In the past 7 years I have spent my weekends as an Assistant Therapeutic Riding Instructor. This means that when a individual shows up to their therapy riding lesson, I spend 30 minutes with them in the barn (grooming, tacking, and doing ground work) and the other 30 minutes of their lesson are spent in the ring, riding. This experience has made me see the importance grooming in a whole new light.
Growing up in the English show world, I can’t count the amount of times I have seen a parent grooming their child’s horse or heard a child ask someone to get the horse ready for them to ride. I have also visited several able bodied and therapeutic facilities where grooming is just not apart of the program. Either the instructor has the horse ready before the rider arrives or there is a group of volunteers working feverishly in the background to groom and tack all the horses in that day’s line up in a timely fashion. Now, in some cases in the therapeutic world, there are just some students that don’t groom and, for good reason. But as for everyone else, there is no excuse; grooming is as important as learning how to steer your horse. Everything starts from the ground.
As a young rider, if it is your first time riding a specific horse, what better way to start to learn about the horse and create a bond then take some time in the cross-ties to get to know each other. Notice any sensitive areas the horse may have when you run over them with a brush, notice the hooves; are they wearing shoes or are the barefoot? Notice the horses tack, what kind of bit is being used and what does that tell you about the horse? Run your hands over the horses body and notice any bumps, lumps or scrapes. These are all things that an advanced rider is looking at when they tack their stead, that a young rider should start paying attention to as these tools and this level of responsibility will come in handy as you advance in your riding or someday have your own horse.
In addition to this special bonding moment, the horse is benefiting from the massage. According to PetMD,
“Grooming acts as preventive medicine. A good grooming session increases blood flow to the skin’s surface, massages large muscle groups, and daily hoof picking keeps the feet clean and helps prevent common hoof issues such as thrush, a bacterial disease of the sole.”
From a therapeutic perspective, I have students with hemiparesis, muscular dystrophy and general muscle stiffness that I could immediately see benefiting from our 30 minute grooming session. Having to balance themselves to reach up onto the horses neck and move their arm in circular motions with the curry comb, or having to reach all the way on the top of the horses back and make a flick motion with their wrist to move the soft brush, or even to have to bend their knees slightly and reach under the horses belly to clean the girth area or pick the feet. All of these movements and stretches were just as beneficial as a physical therapy session, EXCEPT, the individual isn’t thinking about that, they are thinking about caring for their horse, their new friend, and getting ready to ride.