The grooming of the horse, under certain circumstances, becomes an important factor in efficiency of performance. Those called on for rapid work for short periods can hardly be groomed too much. Relatively, too much attention is usually given to the body and too little to the legs. The groom has pride in the "shine;" the driver has more interest in having the legs hard and limber. The legs of a horse should always receive first and largest attention: often they receive the last and least. Much of the body-grooming of the horse may be dispensed with if blankets are judiciously used.
The proper use of blankets requires some skill. If the horse is allowed to stand on the street in cold or windy weather, he should be covered with a heavy, large blanket immediately upon stopping, although he may be sweating. But if the horse arrives at the stable sweaty, where he is measurably protected, he should not be blanketed until he has ceased to steam. For, if he be covered at once, little opportunity is given for him to dry off, and the blanket will become damp and the hair may remain so all night. True, this difficulty may be partly obviated by substituting a dry blanket one or two hours later. If the blanket is not used until the steam and surface heat have measurably subsided, - which it usually does in from fifteen to twenty minutes, - the hair will be dry and smooth the following morning, when the scurff may be removed easily by the use of a stiff brush. The use of a stable blanket, as well as one for the street, cannot be recommended too highly. The former should be of light material, and not so large as the latter. A blanket of some loosely woven cheap material may be used from June to September, and the ordinary light winter stable blanket for the rest of the year. Stable blankets may be dispensed with in hot weather if flies are excluded by screens or by darkening the stables by the use of curtains; but they should be used in the fall, as soon as the nights become cool. Such early use will arrest, too, in a marked degree, the growth of hair both in length and density. The coat of hair being kept short and comparatively thin, the horse does not sweat so profusely, when driven, as he would if the stable blanket is not used until the beginning of winter. The early use of stable blankets usually obviates the need of clipping the horse. However, some horses have such dense and long coats of hair that health and ease of grooming require that the clipping be performed, but such woolly horses are rare. In any case, the clipping should be done before midwinter, not in March, the most trying month in the year for a driving-horse. For some time after the horse is clipped, both stable and street blanket should be doubled, or those of greater weight and warmth, secured around the abdomen with safety pins, should be substituted for the light ones. In warm weather the horse enjoys a sponge bath, and the skin is cleaned and hair benefited thereby. Much space has been given to the use of blankets, with the view of keeping the horse comfortable and the skin and hair pliable and presentable, with the minimum of body grooming, an excess of which tends to keep the skin too sensitive for our erratic climate.
The care of the legs is really of more importance than the care of the body. They are subjected to severe concussion and strain; often covered with mud or ice, or both, or soaked with water the entire work day. It is little wonder, then, that they become unsound, sometimes useless. Added to mud and ice in the winter, is the ever-present dust in the summer, which fills the hair and pores of the legs far more than of the body. All these necessarily adverse conditions tend to injure the legs in time; hence they should be cared for promptly and with skill and judgment.
When the horse comes to the stable with muddy legs, they should be roughly cleaned by using a half-worn common broom. In an hour, or when the legs have dried off, they should be rubbed and brushed until they are quite dry and clean. Then, too, such rubbing will restore circulation, and the following morning the horse will be supple and ready for work, even if his legs receive but little attention just before going to his task. In other words, fifteen minutes' time spent in cleaning and rubbing the legs at night is more efficient in promoting sound, strong legs than a half-hour's time spent on them in the morning. It all comes to this, - horses are usually kept at work so late in the day that time is not allowed for properly cleaning and caring for them after their day's work is done. That which should be done promptly at night is put off until the morning, when the desire is to get to work early; thus cutting short the time which should be given to caring for the legs, and finally they are not cared for at all. For what is the use in cleaning them at six-thirty, when at seven they will be as muddy as ever? When the weather is warm, the legs should be washed and afterwards rubbed dry. Nothing contributes more toward producing diseased limbs than allowing the horse to remain all night with damp legs covered with mud, especially in damp or cold stables. Depletion of flesh produced by neglect can easily be remedied, but injury to the legs from the same cause is often irreparable. Wherever wheat or rye straw is used for bedding, the very best possible material will be at hand for cleaning and invigorating the legs. A willing groom with a wisp of clean straw in each hand are all the appliances necessary for putting the legs in splendid condition. The old fashioned iron currycomb is not well adapted to cleaning the horse's body much less to cleaning his legs.
Horses sleep but little - from three to four hours out of the twenty-four; hence the more need of making them comfortable at night. Narrow stalls, insufficient bedding and stiffened joints on rising, all discourage the horse from lying down as much as he should, or from lying down at all. All these conditions should be remedied, because such change would be both profitable and humane. Stalls should be wide and well bedded. However, ample space and a comfortable bed may not only induce the horse to rest by lying down, but to roll also, even to roll over, in which case he is likely to get cast, that is, get his feet higher than his back and against the side of the stall. If so he suffers, may even die, if not promptly relieved.
To prevent the horse from rolling over, fasten a small pulley to the ceiling over the horse's head, and a second one nearly over the side of the stall. Attach a ring to the top of the halter, to which fasten a small rope, pass the rope through both pulleys, and fasten the end to a weight of one or two pounds. The length of the rope should be so adjusted as to cause the weight to strike the pulley when the nose of the horse is from six to eight inches from the floor when he is lying down. A horse cannot roll if he is prevented from getting his head flat on the floor or ground.