Grooming for top professionals on the West Coast has been a series of incredible opportunities. Here are a few tips I've picked up along the way!
Avoid the soft periople...
If you haven’t heard of it before, the periople is an anatomical part of the hoof that includes the bulbs of the heels and the top ½” - 1” of the hoof. It is soft, rubbery, and serves to regulate how much moisture is needed while protecting the sensitive margin between flesh and hoof. The periople then turns into a hard shiny layer that controls the amount of evaporation from the rest of the hoof wall. When the horses are trimmed or shod, our farriers often buff away this shiny layer. As a result the hoof can no longer retain necessary moisture on its own. We apply a thin layer of hoof oil or conditioner to this area to prevent the loss of natural moisture from the hoof. This “rubbery” band of growing hoof is supposed to breathe and we only oil the area right before the horses walk into the show ring for aesthetic purposes.
Have an overabundance of rags...
You can never have enough rags. I recommend having a system of sorts to keep organized. You need different types for different tasks. Wiping eyes and noses, buffing coats, cleaning tack, and drying legs are among many other miscellaneous dirty chores. You don’t want to be dusting off freshly polished boots and then wiping goopy eyes. We use different types of white towels for each job, mostly because I personally can’t handle a rainbow of rags all over the barn. Keep an assortment in your regular work areas and in the trailer, horse show kit, and ringside bag. Get caught without a rag and you’ll be using your shirt!
Use shine spray before you curry...
Our favorite coat spray is Cowboy Magic Super Bodyshine. Most people go through their whole grooming process and then finish with a nice coat spray. While this adds a little sheen at the end, the best way to really make your horse sparkle is to start with coat spray. Knock off bulk dirt with a stiff brush and then spritz the whole body and legs with Super Bodyshine (or whatever your favorite is!). Take a rubber curry and go over every inch of the horse. Take your time and pay attention to your horse’s reactions. Not only are you bringing out that shine, but this is crucial to see where your horse might be sore or sensitive. Put a final spritz of coat spray directly on your curry before gently going over their face. Follow with a stiff brush, soft brush, and buffing rag. I’m confident you’ll see a healthier and shinier coat both immediately and long term!
Hot cloth after body clipping instead of bathing...
For many years I bathed my horses immediately after body clipping. I thought it worked just fine to remove hair and clipper oil. And that’s just it… it works fine. What works great is hot clothing. Use a stiff brush to dust off the majority of hair that is on your horse. Start by adding an ounce or two of Splosh Wash in a bucket of hot water. You want the water to be as hot as possible, but comfortable enough to put your own hands in. Soak a textured towel in the mixture and ring it out as much as you can. Begin buffing your horse’s coat with similar motion and pressure to currying. This first rub down removes clipper oil and cleanses the skin. Soak the towel in the hot water each time you feel it starting to cool. Once you’ve gone over the whole horse, empty and rinse the bucket. Then, mix a squirt of Shapley’s No. 2 Heavy Oil with some more hot water. This time use a microfiber towel and go over the horse again with the same currying motion. Hot clothing works so much better because it removes hair and clipper oil while the warm massage soothes the skin and returns shine to the clipped coat.
Sweat scrape as you rinse...
At home we use the adjustable sprayer on “flat” to power wash sweat or soap off of the horse’s body. Start as high up the neck as your horse will allow and work your way across and down. Hold the nozzle a few inches from the horse and go with the direction of the coat at a 45 degree angle. However, more often than not you will come across hoses with the ends cut off at horse shows. Whether you are hosing off sweat after a ride or giving a full bubble bath before tomorrow’s class, start using your sweat scraper while you’re still rinsing. Keep the hose along the topline of the horse to allow the water to run down the body and squeegee until the water sheds off completely clear.
Every ride starts with good grooming. Not only does a nice deep curry help create a healthy shining coat, but it's the first step towards stimulating your horse’s muscles. This also allows you to do a thorough examination of your horse. Grooming is an excellent time to discover and monitor back soreness, ulcer-like symptoms, or puffy legs. All of this is important information that affects the exercise and treatment regimen for the horses each day.
While grooming and tacking up we use the solarium to help warm up the muscles before we sit on their backs. If you don’t have a solarium, try using a heating pad on your horses back. For particularly stiff horses we put them on the Equi-Ciser for ten minutes in between grooming and tacking. Muscles are like taffy, you cannot stretch or work them unless they are warm.
Once I get on a horse I start with a solid ten to fifteen minute walk around the property on a loopy rein. If the horses are fresh I will do our warm up walk in the arena for added safety. For the first five or so minutes I do not ask anything of the horse other than that they are in front of my leg. Then I slowly begin to add small walk exercises; transitions within the walk, light bend around each leg, gentle yielding left to right, walk-halt-walk transitions, and mini shoulder in and haunches in. All while maintaining a forward swinging walk that's light off the leg. I highly suggest that you take your time with the walk work so that you can enjoy the benefits as you move up to trot and canter.
Once the horse is ready to trot I immediately start doing big swooping circles, figure eights, and serpentines to assess the balance left versus right. Every horse has a weaker side, and it’s changing all the time. The reins are still loopy and the horse has a long topline. Even if your horse likes to carry his head like a giraffe, these starting exercises will encourage them to slowly become supple in the ribcage and come over the back. I make sure that the horse is bending from my leg as I change directions, mixing in some counter flexion down the long sides to help establish flexibility and balance. In between direction changes I try to ride a few moments of “straightness” and then tactfully use a transition within the gait when I feel the moment right before the horse starts to lean, drift, or become downhill.
Once the horse is rhythmically forward in the trot with an elastic and elongated topline it’s time to canter. During the warm up I like to transition to the canter from the trot. I’ll ask for a nice relaxed transition and then send them forward a step to test the gas pedal. If I am happy with the reaction I’ll move on to some small bending exercises on a circle and on the long side. But sometimes the reaction will be sluggish or the balance will fall apart in the transitions between or within gaits. That’s fine. It’s normal. Just take your time and reward any step in the right direction. You won’t fix anything in one ride, so it is crucial to accept progress no matter how small. I personally don’t do lead changes in the warm up. Changes of direction are an opportunity for you to exercise transitions or a few steps of counter canter to help with balance and rideability.
A solid warm up takes me about 25 minutes and is centered around elasticity and relaxation. Sometimes the whole ride is a “warm up”, and that’s totally normal. It takes time to create a supple horse. I encourage you to do lots of transitions. I’m talking about hundreds of transitions! They do not need to be “big”, the smaller transitions will help your horse the most. Transitions are key to making your horse more limber, attentive, and soft. A few steps counter bend here, two strides of shoulder in there, forward down the long side, gentle half halt before the corner, etc. Also remember that as a rider, we need the warm up as much as he horse does. Check your balance, find your seat, lengthen your leg, take deep breaths before every transition, and RELAX!
I am a young professional hunter/jumper and dressage rider from Southern California. I was raised in Fallbrook, and this is where I eventually opened my training and rehabilitation business in 2016.
I grew up in the lower middle class with two hard working and fiercely supportive parents. My mom owned a riding school and was adamant that I learned proper horsemanship from a young age. On the other hand, my dad was deathly allergic to horses and concerned about my safety around such powerful and unpredictable animals. He saw my undying passion and supported me regardless.
I was competitive on the ponies as a little one. My grandma bought me a backyard pony for $1,500 and we named him Bippity Boppity Boo. He was 11.2 hands, but every time he put me in the dirt it felt like a much farther fall than that. In exchange for full training, my mom ran the lesson program at the barn we boarded at. That trainer gave me an excellent start and I went on to ride Boo to 6 time Pony Of The Year.
Soon after that I had a major confidence break down and decided I needed a breather from competition. We took the horses back home and I spent the next year practicing in my backyard arena, dabbling in Pony Club, and simply learning to enjoy the horses again. During this time a very generous friend of ours reached out and gave me a lovely mare named Reba. She was a true three ring saint of a horse and quality that we could never have afforded. She helped me regain my confidence and within a few months I was ready to get back in the show ring. Since we brought the horses home I didn’t have a trainer and we couldn’t afford one that could teach Reba and I at the level we needed. So, I became a working student.
Working student positions were crucial to my education along the way. I was fortunate enough to come across amazing opportunities as a junior rider. One experience that I am especially grateful for was with Joie Gatlin and Morley Abey. I was probably 14 at the time and will always remember Morley challenging me to complete various exercises in my lessons. Fit six strides in a four stride, ride a circle over four cavalettis and jump the exact center of each one to complete the perfect circle, etc. If I was successful, he said I had earned another free lesson. Joie, Morley, and a few of their dear clients allowed me to hack and lesson on top quality horses for just short of two years. Every weekend my mom had to drive me nearly two hours each way, but it was more than worth it. While I was at Joie and Morley’s barn I met some of the most generous people, one of which was Liza. She saw me working at the barn every weekend and was looking to sell one of the hunters on her string. He was (and still is) the most gorgeous horse I’ve ever seen, and by some miracle she decided to give him to me.
The five horses I’ve acquired over the past seven years have all been gifts from truly amazing people, and all of these horses were quality that I could never dream of affording. A lot of it was working hard and wearing my passion for horses on my sleeve. But some of it was just good luck and being in the right place at the right time. We all know there is no such thing as a free horse, and proper care for this many horses cost a fortune. My parents worked tirelessly, and I saw them struggle each day to continue making it possible for me. My sweet grandma was also a huge contributor. She helped me pay for horse shows, clinics, new-to-me used tack and I truly could not have made it this far without her.
As soon as I was old enough I started working to help pay my own bills. I started out mucking stalls, cleaning tack, and carrying water buckets at small unnamed barns. Without those jobs I never would have ended up working at top notch facilities such as Pomponio Ranch and Arroyo Del Mar. Working alongside such respected and talented horsemen was an invaluable experience, and at one point I was working at four different barns to support my own riding. Over the last few years my rehabilitation and training business has become more fruitful and I was able to pick up a few sponsors along the way. These big brands and generous individuals continue to make this dream possible for me. I’m so much farther than I was, but I still have a long way to go.
Riding is a ridiculously expensive sport and it is nearly impossible to make a living in the industry unless you already had money to begin with. But I am not here to bash the elitism or whine about the never ending uphill journey. I am here to tell all the young riders out there that if you do your best and work your hardest that it will eventually be rewarded. I am here to tell you that you have allies all around you. People are always watching, learning, and noticing things about you. Make sure those things are dedication, compassion, perseverance, and integrity. Your financial situation only dictates your life as much as you allow it to. I truly believe from experience that if you want something bad enough nothing will stop you from achieving your goals. Whether you want to go to the Olympics or make it to next week's schooling show, I encourage you to get out there and enjoy the journey. Go chase your dreams, work hard, learn as much as you can… and kiss your damn horse!