PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Equine Tips
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Grooming: Building a Connection
By Marcie Ehrman, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee member
During our monthly equine welfare committee conference call, I agreed to write a “Tips” article on flies. I actually did start writing the article. And then, while grooming my pony, I began to think about the meaning of the words, “grooming as ceremony,” one of the topics we discussed in a planning session for our presentation at the International Conference. No spoiler alert here – it just made me think about the enormous value of spending time observing, bonding & connecting with your horse while engaged in the seemingly ordinary task of grooming.
Starting out, observe your horse’s demeanor and his mood. Is he attentive or distracted, relaxed or tense? Allow all your senses to partake in the experience – (well, maybe not taste!). Really see him – focus large and take in the whole vision of him; then focus in and observe his hair coat, his muscling, the contours of his feet – every minute detail. Pay attention to his eyes, his ears, his jaw set, his mouth and lips. Watch the movement of his tail. Observe his breathing – is it fast or slow, deep or shallow, regular or irregular, and does it change during the grooming session? Notice his stance – does he tend to cock one hind leg more than another? Does he prefer standing with one particular leg forward or back? Does he lower his head as grooming progresses? Have you found his “lippy spots” (those places that feel so good when brushed or curried that his upper lip will move as if he is offering to return the favor)? Play with using minimal gesture, words and touch to ask him to pick up each foot. Refine these over time – you will probably find him offering you his feet (in sequence) with just a light touch or even a word or signal. Work toward using ever more subtle cues to ask him to lower his head, back up or step sideways. Observe & feel his legs – familiarize yourself with the muscle, bone and joint structures, the ridges and hollows. Use your hands to feel for any swellings, lumps, bumps or temperature changes as you move them down his legs and around his hooves. Breathe in his smell, listen to him inhale & exhale and enjoy the rumbling of his gut sounds. Mentally check in with him periodically throughout the grooming session; learn to recognize any changes in demeanor and degree of relaxation, whether obvious or subtle. Allow yourself to feel very present with him.
So next time you pick up a curry comb or body brush – really “tune in” to your horse, and transform a routine task into a truly bonding experience.
Please share your experiences “tuning in to your horse” at PATH Intl. community connections page.