Do you ever stare in awe at the sleek shiny horses, the glistening brass, perfect braids, and dazzling white marks at a CCI trot up? Do you ever wonder how they get that way? (LOTS of hard work is the correct answer!) Each Sunday morning we will bring you a little insider info on how the big-time grooms manage an upper level event horse. Feel free to email or comment with specific grooming questions if you have a topic in mind!
I promise I will get to the “glamor” topics like braiding and tails, but I am waiting for a good opportunity to do them justice. Those entries will feature extensive illustrations, photos, and perhaps video of various techniques; right now my horses are embarrassingly furry and not suitable for public viewing. When the weather warms up and the horses are closer to competition I will produce the necessary media to accompany the topics. Braiding, especially, is something that is best learned through observation and not rambling incoherent sentences with stick-figure drawings.
Today, we will explore a collection of random hints and tips that aren’t easily classified, but make your life a little better in some way or another.
Things like diapers and baby wipes. Huh? Disposable diapers make excellent padding for wrapping a bruised or abscessed foot; the 30-lb (kid) size fits most horses’ feet. Keep several in the trailer for shows in case your horse loses a shoe, until the farrier can fix it. Baby wipes are very handy for touch-up spot removal, especially when you don’t have time (or it’s too cold) to give a bath. Continuing in the child-care theme, baby oil gel is an easier, less messy way to shine up faces or hooves.
Tape: duct and electrical. Like most horse people, duct tape is one of my most favorite versatile items ever created. It’s like The Force: it has a light side, and a dark side, and it holds the world together. I have about four rolls of it any given time: one at large, one in the grooming box, one in the stud kit, one in the trailer, etc. And it now comes in colors! Use a small piece of white duct tape on the cheekpiece of your show halter instead of a bridle number. Use it to tie up unattended children* or to tape your trailer dressing room door shut when the latch breaks half-way through a 10-hr drive. (*ed. note: EN does not condone the capture or detainment of children. Unless they are posing a safety hazard. Or really obnoxious.)
Contrary to common belief, electrical tape was not created for electrical wiring…it exists solely for the obsessive-compulsive eventer to label everything she owns. All brushes, hoofpicks, buckets, scrapers, boxes, hooks, racks, anything that can be claimed by a half-inch strip of colored tape is so afflicted. Colored duct tape may also be used, but beware its sticky residue; also, while identifying color is handy, gobs of 2″-wide neon duct tape is a little gaudy. Black electrical tape is also very useful in tack repair, for missing strap keepers in particular. I like to double the tape back on itself, so that there is no stickiness exposed to the leather strap itself. Electrical tape, of course, is standard cross-country equipment to secure velcro on galloping boots, and to tape all strap buckles for three-days. Again, while I like color as much as anybody, please don’t go overboard on the super-color boot taping. A little is nice, a lot is ugly.
Twine. It’s always helpful to keep some string around, whether it’s from hay bales or just a roll from the hardware store– keep extra in your tack box, don’t just rely on a bale of hay you brought. Use it to hang buckets, stall guards, tack hooks, and random items (like tarps, when it pours down rain right into your tent stall).
Scissors. Another item of which you can’t really have too many. Even labeled (yay electrical tape!) scissors frequently grow legs and walk off with your neighbors, leaving you to open a bale of hay with a set of car keys (MacGyver would be proud). Keep a pair in your groom box, tack trunk, and trailer. And a separate very sharp set in your braiding box that is ONLY used for braiding, and lent solely to trusted associates with the proper password and secret handshake.
Permanent markers. The more the merrier. Pens don’t always write vertically on stall cards, if they write at all. Use the sharpie to write your number on your labeled halter, and to create extra bridle numbers. Save your old bridle numbers. Flip them over, write your new number on the backside, and you now have a spare for schooling. Or in case you lose the real one.
Extra shoes. If you’ve done a three-day, you know this drill already. Save your horse’s shoes each time they are replaced, take them with you to shows in case your horse loses one on course. It’s much simpler (and less risky!) for the show farrier to tack on a shoe that already fits your horse, instead of making a whole new one. Use duct tape to keep each set together, and use your sharpie to label them with the horse’s name and the date.
Stud plugs. I really like the white foam ones; they’re easy to insert (just push them in), and easy to remove (use a pointy pick, or old horseshoe nail). But why I really like them? I haven’t had to buy stud plugs for about four years. They come in packages of 100, punched out of rectangular stencils. The leftover stencils still contain a LOT of material– if you are committed enough to cut out each little piece, you can make about 40 more plugs from the stencils. My farrier uses the plugs for his clients, and gives me his leftover stencils (he even saves them for me, stacks of 3 or 4 a month). Even if you aren’t blessed with such a conscientious farrier, you can still easily get double-duty out of the foam plugs by snipping the leftover stencils.
A hammer. It’s one of those things you rarely use, but you’re really glad when you have it. A good Pony Clubber checks her stall at every away show, looking for dangerous nails or staples. Use the hammer to remove eye-poking pointy things. Also handy to break ice off your back trailer doors when they’re frozen shut. And can pound-down a raised nail clinch when necessary. I keep mine in the stud box, so I always know where it is.
Electrical cord and power strip. Useful for hanging fans in the summertime, while also allowing you to plug in a radio, charge your cell phone, the video camera, etc. Speaking of fans, keep some bungee cords around for wind-device installment. Like twine, bungees have 1000 uses.
Chains and double-end snaps. I have four or five 20″ lengths of smooth-link chain leftover from my Pony Club days, when we weren’t allowed to hang our water buckets with twine. You can buy it at any Wal-Mart or hardware store. Twine can sometimes break under load of a full bucket, spilling water everywhere and soaking your nice clean $8-a-bag shavings. The chains won’t break, and thus are also useful for stall guards, or as a little extra security latching the stall door at night. Double-end snaps–you know what to do with these…anything you want. Always have extras, because inevitably your stable buddy will have forgotten them. (and label them with your tape, so you hopefully get them back!)
Speaking of chains… always have a chain shank in your trailer. I know, Muffin is always so sweet and would never need such a torturous leading device. But properly used, a stud chain can be a great enhancement to your safety when necessary– a snorting wild horse dragging you around the showgrounds is most unsightly, not to mention dangerous. And I have seen a gentle lip chain work miracles getting a stubborn beast onto a trailer, calmly and peacefully. Along those lines, always have an extra halter in the trailer. Muffin may never pull back when tied, but maybe you need to catch the loose horse that (was) tied next to you. Be prepared for any situation, and you (or your neighbors) will thank yourself later.
Do you have any other can’t-live-without random items? Let me know what I forgot in the comment section!