Grooming with Emma Ford: The Winter Survival Guide

Emma Ford needs little introduction. As head groom for Phillip Dutton, she’s groomed at almost every five-star event in the world, and has been a crucial part of the US Eventing Team at Pan-Ams, World Championships, and Olympics. She’s also worked in the showjumping industry, the dressage world, and the hunt field. There’s not an awful lot she doesn’t know how to do – and we’re very excited that she’s sharing some of her formidable back-catalogue of knowledge as an Andis Animal Educator. First up? Her advice on how to get your horse looking his best in these tricky winter months.

A little bit of bad weather doesn’t stop a super groom! Emma Ford grazes Mr. Candyman. Photo by Jenni Autry.

During winter, depending on the state you live in, taking care of your horse’s coat can mean a routine consisting of a lot of mud removal from fully-grown coats, or a lot of currying for the clipped horse starting its competition season early.

I say it time and time again that effective grooming, after good nutrition, is the number one skill required to maintain a healthy coat. Scheduling time before or after riding to actively use some ‘elbow grease’ to curry, brush and repeat is a must in your daily horse care routine. Grooming is a great way to bond with your horse. Actively look at their expression as you work over their body; ears and eyes are a great tell if you are hitting a spot that may be sore or if they have a particular area that they really like being rubbed down.

Make sure you also spend time with your bare hands feeling over your horse’s entire body for any lumps, scratches, swellings or cuts that may have appeared since the last time you were in contact with them. Touch is your best guide for catching early signs of issues that could become problematic if not dealt with early on. The following are my three must-haves for the winter season to keep my competition horses looking their best, whilst defending some of the issues that come from moving from Pennsylvania to South Carolina to Florida and back during the beginning part of the season.

Emma Ford and Z. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

First are the Andis Pulse ZRII Clippers. These are my go-to clippers for any job that needs doing in the winter. By attaching a T84 blade, you can do the perfect body, blanket or trace clip regardless of the coat type. If you need to do some trimming use the Andis Ceramic 10, trimming at 1.5mm. This blade will give you neat and tidy ears, muzzles and jawline that blends in well with a winter coat, rather than taking too much hair off. These clippers are very efficient when you need to trim around wounds as they are cordless and allow you to reach all the hard to reach or moving target areas!

For show clips, I might use the Andis T10 blades to do the whole body. For heads I would change to the smaller regular 10 blade to maneuver around the eye sockets and facial crevices.

Next, Witch Hazel is a must have in all barns. It is a mild antiseptic that is great to apply as a final rub down to lift off that last layer of dust. It does not dry out the horse’s skin and can also aid in reducing skin irritations such as hives and bug bites, due to its natural astringent properties. If you are clipping with no time for a bath afterwards you can use this to wipe over their bodies and remove excess clipper oil. It can be used to clean minor wounds and is safe to use under bandages. I also apply it to legs as a liniment after a hard workout to aid in circulation and reduce swelling. A lot of store brands contain isopropyl alcohol so I suggest removing the lid and letting it sit for a while to help this evaporate before using.

Finally, I always have Shapley’s MTG on hand. From helping to grow and thicken manes and tails, to applying as a skin protectant, this product is my go to for the early start of skin funk. It can be applied to any areas of hair loss, like blanket rubs. It can be applied to healed wounds to aid in preventing scars and can be rubbed into legs that are susceptible to cannon crud. It will act as a barrier against moisture and therefore reduce the fungal build-up. If you already have a bad case of rain rot or leg crud, rub a healthy amount into the area to aid in softening and removing the scabs and getting back down to healthy skin. Like with any new product, always do a small test area to ensure your horse doesn’t react to it.

Want more expert grooming tips from Emma? Pick up a copy of her book, World Class Grooming for Horses: The English Rider’s Complete Guide to Daily Care and Competition, published by Trafalgar Square Books.