Are you a good groomer? Recent statistics suggest you might not be. While riders usually appreciate the importance of grooming, the reality is they’re grooming in ways that are often unpleasant for the horse and even dangerous, French researchers said.
“Grooming isn’t just a one-time thing; it’s something we do with our horses regularly throughout their entire lives, so it’s important to do it right,” said Léa Lansade, PhD, of the French Horse and Riding Institute and the National Institute for Agricultural Research’s behavior science department, in Tours.
It’s also important for us, she added. One-quarter of all equestrian-related hospital visits result from accidents that occurred to a rider on the ground. “And the injuries are no less severe on the ground than from a fall—in fact, they’re often worse and include death,” Lansade said during her presentation at the 2017 French Equine Research Day, held earlier this year in Paris.
In a recent study, Lansade and colleagues observed 69 riders representing all levels of experience groom their horses and noted an “alarming” number of errors, she said. “Surprisingly, 100% of the riders exhibited at least one dangerous behavior during a grooming session, and some showed up to 19 of these behaviors in a single setting, with an average of more than six dangerous behaviors while grooming,” she said. Some of the more frequent dangerous behaviors including getting down on one knee next to the horse or passing behind the horse without keeping him in the field of vision.
As for the horses, half of them behaved aggressively or showed pain expressions—jumping back, making threats, and trying to bite or kick. In nine instances, the riders barely missed a serious accident. “The horse’s teeth or hoof came within 10 centimeters (4 inches) of the rider’s head or body,” Lansade said. “Most of the time, the rider wasn’t even aware of it!”
Only 5% of the horses showed positive behavior during the grooming session, such as trying to groom the rider or seeking closer contact with the rider, she added. Interestingly, she said, there weren’t many differences between riders of varying levels. Regardless of experience, the number of grooming errors remained about the same. And despite the risks, only 7% of the riders wore a helmet while grooming.
“We also noted that 88% of the riders performed movements that could injure their own backs, especially when picking the hooves or placing the saddle, even though there are very easy ways to avoid those problems,” Lansade said. For example, she said, riders could simply pull up the stirrups before putting the saddle on—a technique many riders know but don’t do because they’re in a hurry or don’t want to scratch their leather.
“This study revealed that grooming is far more a source of discomfort than of good welfare for horses,” said Lansade. “And there’s no real show of improvement with experience—which is probably related to the fact that there’s currently no real awareness effort about this problem. But these statistics certainly help explain why there are so many accidents on the ground with horses.”
The results of their study encouraged Lansade and her fellow researchers to develop a safe and pleasant grooming method that can be easily taught to riders, she said. That method became part of a new research project they carried out on 27 horses. Stay tuned to TheHorse.com for details on that study in the future.