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Beyond Beauty: How Grooming works below the surface level

Grooming is an essential aspect of horse care that goes beyond maintaining a clean and healthy coat! This particular activity is a vital aspect in providing both physical and mental stimulation for horses. In this article I will be discussing the importance of grooming and how it contributes to a horses overall well-being and health.



Physical Benefits

Grooming as many already know allows for the removal of excess hair, dirt and debris that may cause skin irritation and discomfort. Grooming also provides you with the opportunity to examine your horse's body for any lumps or bumps and injuries. When you groom your horse regularly, it gives you the opportunity to regularly inspecting them, which in turn allows you the ability to detect any abnormalities early and seek veterinary care promptly if needed! Here are a few other ways that grooming affects your horses physical health:

1. Exfoliation

Brushing helps remove dead skin cells which can cause blockages in the pores leading to skin infections such as bacterial folliculitis/Canadian Horsepox (White, 2006). Brushing your horse is known to stimulate the secretion of sebum while also distributing it more evenly which is beneficial to both the skin and hair. Sebum is involved with keeping the skins surface moist and it helps protect skin against bacteria, fungi and UV radiation from the sun (Eske, 2020). This is especially important to note for white/grey horses as they are more prone to sun burns and skin irritation due to their low pigmentation.

As stated above, sebum helps the skin stay supple, prevents dryness and maintains coat health (HamiIton, 2016). When grooming your horse, you are distributing their natural oils, which moisturize the hair and prevents breakage.

2. Muscle Tone

For both you and your horse this can be a great physical exercise! I know for myself, when my horse decides to roll through the mud and really make a mess of himself I have found myself breaking a sweat trying to clean him up! When grooming their toplines (especially if they are quite tall) you are engaging your triceps and shoulders significantly.

As for their muscle development, it can help lightly massage the large muscle groups relaxing them and stimulating them. This can also allow release of minor tightness within the connective tissues and fascia, giving more range of motion for when the horse is doing work (McGreevy & McLean, 2010). If the horse has a better range of motion when doing activities this allows for less compensation for other muscles and allows for them to tone and build properly.

3. Circulation

Grooming increases blood flow to the horse's skins surfaces which helps with the movement of oxygen, nutrients and waste products within the body (Hamilton, 2016, McGreevy & McLean, 2010). When you are brushing your horse out, you are exerting pressure on the skin and blood vessels underneath, thus creating small amounts of friction and artificial stimulation which in turn increases blood circulation. When blood circulation is increased, it can help with faster healing to injury sites (Rietmann et al., 2004).


4. Lymphatic Drainage

Brushing your horse helps to stimulate the lymphatic system, which is responsible for draining waste products and microbes from the horse's body tissues, subsequently facilitating their removal from the body. This is a crucial process for maintaining the horse's overall health and well-being.


The lymphatic system lacks a central pump, such as the heart in the circulatory system, so external stimulation, such as brushing, helps move lymph fluid through the vessels and lymph nodes. Proper lymphatic circulation is known to aid in the removal of toxins, cellular debris, and pathogens, which in turn enhances the horse's immune system and reduces their risk of infections.

Several sources, including equine care manuals and veterinary publications, emphasize the benefits of stimulating the lymphatic system through brushing. These sources reinforce how a well-maintained lymphatic system can contribute to the horse's overall health, leading to a happier and healthier equine companion.

5. Fat Distribution

Grooming can soften subcutaneous fat deposits allowing for redistribution of solid fat deposits beneath the skin. Fat deposits serve as an essential energy reserve and insulation, but when they become unevenly distributed or overly solid, they can impact the horse's comfort and health!

Through the mechanical action of brushing while exerting some pressure, particularly when accompanied by a gentle massage, these solid fat deposits become more pliable. This then results in a more uniform fat distribution over the horse's body.

While scientific studies on this specific aspect of horse grooming are limited, the practical experience of horse owners, trainers, and professionals within the equine industry supports the notion that brushing helps in fat redistribution.

Mental Stimulation

Grooming is not just about physical care; it also has significant mental benefits for horses. Horses are very social animals which is demonstrated through out their linage as herd animals.

Due to their social nature, they thrive on interactions with their caretakers. Grooming provides an opportunity for bonding and socialization, which can reduce stress and anxiety in horses.

Horses are considered to be naturally curious animals and have been known to enjoy exploring their environment. Grooming sessions provide an opportunity for horses to explore and learn about their own bodies, this type of exploration helps to improve their self-awareness and confidence (Mills & McDonnell, 2005).

Additionally, grooming can be used as a form of relaxation for horses. The repetitive motions of brushing and combing can have a calming effect on horses and help to reduce stress levels (O'Brien, 2012, Rietmann et al., 2004). According to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour , grooming was found to have a significant calming effect on a horses with their relaxeddisposition and was further cooberated by their reduction in heart rate and respiratory rate during this study (Hausberger et al., 2008). When you are able to affect their parasympathetic system to create a more relaxed disposition it will create a certain level of comfort and bonding with your horse over time.

Connection Between Horse and Caretaker

Grooming sessions also provide an opportunity for one-on-one interaction with your horse, which can strengthen the bond between you and your equine partner.

Additionally, grooming sessions provide you with an opportunity to improve communication between you and your horse. Horses communicate through body language and pressure, when doing grooming sessions it allows the opportunity for you to read your horse's body language and respond accordingly (Mills & McDonnell, 2005). This small thing allows for better communication and deepens your bond as you and your horse will be able to work together more effectively and efficiently.


By taking the time to groom your horse regularly, you are not only keeping them clean and presentable but also providing them with the attention they need to thrive and bond with you.


References

This information was cited using the following format: The Veterinary Journal.


Hausberger, M., Roche, H., Henry, S., Visser, E.K. (2008). A review of the human–horse relationship. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 3(2), 45-52. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2007.10.004


HamiIton, G., 2016. Five little known benefits of Grooming your horse [WWW Document]. Sacred Horse. URL https://sacredhorse.com.au/five-little-known-benefits-of-grooming-your-horse/ (accessed 5.10.23).



Mills, D., & McDonnell, S. 2005. The Domestic Horse: The Evolution, Development, and Management of Its Behavior. Cambridge University Press.



McGreevy, P. D., & McLean, A. N. 2010. Equitation Science. John Wiley & Sons.



Rietmann, T. R., Stauffacher, M., Bernasconi, P., Auer, J. A., & Weishaupt, M. A. (2004). The association between heart rate, heart rate variability, endocrine and behavioural pain measures in horses suffering from laminitis. Journal of veterinary medicine. A, Physiology, pathology, clinical medicine, 51(5), 218-225.



O’Brien, A., 2012. The benefits of Grooming your horse [WWW Document]. PetMD. URL https://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/aobrien/2012/sept/benefits_of_grooming_your_horse-26892 (accessed 5.10.23).



White, S., 2006. Equine dermatology - AAEP [WWW Document]. American Association of Equine Practitioners. URL https://aaep.org/sites/default/files/issues/proceedings-06proceedings-z9100106000457.PDF (accessed 5.10.23).


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