic lurking underneath.

How to Groom a Horse Step-by-Step in Under 20 Minutes

If done regularly, grooming sessions may only take about 20 minutes. However, if your horse found a bit of a mud puddle to roll around in, it may take a bit more time and elbow grease to get all the caked-on mud off their coat. Of course, you can always spend as much time as you want on each step for more thorough grooming, and your horse will thank you!

Grooming Steps and Their Times:

  1. Pick hooves: 2 minutes
  2. Curry your horse’s body: 5 minutes
  3. Curry your horse’s legs and face: 2 minutes
  4. Hard brush your horse: 3 minutes
  5. Medium brush your horse: 3 minutes
  6. Soft brush your horse: 2 minutes
  7. Wipe the eyes and nose: 1 minute
  8. Brush mane and tail: 2 minutes

Grooming Tip #1: Before you start, if you need to brush out your horse’s tail, spray the tail with a detangler. It will be dry at the end of your grooming routine, making it much easier to slide a comb through. Alternately, use your fingers to work a quarter-sized amount of leave-in conditioner through the tail.

Step 1: Pick the Hooves

Using the metal side of the hoof pick, work from heel to toe to remove caked mud, manure, and small rocks from your horse’s feet. While picking, be sure to check overall hoof health to look for signs of thrush, white line, and any other changes in the hoof.

If your horse has shoes, double check they are not loose. Using a hoof pick with a brush can also help clean debris along all sides, edges, and underneath the foot. We recommend picking your horse’s feet in the same hoof-by-hoof order every time as a consistent routine makes sure no hoof is forgotten!

Step 2: Curry the Horse’s Body

Currying a horse's hindquarters.

Working from the top of the neck, use the curry in short, circular motions across the horse’s body. A stiff rubber curry can be used on the neck, shoulder, chest, back, barrel, hindquarters, and on the hind legs down to the hock. It should not be used on the legs below the knees or hocks or on the face, and some horses may have other sensitive areas such as along the spine, flank, or near the girth area.

There are many curry options available, and horses can vary in what they will tolerate. Some horses love a nice, stiff rubber curry with lots of elbow grease, while more sensitive horses may prefer a rubber grooming mitt where the pressure can be more easily adjusted.

If your horse is a mud puddle roller (unfortunately for you) a spiral metal curry may be needed to remove large patches of dried mud. Additionally during the Spring season, a shedding blade may be needed after a good curry to remove more loose horse hair.

Step 3: Curry the Horse’s Face and Legs

An owner using a handson grooming glove to clean a horse's lower leg.

Using a soft, flexible rubber curry or the HandsOn Gloves for Grooming with light pressure, gently curry the horse’s face and legs. This can be done in either a circular motion or short strokes back and forth to get all the nooks and crannies clean.

Video on How to Use the HandsOn Grooming Glove

This is also a great time to check for scratches or for any swelling on the cannon bones, fetlocks, and other parts of your horse’s lower legs. For horses that are sensitive, this soft rubber curry can also be used on the girth area, belly, spine, and any other areas they may not tolerate a regular curry comb.

Step 4: Hard Brush the Body and Legs

Using a stiff brush to clean a horse's neck.

Use a stiff, hard brush to remove the loose hair, dust, and dirt you worked loose with the curry comb. Again working from the neck to the hindquarters, brush in the direction of the hair in short, quick strokes that lift the dirt away from your horse, not just push it back down beneath the hair. Take care with your horse’s sensitive areas when using a stiff dandy brush. Your main goal with the hard brush is to remove the chunks of mud, clumps of loose hair, and pieces of grit.

Step 5: Medium Brush the Body and Legs

Using a medium brush on a horse's hindquarters.

Choose a medium brush with dense bristles to get the best result. This brush should have medium-length, firm bristles and be soft to the touch. Use long, strokes in the direction of the hair growth, flicking your wrist upward at the end of each stroke to lift the dust away.

Step 6: Use a Soft Brush on the Body, Face, and Legs

A good soft brush, also called a body brush, is the ultimate secret to a well-polished horse. A soft brush is usually an oval brush with a strap handle, and it has short bristles that are fine, soft, and packed densely. Use this brush in long sweeping strokes all over the body, including the face. The body brush removes the last layer of dust while simultaneously helping distribute the natural oils that make your horse shine.

You can also use a face brush (which very much like a soft brush, but softer for easier use on the face) on your horse’s face. This is a good option for a more sensitive horse or one that tends to be head-shy (go slowly!).

Grooming Tip #2: To keep the hard, medium, and soft brush clean as you work, run it against a curry and then wipe it off occasionally on a lightly damp towel

Step 7: Wipe the Eyes and Nose

Gently wipe any crud from the corners of your horse’s eyes and inside his nostrils. It’s a nice finishing touch and will also help you monitor your horse’s health and catch any early signs of infections.

Step 8: Brush the Tail

Standing to the side of your horse, grab the tail at the bottom and hold it firmly in one hand. Grab your wide-tooth comb in the other hand. Work carefully by brushing the ends of the tail in 1–2-inch sections from bottom to top, ensuring you have all the tangles out before moving higher. Never rip, pull, or force a tangle out; stop and work it out with your hands if needed, or spray with detangler or add a little conditioner. Your goal should be to detangle without breaking the hairs.

Grooming Hack #3: Nothing ruins a beautiful grooming job like a tail full of shavings, but nothing ruins a tail faster than too much brushing. If you find that you are breaking your horse’s tail hairs, don’t brush it as frequently. Instead, use your fingers to pick out shavings and untangle mattes when needed. You can also get a tail bag to protect your horse’s tail hairs, keep them clean, and cut down on the number of times you have to brush it.

Now, 20 minutes later, you have a lovely clean horse! Maintain this basic, effective grooming routine on a regular basis to keep your horse looking and feeling their best.

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The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.

Originally published March 7, 2018