I am doing a bit of an experiment at the moment, with my horses. I am not grooming them.
Yes, you read that right. It has taken me months to confess this, because I grew up learning that horses must be groomed every single day, without exception, and preferably more than once a day. If you didn’t take the time to groom your horse every day, you were the world’s worst horse owner and should hardly be allowed to own a horse.
I grew up with Poseidon and Apollon, both of whom hated being groomed, Poseidon would jump around like I was pouring hot water on him when I got near him with a brush, and Apollon would kick and bite and try to leave as many bruises on me, as he was sure I was leaving on him. Grooming horses has been a mantra for me. I never gave up on those two, I groomed them every single day of our 15 and 13 years together, always afraid that if the day came when I didn’t do it, I never would do it again, and then what?
What if they couldn’t be groomed? Poseidon and Apollon were known in every single stable we lived at, as “Pain and Panic,” those “red horses,” you know, the ones that couldn’t be handled. I needed to prove to myself, and to others, that they could at least, handle being groomed every day. Anything else felt like the ultimate defeat, like I was the biggest failure at horse training that ever walked this earth.
I always told myself that if I had a horse that I didn’t want to spend 5 minutes every day, running over with a brush, then I shouldn’t have that horse. I kept telling myself that, every time I nearly gave up on one of them. At least brush it. At least do that. Or do you want to let it go, and put it down? Or are you still in this fight, to make him fit into this world?
So, this is where I am coming from. Add to that, when I got Legacy, he had been wrapped in blankets and left ungroomed for weeks. He smelled horribly. His skin and fur was in lousy shape. I never want to find anyone of my horses, looking or smelling like that.
Don’t get me wrong, if you have a horse, in an ordinary stall, and especially if that horse is covered in blankets at all times, then yes, I still think it needs grooming every single day. It will get dirty in the stall, from sleeping in its own feces, and that will need cleaning up. Add to that, if you do something as unnatural as cover it in blankets, making sure the skin and the fur doesn’t breathe properly, then sure, it needs grooming. I have seen a lot of horses in my time, left with a blanket on for too long, without getting groomed, and it is some of the most horrible wounds you could ever imagine, that comes from that.
But my horses are not living an ordinary life. They are not covered in blankets, they are not locked up in a tiny cage for 20 hours a day. They have the freedom to choose if they want to be indoors or not. Once upon a time I did use blankets, because they didn’t work out how to agree on being inside the houses at the same time. Now though, I know that come rain and blizzards, they are all able to seek shelter from the weather, because they have learned to live together as a herd. A unit. They are a very good group these days. Which means too, that I am contemplating selling all of my blankets as I am never using them again. I always hated blankets, I never find them to fit properly. There is always some part that looks uncomfortable, be it how tight the shoulder piece fits, or how low the neckline is cut, you name it. I have never found a blanket for any of my horses, where I have thought “well, that is perfect!”
Add to that, I always felt that blankets ruined the natural protection of the fur.
Which leads me back to grooming. I was told when I was a kid, and first learned about horses, that if the horse is wet, you can’t groom him, because it ruins the fur. I never did groom my horses when it rained. But every other day, I always did.
And then I started looking at my friends’ horses. She has three of them, living like my horses, in a barn they can walk in and out of as much as they please. Only, they don’t.
My horses come running for shelter, as soon as the first raindrops starts falling. They never sleep outside, even during summer, they still seek out the houses when they need to sleep.
My friends’ horses, they sleep outside, all year, by their own choice. They are not cold when it rains and they don’t run for cover at the sight of a dark could in the sky.
So I wondered, why are her horses so much tougher than mine?
Okay, I have Arabians. She has a draft horse and Shetland pony and one could argue that maybe they are just better suited for the Danish weather, than Arabians. But then she has her third horse, which is, well no one knows what Gaia is, but she sure is just as much a warm blood as my Arabians. And she may be the toughest of the three.
My friend works a lot, and as much as I know that she takes very well care of her horses, every single day, I know too that grooming isn’t as high on her list of everyday “must do” things. Which had me thinking…
What if, I am ruining the fur, by grooming them every day? What if I am turning my horses into less resistant, easily chilled, frail horses, by damaging their fur, with all my good intentions?
Another thing about my friends’ horses, is that they are hardly ever dirty. My horses would roll in the biggest pile of mud they could find every single day, making me work hard with the brushes, to make them look mildly clean. Her horses… they just shine, all of them, at all times. Sure, they do have an occasional mud stain once in a while, but nothing like mine.
So, I decided to stop grooming them so religiously. I won’t lie. It has been a battle for me. I have had a very hard time, not picking up that brush. I got my first horse in 1994 and since then, I have groomed my horses every single day. This violates everything I ever was and at first, they proved me right. They walked around, covered in mud, looking dirty and very much in need of cleaning and then…
They stopped rolling on the wettest part of the pasture, to get dirty. Instead, they roll on the driest part, actually cleaning off mud, in a very natural way. Their fur coats are shining these days, and even Marble who always grew sticky every winter, is silky smooth to touch.
I am watching in awe as nature takes over these days. This is how a real fur coat should look and feel. Only, I never knew.
Looking back on Poseidon and Apollon, I have to send them an apologetic thought. They were right. They sure didn’t need grooming. They just needed to live their lives, like horses were supposed to. With as little human intervention as possible.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still keeping a hawk eye on my horses, cleaning their hooves every day, (another pet peeve of mine,) and if they do happen to poop and sleep in the same place once in a while, (Ablaze isn’t always clever when it comes to that,) I clean that off. But mostly, I just leave them be, and it is working.
They haven’t really shed fur this fall at all. Never, in all of my years as a horse owner, have I tried that. Shedding summer fur was usually the worst, those small hairs, all over the place. This year, it didn’t happen. The fur just grew long, and day by day, they maybe shed a bit of the old fur, but nothing that I really noticed.
Add to that, Saleem is much happier now, that I am not grooming him. He hates it almost as much as Poseidon and Apollon did, (those red horses, and their sensitive skin…) and now, he doesn’t have to put up with it anymore. I can’t change how I kept my old boys, but I can learn from my mistakes and try and do better for Saleem.
Truth is, if my horse really hates being brushed, then why should he? To prove to me that I can do it? To prove it to others? Because it turns out, it isn’t to help him in any way. Rather the opposite.
And lo and behold. Apocalipse doesn’t run for cover when it rains anymore. He was always the worst of them, refusing to get wet, always seeking shelter before the rain hit. Now… I have found him outside in the rain more than once lately, actually getting wet.
They still seek shelter more than my friends horses do when the weather gets bad, but they are slowly coming around as their fur is toughening up, doing what nature designed it to do.
And you may ask, what then, if you want to go riding? We all know that you can’t ride a horse that hasn’t been groomed?
Well, I beg to differ. I mean, sure, if you wear a saddle or a bridle, you can’t have mud underneath that, that will lead to injuries. But I repeat, my horses have never been as clean as they are now, and they no longer roll in mud. They shower in dry sand, and it works like magic.
Yes, this is a bit of an experiment on my part. So far, my horses are proving everything I learned as a kid, dead wrong.
I keep thinking that now I can’t find something else to be wrong about, but there always seem to be something I didn’t think off, even if it was right in front of my nose, for most of my life. My deepest apologies to my red boys. You guys had the answer, to a question I never thought to ask, and you were screaming it at me in every language you knew how, only I never knew how to listen.