“Beyond the process of grooming your horse to shine, there is a much overlooked potential for transforming this routine act of care into a mutually beneficial wellness experience.”
Wellness Grooming — for Horse & Rider?
How to turn a routine chore into an exercise in relaxation and focus
Long gone are the days when equestrian sports and riding in particular were reserved for the upper class. No groom runs to greet me and takes my horse after a ride. Thank you, my dear, I do my own grooming. And that is a good thing, as not only my horse benefits from the process, but so do I.
How Grooming Can Be Good for You and Your Horse
Grooming can be so much more than cleaning! Beyond the process of grooming your horse to shine, there is a much overlooked potential for transforming this routine act of care into a mutually beneficial wellness experience.
Is Grooming a ‘No Brainer”?
No. Grooming is an opportunity to connect with your horse, if done correctly, and there is much room for error… French researchers found that “While riders usually appreciate the importance of grooming, the reality is they’re grooming in ways that are often unpleasant for the horse and even dangerous…”. Only 5% of horses showed positive behavior during grooming sessions. In other words, they did not like it. To read the entire article click here.
What is “Wellness Grooming”?
- A grooming process, in which horse and groom participate. This is a two-way street, an interactive process—looking for and incorporating the horse’s feedback.
- An exercise in awareness and careful consideration—responding appropriately to the horse’s feedback.
- A quiet time together, that yields great results and leaves both groomee and groomer refreshed and relaxed.
- A ‘dialog’ that spills over into all activities with your horse—now your horse knows you are listening, and you hone your listening skills. (Read more about ‘horse listening’ here.)
What stress does to the brain and what grooming has to do with it
We humans of the 21st century live with a high degree of complexity and stress. Job stress, multi-tasking, and ever-increasing accessibility through smart phones and social media. We are–in the truest sense of the word–leading a ‘breathless’ life, breathing shallowly through our chest and our brains are always ‘ON’, stuck in the fast beta brainwaves.
We humans of the 21st century live with a high degree of complexity and stress. Job stress, multi-tasking, and ever-increasing accessibility through smart phones and social media.
In their book Beyond Biofeedback, Elmer and Alyce Green describe the beta brain waves as “usually associated with active attention, often focused on the outer world but including thinking concretely.” Exactly what most of us do most of the day. What’s wrong with that? Nothing really, as long as our brain gets a chance to ‘wind down’ into slower brain waves. If we allow our brains to get stuck in ‘beta mode’, we will burn out and possibly develop modern, stress-related ailments.
The same applies to our horses. A stressed human and other barn stressors can have a debilitating effect on your horse. Lack of focus, lack of willingness, tension that settles in the body and surfaces as ‘mystery lameness’, ulcers, and many more seemingly unrelated problems.
In humans, insomnia, anxiety, depression and other possibly stress-related conditions are wide-spread. Many a modern horse person describes their horse time as “therapy time” and rightly so. Grooming is a wonderful opportunity to wind down BEFORE we get on our horse. Horses naturally live in the moment and have no agenda, no premeditation, no regrets, and not pretenses. Thank God, this can be quite contagious…. if we let it. So let’s get into ‘alpha brain wave mode’! (Alpha brain waves are ‘happy waves’. Read more here.)
So let’s enjoy some quiet time with our horses and reap the benefits, even beyond the grooming session.
Grooming Your Horse–with Less Doing and More Being!
Have you ever gotten on your horse after a busy day and were a bit tense, feeling how the tension spread to your horse and things wouldn’t just go quite right? Spending an extra few minutes on thoughtful grooming before your ride can make a big difference and you may find yourself and your horse enjoying the ride in a more relaxed and focused state of mind.
[Grooming for Wellness is a topic of my Path to Performance I clinics. Contact me to learn more…]
7 Easy Tips to Start Grooming for Wellness
1. Think about and prepare your grooming area and your tools
Where do you like to groom? Are your grooming box and tools neat, in good order, practical and attractive? Do you like to use them? Find a quiet spot to groom your horse, away from other barn users who may want to involve you in a conversation and make this 101 time with your horse. Make sure that your tools are clean, and that both you and your horse like them. Toss out old scratchy or unattractive grooming tools and replace them as needed.
TIP: Most synthetic brushes develop micro cracks that damage the skin, harbor dirt and bacteria, and feel unpleasant to the horse. Opt for natural bristles.
2. Know the basic grooming process and make it ‘second nature’
Use a predictable grooming process that gets results (see “How to groom your horse to shine in 4 easy steps”). Try to always start on the same side of the horse. Horses love predictability, this will add to the relaxation. The process will become second nature, like driving or typing and will be more in the background as you focus on the interactive part…
3. Make the grooming process interactive
It’s not just about cleaning your horse. Wellness Grooming means taking your time to observe your horse’s reaction to everything you do and to adjust your pressure/speed/choice of tool to the feedback you get.
TIP: It doesn’t always have to be pinned ears. A stoic facial expression or ‘checked out’ look means your horse is not buying into what you are doing. Aim for visible signs of relaxation and pleasure such as a soft eye and sighing. grooming a horse
4. Slow down and breathe
Observe your horse’s breath, then slow down and breathe into your diaphragm, meaning with your belly. Do everything much slower than you normally would. Really feel that leg in your hand as you pick up the foot, experience the dip between neck and shoulder and notice every whorl. Relax and watch your horse relax in response to your softened touch, slower speed, and relaxed demeanor. But don’t go to sleep! 😉
TIP: You can start practicing at home, at work (during breaks 😉 or in the lounge at the barn.
5. Add that ‘little extra’
Do you enjoy scents or aromatherapy? Bring your favorite essential oils and see which one your horse likes by putting a drop on a tissue, then offering your horse two different scents to sniff. You’ll soon find out which scents ‘speaks to’ your horse. Think of adding a drop to the grooming brush for an enjoyable scented grooming experience. Caroline Ingraham provides valuable insights on how to get started in her booklet Aromatherapy for Horses (Threshold Picture Guides).
6. Close with extra-soft, extra-gentle touch
When the bulk of the grooming is done, close with long gentle strokes with a soft grooming tool like a lambskin mitten (car wash mitten), old baby diaper, or goat hair brush. Don’t use anything that could create static like a microfiber cloth.
7. Ready to saddle? Stay in the Wellness Mode!
Now you are done grooming and both you and your horse are relaxed and maybe even in a bit of a sleepy mode. It’s fine to get back into ‘active mode’ but to do so in a flowing and relaxed manner. If you usually swing the saddle on your horse’s back with lots of gusto, then wiggle it into place with lots of energy and fasten the girth like you mean it, try a different approach: Soften and slow down, gently place the saddle on the horse. Observe your horse’s responses and aim for soft eyes and other signs of relaxation.
Be well and enjoy your horse!