Musing About Grooming

Fortunately we had rain this week and today, we have been in drought status so we need every drop of rain that falls. Of course it messes up my riding but we NEED this rain.

Lately I have been exploring the Haas brushes, researching all the descriptive blurbs the saddlers attach to their listings, buying several, trying them out on horses, and lending several to my lesson stable so that they can be tried out on more horses.

At my lesson stable my lesson horse, MJ, has probably the most sensitive skin of any horse I've groomed in the past 50 years. Prancing in place, sidling away from brush pressure, dirty looks, tiny threat movements saying “watch it lady!!!!” and a distinct impression that MJ does NOT like being groomed at all. We had come to an uneasy truce as we found some grooming tools that he tolerated, so his objections became less vehement, but there was no true relaxation and no enjoyment.

This may be changing. I have now tried out several of the Haas brushes on MJ, some, like the coconut bristle very stiff Haas Schimmel, he deemed to harsh for his sensitive skin, but when I tried the slightly less stiff synthetic rice root Haas Damen Wurzelkardatsche he settled down. He was not terribly sure about the pretty stiff Haas Amazone brush, but started relaxing some with the Haas Cavaliere and Haas Lipizzaner brushes which are slightly less stiff.

This week my Haas Military brush finally came, this is the Haas brush specifically recommended for chestnut horses (it is also useful with other colors of horses.) Unlike most Haas brushes that mix black and light Grey horsehair, the Military also has chestnut and bay horse hair. The outer edge is raised, and the blurbs say that this brush gets down to the skin and gets the skin clean as well as getting dirt moved out of the base of the coat.

Debbie called me early to make sure I was coming out. I excitedly told her about my new brush, as well as the Haas Joker hoop pick, the Haas Kopfburste head brush, and the Haas New Generation curry comb which is supposed to be softer on the horse's skin. It had rained all night and I told her we might as well give MJ a good grooming (she did not realize then that his blanket had leaked) and see if the ring was rideable. Debbie told me to come on out and that she WAS going to give me a lesson since the rain had moved out.

When I got there it turned out that Mary, one of Debbie's students/stall mucker out people was going to help me groom MJ. She has ridden MJ before, therefore she was quite familiar with how he usually reacts to grooming. I started out trying the Haas New Generation curry comb at my normal pressure for currying a horse. I got a big fat NO!!!!! as MJ sidled away and gave me a rather dirty look. I lightened the pressure but I was still moving to quickly for MJ's refined sensibilities, we we came to an accommodation, I lightened up and slowed down and MJ decided he could stand still, mostly. His wet hair did not help matters at all, it seemed to retard the movement of the curry and MJ really did not like this. Maybe it will be better the next time if he comes in with a dry coat.

Then I got to try my new brush for chestnuts, the Haas Military! I did his left side, leery at first MJ quickly quieted down and by the time I finished his left side he was quiet so I asked Mary to do his right side with the brush. By the time she got halfway through his right side Mary was going on about how MUCH she liked this brush, and how she thinks the horse she rides would enjoy it. After that I had Mary use the Haas Cavaliere brush, then the Haas Diamond Noir finishing brush. MJ's coat was stiff damp so there was not much shine except for the few dry places on his back, they shone.

So MJ did not like the curry comb, but he accepted the “dandy brushes” fine, and by the end of the grooming he was a lot less restive in the cross-ties than he ever was when we groomed him with the regular brushes. This led me to thinking. I have been grooming horses for over 50 years, and in that time darn few horses “told” me that they really loved being groomed. At best grooming was something that the horse learned he HAD TO put up with and endure, at the worst the horses made it painfully clear that I better watch how I use the grooming tools. Some horses, with less sensitive skin, did enjoy grooming, but others were irritated by grooming, some were just mildly irritated, others wigged out and acted like grooming was a form of torture it I did it too hard. This means the vast majority of the time that by the time I got the horse ready to ride that the horse was already irritated with me and sort of pissed off, not a good beginning for a peaceful and productive ride!

The change in MJ was sort of subtle. He was not as tense as usual after his grooming, he seemed to object less when we led him to the ring, and he had a mellower vibe. I could not do much in the ring, puddles abounded and Debbie had to unclog the drainage so a corner lake could drain. MJ just seemed less irritated, I did not feel him “challenging” my aids, and he did not act like it was a personal favor if he deigned to obey an aid.

Debbie and I ended up talking about the Haas brushes. She has been using some on her super-sensitive Arabian gelding and I told her that another brush I finally got in, the Parcour, was recommended as the first brush for Dark Bay and Black horses (including brown horses?) I have ended up lending Debbie several of my Haas brushes, all the brushes for her gelding (Parcour, Lipizzaner, and the New Generation curry to try out on him), I bought another brush after I read the description (the Haas Pony brush) because it sounded like it was ideal for the super hairy pony she uses for lessons (the regular dandy brushes just do not do the job), and then she told me she has partially leased MJ to another older lady, so I lent her the Military, Cavaliere, and Grundy's Finest to put into MJ's brush box. Debbie's stable now has most of my Haas brushes on loan though I kept enough of them to put in my grooming bag so I could groom MJ satisfactorily.

IF the horses are coming out of a grooming session less irritated and feeling less hostile will they be better lesson horses? IF Debbie's horses, groomed with the Haas brushes, end up with a coat that has a deep, deep shine will they get more favorable attention at the shows they do? (Her horses already do fine at the shows, this is just a little extra.) Will Debbie be able to spend more of the lesson time refining the riders' horsemanship instead of going through the process of turning an irritated lesson horse into a moderately good ride for that lesson? Will the Haas brushes change the world?

If your horse always seems irritated at your grooming and riding I recommend trying out the Haas brushes. The type of changes I am seeing and hearing about the horses give me encouragement that I may have found the final detail that kept my riding from “perfection”. A relaxed horse is much more fun to ride than an anxious and fretful horse, and I may have found a solution to the main source of irritation that starts EVERY ride, grooming with normal brushes. This is a subtle effect, but horses are all about subtlety as far as their comfort is concerned.

I'd just rather ride a cheerful horse.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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