Help Your Horse Smoothly Transition into Fall with These Horse Care Tips & Tricks
By Liv Gude
October 3, 2020
Some of the largest horse grooming challenges come in the spring and the fall when your horse is shedding their coat. The fall shed is much less dramatic than the spring blow out, but it still happens. There are a few other things to think about as the seasons change.
The primary thing to focus on is the natural oil in your horse’s coat
As the summer coat sheds, it will take most of the shine with it. This is the time to boost your curry comb routine to the max! All of that stimulation helps your horse’s skin spread out their natural oils to the new winter coat coming in. Grooming gloves are a fantastic tool that allow you to curry the horse's whole body, including their face and legs! You can groom without switching between curry comb styles, and using two hands is always easier than using one hand.
Grooming gloves are a great tool for currying a horse's whole body, including their face and legs. Image courtesy of Professional Equine Grooms LLC.
Pro Tip – Grooming gloves can also be used for bathing your horse!
You may be tempted to do a massive and deep shampoo bath. Resist the urge to blast away with the strong detergents! Use gentle shampoos and don’t let them sit too long on your horse if you will be bathing in the fall. Too much shampoo will strip the natural oils away, and your horse will need to start from scratch creating that layer of shine and protection. Harsh products create a dull and dry coat, any time of year.
To further help your horse's skin and coat, follow any bathing with a conditioning treatment. These soften and protect their skin and coat. Incidentally, most conditioners can also be used on manes and tails. The bonus of having a conditioned coat is that stains are less likely to become set in stone. Brittle and dry hair soaks up all sorts of stains, and conditioners counteract this.
If your horse does end up with a stain, you can easily spot clean them. This technique comes in quite handy in the winter when bathing is usually not an option at all. Sometimes called no-rinse shampoos, stain removers can be lightly sprayed on a stain after you curry comb the area. Let them sit for a few minutes, then gently wipe away with a dry or lightly damp cloth.
Pro tip – Spot cleaners can also be used on manes and tails. Spray close to the stain on the mane or tail. A few minutes later, use a damp cloth to wipe the area from the top down.
Resisting stains during the fall and winter
While it’s nice to have tools and products at the ready for grooming, there are a few things you can do to help prevent stains on your horse.
Daily grooming and encouraging those natural oils to shine up your horse's fall and winter coat is a must! Your horse’s natural oils are a built-in stain repellant. It will likely take more time than summertime grooming, but it’s worth it. If you have a stiffer brush with longer bristles, this will help you lift away everything that you have uncovered. Vacuums help as well.
Daily grooming and encouraging your horse's natural oils to shine up their winter coat is extremely helpful. If you have a stiffer brush with longer bristles, this will help you lift away the dirt.
Use lightweight sheets on your unclipped horse. These can keep them dry during wet weather, and keep the dirt and manure from staining your horse. For clipped horses, sheets and blankets serve double duty as a warmth factory and stain repellant. Many blanket styles include detachable neck pieces, adding to the layer of protection for your horse.
Address your horse’s bedding in their stall and footing in their turnouts and paddocks. Extra bedding can help prevent stains. You may want to add in more mucking sessions as well. In outside areas, adding mats to their favorite hangouts can reduce mud, and adding some drainage channels under fence lines helps, too.
If you are dealing with a muddy horse, be sure to let it dry before grooming your horse. This will also keep your grooming tools a bit cleaner.
Pro tip – Regularly clean your horse’s grooming tools, even more so in the fall and winter. Use a mild shampoo or simple soap. Dry the brushes on their sides, as this keeps the water from soaking any glue or wood that houses the bristle bunches.
Help your horse thermoregulate in the fall!
Using coolers solves two big problems – the dry time and your horse getting chilled.
Fall and sometimes spring, are times when the weather and your horse’s coat length don’t agree all of the time. Eventually it all evens out, but in the meantime, there are a few things to think about.
Your job is to help your horse stay comfortable. Drying a wet horse, especially one with long hair in cooler weather, is time consuming. Using coolers solves two big problems – the dry time and your horse getting chilled. Coolers for fall and winter should be wool or fleece. These fabrics take the sweat and moisture from your horse and transfer it to the outside of the cooler by wicking. Coolers also let your horse cool out without letting him get chilled.
When shopping for coolers, there are lots of options, including higher necks for more coverage. Also consider how often you would like to launder your cooler. Fleece coolers can easily go into the washer and dryer, but wool coolers will shrink in the laundry. For these, it’s best to let them soak in a tub of water, then hang to dry. Any agitation, swirling, or wringing can cause the wool to felt and shrink. However, wool coolers have the best wicking action.
If you know that your horse loves to sweat in colder weather, a full body clip or partial trace clip variation may be in order! Clipping accomplishes a few things. It lets your horse cool off safely, and sweating is reduced. The sweaty skin and hair are also less likely to cause skin irritation and possible skin sores and infections.
Pro tip – Use a cooler over your horse as you are grooming before a ride. This helps warm up your horse's muscles. You can fold over sections as you move around your horse.
Fall clipping tips
Image courtesy of Professional Equine Grooms LLC.
You don’t have to follow a specific pattern or design for your horse when you clip. The only thing that matters is that the sweaty parts are clipped, and that varies for each horse. You also don’t have to clip all of the hair off! Using a #8.5 blade leaves a bit more hair than the #10 blades. Clipper combs and guards are also options to use to leave a bit more hair on.
The key to successful clipping is to spend the time to prep your horse. This involves getting them sparkling clean and conditioned. Those natural oils that they already have will also help the clippers glide through. Using conditioner is often better than a sheen spray before clipping. A conditioner will also add a bit of weight to a horse’s coat, making it more likely to fall to the ground and not land in your clothing.
The second key to successful horse clipping is using clean and fresh blades that are oiled. Sharp blades are going to allow for successful cutting. Dull blades, blades without oil, dirty blades, and dirty horses create uneven cuts, tugging at the skin, and lines on your horse. These situations also create hot blades.
The best ways to ensure your clipper blades stay fresh and sharp is to regularly oil them as you are clipping. Stop every five minutes or so, brush off the blades, and add clipper oil. Each manufacturer will include in the clippers instructions where to add oil. When you are done clipping, clean the clipper body, the blades, and add oil before storage. Rust will be kept at bay with oil, keeping your tools ready for the next job.
There are also sprays that you can use while clipping. These serve to cool any blades and blow some of the hair away. These do not replace using clipper oil, and need to be used before adding oil to the clipper blades.
For more tips on clipping a horse, check out our guide here.
Pro tip – Remember that old adage about the difference between a good clip and a bad clip...it’s only two weeks! Hair will grow out. Don’t stress about your clipping skills, it’s just practice!
Hoof care for the fall
The name of this game is keeping water and mud out! You’ll want to find a good hoof protectant for wet weather. Using these dressings daily, in addition to daily hoof picking, is a great idea. Most can be used on the hoof wall as well as the sole.
Thrush sometimes pops up. While this can happen all year long, changing weather may play a factor at your barn. At the first sight and smell of thrush, thoroughly clean the hoof. Then spray with water to get any last bits of dirt, and then apply your thrush medication. Your vet needs to be called if it doesn’t resolve with a few days of treatment or your horse becomes lame.
Pulling shoes is sometimes done for horses in the winter. Work with your farrier and vet to be sure your horse makes a smooth transition. Consider using boots to support his fresh hooves. Winters where frozen ground and icy conditions are not ideal for barefoot horses, so be sure to coordinate any barefoot times with weather and footing conditions.
With these tips, your horse can easily transition into fall. Keep grooming and helping your horse stay comfortable!