Next in importance to food and water in stable-kept horses is grooming. There can be no doubt that the artificial state in which horses are kept renders cleanliness of the skin a necessity, and it is universally recognised that the beauty, health, and vigour of the horse are largely dependent upon the condition of his integument. The function of the skin is very important, and just in proportion as that function is maintained in activity, so will the health be improved. To clean the skin, thoroughly, a brush is, perhaps, the best appliance; though in Eastern countries, where the horses have very thin, sensitive skins, and fine coats, as well as with some horses in our own country, a brush may cause considerable irritation. Grooming is not required to the same degree, perhaps, with all horses; the slow-paced cart or farm horses, or horses which are much exposed to the weather, or whose work is not fast, do not require, and, in fact, should not receive, so much grooming as carriage horses, hunters, or racehorses. Indeed, the former are none the worse for having a little grease in their skin, to protect them from the cold and the wet; but dirt of every description should be removed from the surface, and all loose dandriff brushed from amongst the hair. With regard to the grooming of farm horses, Reynolds recommends that they should not be curry-combed, but brushed and well wisped over before being turned out to work, and again on completion of their day's labour. After being stabled wet, from rain or perspiration, the skin must be thoroughly dried, and at supper-time a brisk dry wisping instituted to determine increased surface-circulation, and promote a feeling of warmth and comfort for the night. For hardening the backs and shoulders of colts recently put to work, and of horses having irritable skins, a free application of salt and water to the saddle and collar-seats is beneficial.
Many persons advocate clipping the hair from the legs of heavy horses, a practice highly pernicious, and one to be condemned in the strongest terms. Hair is the natural protector of the cuticle, and is especially required to warm and shield the delicate skin of the heels; its removal from these situations is certain to induce a predisposition to "grease" and other equally serious consequences. If the legs are muddy on return from labour, they should be dried as far as practicable, and the adherent clay subsequently removed with a hard brush. The application of the thinnest possible film of pure neatsfoot oil to the surface of the hair of the legs will prevent the adhesion of clay, but it should only be used when absolutely necessary. Opinions vary upon the desirability of washing the legs of cart horses. As a rule, the practice is unnecessary and injudicious; but when the legs have become thoroughly saturated during labour, there can be no further harm occasioned by washing off any mud which may also have accumulated amongst the hair. It must, however, be regarded, as essential to proper management, that under no pretext is a horse to be left for the night until all his legs have been thoroughly dried. Nor is this precept very difficult of execution; a handful or two of light wood sawdust rubbed for a few minutes well into the hair will absorb all moisture from the most hirsute legs, affording not only a sense of comfort to the animal, but preventing those undesirable consequences engendered by continued application of cold and wet to the extremities.
The iron curry-comb should never, as a rule, be applied to the skin of horses. For long rough coats, nothing is better than a good dandy-brush to remove dandriff, dust, and dirt; for finer-coated horses, a good bristle-brush suffices, and the use of this may be advantageously supplemented by the wisp and rubber; indeed, for some extremely thin-skinned, fine-coated horses, the two latter are generally found sufficient, provided the groom applies them energetically and efficiently.
In India, the syce or groom rarely resorts to anything else than the palms of his hands and the sides of his arms up to the elbows, in order to make the coat shine. Whatever may be used, it is necessary that the hair be worked in its natural direction, and the surface of the skin must be well acted upon. The times at which grooming should be performed must vary with convenience; the horse ought to be groomed, if possible, early in the morning, and either immediately after the stable has been cleaned out, or after that has been done and the horse exercised. Grooming is undoubtedly best performed immediately after exercise, as then the skin is in a much better condition for being cleaned; and the cleaning should extend from the face to the heels, and include thorough brushing of the forelock, mane, and tail, with sponging of the nostrils, lips, eyes, and beneath the tail, as well as washing the hoofs.
If the horse is heated, or is wet from perspiration or rain, he should on no account be allowed to remain undried for any length of time; but if he cannot be attended to immediately in a proper manner, he may either receive a temporary wisping of the body and legs, or clothing and bandaging these, or leaving on the saddle or harness until an opportunity arrives for grooming him; or, better still, he may be exercised for a short time, so as to prevent what is called a chill. When he can be attended to, the legs should be first well dried, and then bandaged, a blanket being thrown over the body meanwhile; when all the legs have been so treated, the body may then be groomed, and when this has been finished, if necessary, the bandages may be removed from the legs, and these thoroughly brushed out. It is very dangerous to allow the skin to dry by simple evaporation, and especially in a cold or draughty stable; as pleurisy, bronchitis, and inflammation of the lungs or intestines are very often the result.
To groom a horse properly requires a considerable amount of time, and much skill and exertion; it is therefore necessary, unless grooms are very trustworthy, that owners of horses should know when their horses are groomed, and should also see that it is done thoroughly. A well-groomed horse gives evidence of the fact in the clean, shining, and healthy appearance of the coat, and if the hand be rubbed against the hairs it is not soiled by them. If, on the contrary, the horse is not well groomed, the coat will be dull, staring, and unsightly, and patches of dirt may be seen upon it, while if the hand is pushed up through it, it will be covered with a white greasy film, and if the animal has perspired, scurf and dirt will be observed where the saddle or harness have been; while an examination of the points of the hips and shoulders, the sides and points of the hocks, the roots of the hairs of the mane, tail, and forelock, will yield further evidence. When the legs must be washed, which sometimes happens, as when very muddy, or with white and grey-legged horses, they should be thoroughly dried immediately after, and wrapped in flannel bandages. Some grooms are greatly in favour of washing the body and legs, but unless in special cases - as when the skin is extremely greasy or dirty - this cannot be recommended. It is much better to wisp or scrape well, or both, and then clothe and bandage, if the body is wet, leaving the thorough cleaning to be carried out when circumstances are favourable. More especially should this procedure be observed in winter, in order to avoid what is known as "mud fever." If perfect drying could be ensured immediately after washing, perhaps no harm would result; but as this cannot always be relied upon, washing had better be dispensed with.
Sometimes horses break out into a cold perspiration after they have been groomed, should they have undergone exertion a short time before. As this is not only uncomfortable, but renders the skin very cold, it is necessary to dry them repeatedly until the dampness is removed.
Cracked and greasy heels are usually caused by wet, either from wet muddy roads, or from washing the legs and leaving them wet, or imperfectly drying them. Unless they can be thoroughly dried, it is well to leave them alone, or to remove as much as possible of the superfluous moisture with a wisp of straw, and, when convenient, bandaging them. When they are dry they may be cleaned with a dandy-brush, or if the hair be very long and thick, a leg or birch broom answers very well. A predisposition to cracked heels is engendered by clipping the legs and pasterns in winter; this should never be done, if possible, but if it is necessary, then the skin should be protected from the action of wet and dirt by rubbing into it, before the horse leaves the stable, lard, vaseline, or zinc ointment. A very good protection against the action of icy cold water, or the salt slush which is so common on tramway lines in winter, is a mixture of one part whitelead and three parts common oil, rubbed around the pasterns and the coronets by means of a brush.