dark shiny horse old school

Grooming Like an Old-school Pro.

Horses have been around for a lot longer than our modern conveniences like horse vacuums and show sheen spray. While we can be grateful to have access to these conveniences, not everything we use today is actually helpful or beneficial.
What did experienced stable hands do in the ‘old days’? 


Sometimes, it’s the simple ‘old-school’ solution that gets the best result.

“Horses were groomed twice daily, once early in the morning and once in the evening. The tools were simple.”

History of Grooming

Horses were used in different settings throughout human history. ‘Best practices’ in grooming were developed and maintained mostly in the cavalry—as there was a strict need to maintain the horses’ at their best possible health and condition.

Here a tidbit from the history of Fort Scott in Kansas:

Horses were groomed twice daily, once early in the morning and once in the evening. The tools were simple:

  • Hoof pick
  • Curry comb
  • Stiff brush
  • Rub rag
  • Whisp

Read more about grooming at Fort Scott here.

10 Tips from the Old-school Groom

I extracted these tips from different sources, books and cavalry manuals. Enjoy!

01

100 Strokes

The German cavalry prescribed a minimum of 100 brush strokes (with a horse hair brush) per horse per day. The recruits had to groom their own horses and were subjected to rigorous inspections. Grooming was not only viewed as a means to clean the horse but also to provide a good massage, increase blood circulation and well being. But the recruits were encouraged to be quick about it: “There is no value in grooming beyond the point of when the horse is clean.” (Care of the Troup Horse, 1937)

02

What’s in an Onion?

Apparently something that makes the horse hoof shiny. Cut an onion into half and rub the clean and dry hoof with the raw onion before entering the show ring. It will provide shine without the unwanted side-effect of attracting sand and dirt.

03

Laurel Oil for Hoof Growth

Laurel oil (bay leaf oil) has been a staple in hoof care for centuries. The thrifty groom would massage the oil into the coronet band, then sparingly spread a thin film over the rest of the hoof wall. Then hoof treatment was applied to the collateral groove and the sole of the hoof, never the frog!

04

Caring for the Sweaty Horse after Exercise

The hot and sweaty horse appreciates having his eyes and nostrils cleaned with a damp cloth. Then 10-15 minutes of calm walking in hand, in winter or cool weather covered with a simple wool blanket. Follow up with a vigorous rub down with a bunch of clean straw to dry the coat further, then brush the coat smooth with a coarse natural brush.us.

Less Is More

Do we really need all the chemicals and gadgets that fill up our grooming box today?

“There is no value in grooming beyond the point of when the horse is clean.”

Looking at old sources it becomes clear. A few good-quality grooming tools and the right technique (also read “4-Step Grooming“) is enough.

One thing I am happy about: The old metal curry combs—monstrosities that can do more harm than good—have been largely replaced by gentler tools

“The old metal curry combs—monstrosities that can do more harm than good—have been largely replaced by gentler tools.”

05

Caring for the Horse’s Mane

The knowledgeable old-school groom rarely combed a mane! Instead, the mane would be finger-combed, then brush the mane until smooth and shiny. Only then would the groom use a wide-toothed comb and—if desired—part small sections and braid loose braids. Ready to pass inspection! 

Fun fact: The German cavalry collected all mane and tail hairs in special bags. These were then picked up periodically by the mattress maker! Yes, fine mattresses were made of horse hair!

06

Fly Prevention

Wherever there are horses, there will be flies… Besides cleanliness, the old-school barn master prescribed a natural ally in the war against the buzzing pest: swallows. Encourage swallows to nest in your barn and you will keep the fly population low.

If you cannot convince the swallows to nest in your barn, try a ‘spiked lemon’. Spike a lemon with cloves and hang it up in your barn.

07

Keeping Leather Soft

After cleaning saddle, bridle & other leather accessories thoroughly with saddle soap, the old-school groom would not let the leather dry out completely but instead apply leather conditioner when the leather was still somewhat damp. After letting the conditioner soak in, remove excess fat with a wool cloth, easily made by shrinking an old wool sweater in a hot wash cycle.

08

Cleaning Sweaty Bridles

In order to remove caked on dirt and sweat before cleaning the bridle with saddle soap, take the bridle apart and soak it for a few minutes in lukewarm water with a squirt of ammonia.Be sure not to forget the bridle in the bucket! Remove after a few minutes.

  • Never wash the fetlock when washing the hoof. If the fetlock got wet, dry it off thoroughly.
  • Never trim the hair inside the ears
  • Never trim the whiskers around the muzzle and eyes (the horse needs them to assess distances)

Some ‘Do Nots’

While the old school groom had a number of tricks in his bag, there were certain ‘Do Nots’ that made sure the groom would not unintentionally hurt the horse.

Here some examples from various cavalry manuals:


  1. Do not use a metal curry to curry the entire horse. Only use it to loosen caked-on mud or sweat on muscled parts of the horse’s body. Never use a curry on bony parts or on hairless areas.
  2. Beyond that, use the metal curry ONLY to clean the brush during and after grooming.
  3. Do not comb a tail! Only finger-comb, then brush with a medium-stiff root brush.

09

Caring for the Horse’s Tail

The old-school groom would NEVER comb a tail. Instead, the groom would use his fingers to part the tail hair and remove larger pieces, than brush the tail clean with a medium-stiff root brush.

10

Last not Least: A Tasty Snack!

The groom in old times provided his horses with tasty branches from fruit trees, birch trees and hazelnut bushes. This was supposed to be healthy and good for the teeth. If you’d like to take it up a notch, soak some bread in beer, a snack that was (or still is…) supposedly popular in some parts of Germany. (Note: This tip is provided for entertainment purposes. If you would like to try this, please check with your vet first!

how to groom your horse

Get your FREE Old-School Grooming Poster

I like the simple old-school grooming concepts and prefer to groom in this more fun, efficient, and natural way. If you feel the same, you can get my old-school grooming poster “4-Step Grooming” by sending an email with the subject ‘old school grooming‘. I will then send you the pdf, which you can print out and hang up in your barn!

Hope you enjoyed this article. Be in touch with question!

“I like the simple old-school grooming concepts and prefer to groom in this more fun, efficient, and natural way..”

Stefanie Reinhold