De-shedding the Yak: Spring Grooming

Fuzzy Pony

Although fuzzy ponies may be cute, thick coats quickly become uncomfortable at the weather changes.

Although the weather outside is still lightly snow-covered and cold, Spring is right around the corner; there’s no easier way to tell that Spring is coming than going to groom a horse. A simple swipe of the neck leaves a handful of loose hair, and a regular grooming session creates a cloud of hair, dust and dirt. For many, the Spring de-shedding season leaves a sense of dread, particularly for those horse owners who have one that more closely resembles a yak during the Winter.

A good, regular grooming routine before your horse starts to shed will make the de-shedding process much easier. Most of the supplies that you need to get through the de-shedding process are probably already in your grooming kit, but a full list is included below as well.

Grooming Kit Basics:

        • Shedding Blade: This curved blade is typically metal and features coarse teeth along its edge, it should be used carefully around bony parts and should not be used on the legs.
        • Curry Comb: These tools are available in a hard plastic or rubber design
        • Hard Brush: These brushes feature shorter, stiffer bristles of natural materials or plastic
        • Soft Brush: Soft bristles of natural or plastic, shorter bristles are good for adding a final polish, while longer bristles are good for “flicking” away dust
        • Metal Curry: These are very effective at removing dirt and hair from grooming brushes
        • Mane & Tail Brush: Winter’s hard on your horse’s mane and tail too, so don’t neglect them in your spring grooming.
        • Hoof Pick: An essential part of any grooming kit, useful for cleaning out mud, rocks and debris from the hooves

Additional Useful Tools & Supplies

        • Dry Shampoo: This is a great choice for stains and stubborn dirt when a regular bath is not an option.
        • Detangler: For tails and manes that are tangled from winter, a detangler can make brushing much easier, and can save the hair from being pulled out or broken.
        • Pulling Comb: If your horse is going to be showing this season, taking the time to trim his mane before show season starts will make things easier in the long run
        • Clippers: Once your horse has been fully groomed, trimming the bridle path and around the ears will help to give your horse that show-ready look.
        • Vacuum: While a specialized horse vacuum is expensive and not a tool that most people have, a simple shop vacuum can be a great asset, if your horse can tolerate the noise and feel.

Changing Your Yak Back into a Horse

Now that you have all the supplies you need it’s time to add the elbow grease. If your horse comes in covered in mud you’ll want to take a curry comb to him first, this will remove the greatest amount of dirt. Work the curry in a circular motion all over the horses body to remove the worst of the dried mud, don’t worry about getting the real dander up right now.

Grooming Brushes

A set of basic grooming brushes.

Once you’ve removed most of the mud, you’ll want to start with the shedding blade. As the name implies, this will be your main tool during the de-shedding process. The shedding blade should be used in shorter strokes in the direct of the hair’s growth over the body. Shedding blades work best on long, thick coats, if your horse has a shorter, or thinner coat you may want to skip the shedding blade as it can be uncomfortable for horses with more sensitive skin. Caution should also be used to not irritate more sensitive parts of the horse’s body and the blade should not be used on the lower legs, and should be used with care on the upper leg.

Once the majority of the loose hair is removed, you’ll want to go back over the horse’s body with the curry comb to bring up the winter dander that was hidden under the thick hair before. You’ll also want to use a rubber curry over the legs, head and any other areas that you could not groom with the shedding blade. After currying, you’ll want to take the dandy brush over the horse. The hard brush will remove the last of the loose hair and bring the dander to the surface. Finally, you’ll want to take your soft brush and go over the horse’s coat to remove the last of the dust and dander from the coat. This grooming process may take several sessions, particularly if your horse has a very thick coat.

It Really Was a Horse Under There: Finishing Touches

Once your horse’s coat is starting to look a little more normal, these final touches will have him looking at his best. If you keep your horse’s mane short for braiding, now if the perfect time to touch it up and make sure that it’s at the proper length. A neat mane can make a huge difference in how your horse’s presentation and make him look show-ready.  If your horse can’t stand having his mane pulled, try a mechanical comb like the SoloComb; this tool allows for a pulled look without actually pulling the mane.

Once the mane is pulled, you’ll also want to trim the bridle path. A bridle path is shaved part of the mane where the crown piece of the bridle sits; most English disciplines use a short path of 1 to 2″, while in saddle seat the path is generally 6 to 8″ long.  Generally, you’ll want to use a pair of clippers for the best look. As a final touch to the head you’ll also want to trim up any long hairs around the ears to create a neat look, leave the hair inside the ear for additional protection.

A neatly groomed horse takes time and effort, but shines all the more.

A neatly groomed horse takes time and effort, but shines all the more.

Lastly, you’ll want to conquer that dirty winter tail. For tails, nothing beats regular washing, but during the dead of winter most horses object to baths with good reason. If the tail is tangled, the use of a commercial detangler will make your job much easier and save you from having to do as much picking through the tail by hand. You’ll want to start from the bottom of the tail and work your way up, holding the tail above where you’re brushing to preserve as much of the tail as possible. Once the tail is detangled you can then wash the tail with shampoo and conditioner to get rid of set in stains and dirt if the weather is warm enough. If your discipline prefers a banged (blunt) tail this is also the perfect time to trim the tail as well.

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