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Saving Face: Dive into your grooming regiment face first!
Cowboy Magic - Horse Grooming Articles
When it comes to grooming, many horse owners seem to start at the top of the neck and work their way toward the horse's tail. For one reason or another, they just give the face a couple of quick passes with a brush, or neglect the horse's face altogether. However, grooming the horse's face is just as important as grooming the rest of the horse's body. Like brushing your teeth, grooming is something that needs to be done on a regular basis, and grooming your horse's face is no exception.
Sure, grooming in general is a lot of hard work, but daily grooming sessions should be looked at as quality time with your horse. He certainly enjoys a good brushing, so why shouldn't you enjoy giving it to him?
When it comes to grooming, don't cut corners! If you take short cuts, you will only pay the consequences later, and so will your horse. Just because you may only be going on a short trail ride doesn't mean you can just whisk off the saddle-pad area, throw your saddle on and go. If your horse is dirty, his skin will become irritated, especially when he begins to sweat. Dirt, debris, sweat and hair get matted together, causing painful sores. And not only can that happen around the girth area and under the saddle, it can also happen on your horse's face, particularly behind his ears and across his crown, where the bridle lays. One of the reasons horses love to rub their ears when you take off the bridle is because all that sweat itches. If neglected, the dirt and dried skin can harbor bacteria, which can develop into a skin infection.
If the reason you don't groom your horse's face is because he doesn't like it, and therefore you think, "Why do something he doesn't like?" You are actually doing him more harm by not brushing his face, even though he doesn't seem to like it. This is because there is always an underlying reason why a horse doesn't like something. Many horses that resent having their faces brushed, particularly their crowns, may also resist being bridled. The reason may very well be because this area has been overlooked when grooming to such an extent that it has become a source of irritation. Just like the girth area, the area around the ears where the bridle lies will become irritated if dirt and sweat is allowed to accumulate there.
Another reason a horse may resist having his face groomed is because he has had a bad experience and has been hurt while being groomed or bridled. Horses remember bad experiences and will work hard to avoid having it happen again. If this is the case with your horse, then you are going to have to convince him that you aren't going to hurt him when you touch his face.
If your horse resists having his faced brushed, work slowly with him. Your goal should be to convince him that it will feel good to have his poll and crown brushed, and approach the task with that in mind. If he's tall and lifts his head up out of your reach, then use as step stool, rather than fighting with him to put his head down. As soon as he realizes that he cannot raise his head out of your reach, he will stop trying to do that. If he absolutely refuses to let you brush his face, then try it again after your ride, when he is particularly itchy. Sometimes just holding the brush on one spot on his face and moving it around a little will encourage him to rub against it.
"I have found that the gentle touch of a warm cloth applied around the side of the face first, then the nose, inside the nostrils, around the eyes and then around the ears will gentle the horse," says Jim Cummings, COWBOY MAGIC® founder and CEO. "My horse, Luke, looks forward to the warm cloth before grooming, as a first step, after grooming before I put the headstall on and after the ride as a reward. Luke will close his eyes, let out a deep breath and just go limp from the warm touch. Two years ago, it was difficult to touch his face, and putting the bridle on was a fight to see who would win. Now, it's hurry up, touch my face."
To thoroughly groom your horse's face, use a soft rubber curry comb on his forehead, cheeks and jaw. Work in a gentle circular motion. Make sure you are not using too much pressure. Next, a brush on his face that is firm enough to loosen dried sweat and debris but not so stiff that it will irritate the sensitive facial skin.
Brush your horse's face in the direction the hair grows, concentrating on the base of the ears, above the eyes, on the sides of his jaw and under his cheek bones. These are the places that sweat accumulates.
Don't use water as a time-saving substitute for thorough grooming. Very few horses actually like having their faces washed. Some will tolerate it because they are generally good-natured, but most will resist it. It is almost impossible to wash the face of an uncooperative horse without getting water in his nostrils, eyes and ears--which is exactly why he is trying to avoid it in the first place.
If you do want to wash your horse's face, and he will let you, turn the water pressure on low and work your way up the side of his face. You need to gain his trust that you aren't just going to blast him with a high-pressure hose. If he is uncooperative, then use a sponge instead. If you use soap, use a quality shampoo, such as COWBOY MAGIC® ROSEWATER SHAMPOO, that won't irritate the skin. Use a small amount, as a little bit goes a long way, and make sure you rinse thoroughly. After rinsing his face, rub it with a towel to remove the excess water. Your horse will enjoy the rubdown. Use the towel to wipe out his nostrils. You can also use it to wipe out the inside if his ears, if he will allow you. To do this, gently cup the back of the ear in one hand. Never squeeze or fold the ear. Put the towel over your index finger and carefully swipe the inside of the ear. You will probably find a black, waxy material. Wipe as much of it out of the inside of the ear as you can, but be very careful to make sure that you aren't actually pushing dirt and debris further down inside the ear canal. Also, treat the ears very gently. A horse's ears are very sensitive, and if you cause him any pain, you will have to start all over again gaining his trust.
If the skin inside your horse's ears is dry, especially if they are clipped, use a very small amount of COWBOY MAGIC® DETANGLERTM & SHINE and massage it into the skin. This will moisturize the skin without attracting dust back into the ear.
If your horse absolutely will not let you wash his face, you can still get it clean with COWBOY MAGIC® GREENSPOT® REMOVER/Shower in a Bottle. To use it, work on a section of his face at a time. Spray GREENSPOT® REMOVER directly on the hair, or, if he doesn't like spray bottles, spray it on a damp sponge and massage it into his face. Next, rub it gently but briskly with a dry towel. Repeat this on every section of his face. GREENSPOT® REMOVER will dissolve away any dirt, sweat and stains and add conditioners back into the hair and skin, making your horse's face squeaky clean and shiny!
If you make grooming your horse's face part of your daily grooming regiment, he will learn to love it and appreciate it. And remember, an important part of keeping your horse's face clean is to keep your tack clean. Each time you finish your ride, wipe your tack clean of any sweat.
For more information about the complete line of COWBOY MAGIC® products, log onto www.cowboymagic.com, or call (800) 755-6844 to find a retailer near you that carries COWBOY MAGIC® quality concentrated grooming products.