Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hairy Legs

I haven't been able to visit with you guys and it will be awhile again. So I thought I'd share my article for the equine page at my can see some of the stuff I write.

I'll talk to you soon!

I Have a Hairy Horse

By Janet Huntington

If a woman grew her armpit hair long enough to blow in the breeze she would cause quite a stir when she threw her arms in the air to catch a Frisbee.

This is the thought which crossed my mind as I looked at the long hair on my mare’s fetlocks.

She’s not a draft horse, she’s my very pretty, but decidedly hairy, show horse.

My mare has a cottony mane with no bridle path to stop her thick wavy forelock from spreading willy-nilly all over the place.

Her tail is as thick and long as an ungroomed, unplucked tail can get.

The hair on her fetlocks curls to the ground in soft, silky coils.

She has a whiskery nose that tickles when she nuzzles my hand.

She is called Madonna and she is definitely well-named.
She has an extremely high opinion of herself, a rock-star attitude and is quite comfortable with her tousled, bad-girl image.

Her mussed style gradually evolved between the two of us. I have no interest in grooming my horse for show. Don’t get me wrong, I keep my horses clean and groomed, it’s just the show stuff that bores me.

Bridle paths, pulled manes, clipped ears and whiskers, fake tails, show sheen, it’s an awful bunch of work.

It’s a little bit too much like little girls playing hair salon. When I was a kid I left that stuff for the sissies. I would go play horses.

My mare is a well trained, well behaved horse. She has a few quirks though. She hates having her ears handled.

She has never been eared down, mistreated, beaten about the head or anything else that could give her an excuse for hating having her ears handled. It’s just how she is.

She also hates sweat trickling down her face, flanks, or inside her protective boots. She hates mud in the cutting pen.

Obviously I have had to make my horse get over herself. But I also believe in picking my battles.

Ear hair has to be there for a reason, doesn’t it? The hair inside the ear helps to prevent dirt and insects getting into the ear. In other words, it keeps the ear clean.

The hair also helps keep horses from losing their delicate ears to frostbite in the winter. If I clip my horse’s ears then I am now responsible for keeping the cold, the bugs and the dirt out of her ears. I also have to worry about dirt and hair falling in the ear canal and risk infection just from the act of clipping itself.

I participate in a sport where my horse turns a cow on the fence at up to 35 mph or so. The dirt flies, in her face, my face and the cows. I don’t want a big old dirt clod to go down her ear.

It would be hard to finish our run with my horse shaking her head so hard we were see-sawing all over the arena.

So I let her keep her ear hair.

Then we get to the muzzle. One of the first book series I read as a kid was the Misty of Chincoteague books. Marguerite Henry always described the “whiskery ponies.” Wesley Dennis showed every whisker and lash in his beautiful illustrations.

To my mind a horse should have whiskers.

A horse can see almost 360 degrees with her big beautiful eyes. She has only one blind spot. It is right between her eyes. She cannot see directly in front of her face. So her whiskers provide an essential service, feelers to help tell her what’s in front of her.

She got to keep the whiskers.

Horse feathers is not only fun to say, but it’s another area we’re supposed to keep clean and clipped.

A horse has hair on the back of the fetlocks for a reason. The hair acts as a funnel for water and helps keep the back of the hoof dry.

I’ve also noticed it’s a handy buffer against the ground when I slide stop.

If my horse accidently clips herself the hair might prevent a cut. I still consistently boot up my horse front and back to protect her, but I think it’s safer if she keeps her feathers.

When I was first learning to prepare my horses for the show pen I learned three different ways to grow the long, luxuriant tails so popular in the show pen.

The first was to braid the tail with rags and the keep it rolled into a sock.

The second was to take little sections of the tail, tie them in a little a square knot, and wrap the knot in vet wrap.

The third was to completely leave the tail alone (no brushing!) until a few days before show day.
I would finger or hoof pick the worst of the knots out, pull out any sticks and then load the tail with conditioner. I didn’t get conditioner on the tail bone, sometimes it will make the horse itchy.

Any kind of conditioner works, I’m a fan of Suave.

I’d leave the conditioner on overnight and then finger pick the Rastafarian coils and knots out again. Then I would wash the tail.

I would let it dry and then brush it out, top to bottom.

I tried all three methods. All of them worked. Guess which one I used? Yep, I just quit touching the tails until it was time to show. It was really easy. They looked great.

It was a natural progression to start ignoring manes too. I pull the tangles out with my fingers, but that’s it.

I realized I like the wild and wooly look, so I decided to leave it.

My horses haven’t argued. In my sport the judges sit in a chair on the side of the arena. They can’t see whether my horse is clipped or not. I like to think they wouldn’t care if they could.

To my mind, if they can tell my horse is hairy, I’m not hustling fast enough.



TBDancer said...

Luckily my OTTB gelding likes "fussing." He likes brushing, bathing, clipping, "thingie cleaning," and stands still for all of it. I do not "clean out" the hair in his ears, instead preferring to clamp the ear together and zizz the hair that sticks out. He looks "trimmed" and the flies look confused ;o)

I didn't body clip him last winter -- was having rotator cuff surgery and time got away from me -- so he still has the remnants of winter coat along his barrel and down his legs. He loves the grooming, though, so I count myself lucky.

And I bet your mare looks just fine ;o)

lopinon4 said...

I must admit, I am a clipper. But, my horse is stalled a lot, too. I don't clip whiskers or fetlocks in the winter, though.

Well written, as always, Mugs!

Vaquerogirl said...

I grew up with no clippers for my horses, and I swore that someday I would rectify that situation.
I have.
My horse has a roached mane and a long beautiful tail. I don't gussy up myself, but for him- the Pony doll-up day is a must. I like nothing better than washing and brushing and braiding! He likes it too, and his clipped legs and muzzle show off his finely sculpted face and clean long legs.
He's pretty that is 'fer sure. No long hair for him, he is living in the lap of luxury.
Ya know that long fingernails used to be a sign of culture and breeding in Chinese peoples. Ya know why? Cuz the long nails- long to the point that the hand is nearly useless- showed that they had enough money and influence to hire someone to do all the hard work for them. Same with my pony. I can afford to keep him stalled and clipped, protected from all earthy annoyances.
It's a choice and it works for me, as yours works for you. Good luck!

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

I hate hair, but given that mine learn to be clipped in a very kind manner (lots of treats, no twitches ever, no earing ever), they come to look forward to their beauty treatments.

And the converse of hair as protection - in the PNW, hair makes it hard to keep the legs clean and free of "scratches." In a muddy climate, clipped legs are easier to wash and dry and therefore keep from getting the creeping crud. So some of it does depend on where you live.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Mine have bridle paths...keeps the fuzzy mane hair from tickling ears.

I also clip fetlock hair...I have clay mud, and it clumps up when wet and hardens into little balls, and is a real mess.

I leave the whiskers & ear hair...whiskers for seeing (particularly mini-Cooper with one eye) and ear hair to keep the bugs/dirt out. I will trim up the extra long ear hairs, but that's it.

However, both of my horses love to be groomed and fussed over. Starlette loves me to clean out the earwax by sticking my fingers in all the way down inside. She also loves being braided...and she has a long mane. I think it's the diva in her!

Sydney_bitless said...

I love to fuss and all my horses love it too, especially Indigo who has discovered that in my presence if she itches something and can't quite reach (like right between her buttcheeks there) I will scratch out of sympathy of not being able to reach an itch. Her lip goes a twitchin. Our manes are all long, I trim tails strait about fetlock height so they dont step on them and brush the manes and tails with a soft body brush to get tangles out. I find washing the mane and tail every few weeks in the summer make them the nicest. I clip ear hair by folding the ear and taking off what sticks out. I dont trim eye whiskers. A lady here did that to a new horse she had and he got his eyelid caught on a bucket. Didn't know how close he was until he needed 5 stitches.

nagonmom said...

Sigh. Whiskery ponies. I remember that book, the illustrations. And love horse whiskers, as they should be. Our mini looks like a goat!! But so charming! I prefer as natural as possible. Easy on them, easy on us, beautiful.

Anonymous said...

i agree 100% with your approach , Exactamundo!

mommyrides said...

Personally I like the natural look. The black flies are so bad up here in the spring that my poor horses ears are all chewed up even with their ear hair intact!! I may snip their feathers though, The mud can get pretty deep. My gelding has "Fabio" hair!! Long flowing mane, forelock and tail, makes me jealous, yes it does. Also I believe it helps to keep the bugs from biting his face and neck, and the flies from camping out in his eyes. I do make them wear fly masks, but they seem to be quite talented at getting them off!!! My mare used to have a forelock until my son used scissors!!! to cut out some burrs. AAAUUUUGGGHHH!!! Now she has about six wispy little hairs, poor girl.

Grooming is such a personal time with each of my equines. I learn a lot about them while I groom and it's wonderful to find all those good spots that make them arch their necks and make funny faces!!

DarcC said...

I do a small bridle path and that's usually it. I learned to leave whiskers alone when my mare began going blind and she really needed them. When showing I too will do the fold the ear and trim what sticks out method, and that's as good as it gets!

RuckusButt said...

I would be very happy if you were able to post ALL your articles for the paper here. Pretty please with ponies on top?

EvenSong said...

Seems like you've come a long way from Sonita's full-body clip!

Val said...

Very cute story. I agree. I also feel that the ear hair justification works for the shorter hairs around the dock. Flies can have a field day if the tail is pulled neat and tidy.

I do not own a fly sheet or winter blanket for my horse. He gets woolly as a polar bear and looks like one with his black nose. I recently gave up the bridle path. Now that it is grown out, he looks like a stallion, with tresses of hair falling around his ears and on either side of his poll. Gorgeous. And I have never touched whiskers. The only things that I still clip are his leg hairs before they shed out, because ticks can hide in the hair.

Muriel said...

YEAH! Horses must have whiskers, I do not understand why people want to shave them????

I do a full-body clip in the winter, because my mare sweats a lot and it takes ages to dry, and it is very cold. I clip the bridle-path and that is it!

I love brushing my mare'tail and plaits it, result is that her tail is not really full. But never mind, I enjoy too much brushing it ;-)

I do not get the ear-clipping either. Because of this technique my mare does not let her ears to be handled. BUT it is because of previous rough handling...

Natural is best!

glenatron said...

Watching a pony at our yard bumping his nose into everything the first time he had his whiskers clipped was actually quite upsetting to me. My horse isn't really the touch feely kind ( except when he's in a bitey mood when he's a little too keen to get close to you ) but he does sometimes like to stand just making whisker contact with me. I feel like it would be pretty cruel to cut those off.

But then he's half fresian and has full feathers and a mane as long as my arm ( through no particular design or care on my part, he just grows it like that ) so hairy is definitely our look. The tradition for cob types is to have them hogged and clean shaven and nothing strips a horse of their dignity and aesthetic appeal as fast as that, in my eyes.

I see a few horses around the place with carefully trimmed forelocks wearing those fly fringes in the field. The process of removing things that our horses naturally use and then replacing them with a less refined artificial equivalent is one of the biggest ways horsey people get suckered in by marketing in this country, for sure.

Anonymous said...

After years of showing on the Arab circuit with oversized bridlepaths, excessively long tails, clipped and shaved everything - I have finaly had enough. This year my gelding is going "au naturel." He hasn't seen a clippers since last September and I don't plan on him seeing them anytime soon. I haven't quite given up combing out the mane and tail, but I'm sure I'll get there : )

Fyyahchild said...

I had to laugh. Tax is getting ready for his first show so I just clipped him up. Until now he's gone natural. His mane was down past the bottom of his neck and I thought it was beautiful. The trainer razored it straight away though. I knew it needed to happen but I miss his hair. I used to get asked a lot on trail rides if he was part andalusian. I'd just smile and say, "no, but he's got great hair, doesn't he?"

Shanster said...

Nice post! My gelding HATES having his tail messed with...he tolerates it for awhile and then he begins getting antsy and moving side to side trying to get away from me. Like you, I decided to pick my battles and mostly I leave his tail alone.

My mare has those white warty things in her ears and she can NOT tolerate a bridle going over her ears. When the warts started growing in there... I would try to MAKE her deal with the bridle. She would rear, stomp on me, shake her head, pull back violently ... she became quite dangerous about it. I tried all sorts of crap to get her to submit... nothing worked. I tried "desensitizing" her ears... touching them, rubbing them, she was no dummy and knew what was coming...she barely tolerated the touching of her ears.

One day I gave up ... I unbuckled my bridle and put it on at her poll.. slipped the bit in and bucked it all back together.

I NEVER put my bridle over her ears anymore. She stands perfectly quiet and willing. I keep her warts moist with some vaseline - it seems to help decrease the irritation ... (we tried panalog with no effect of disappearing warts) she lets me handle her ears and rub the goo in while standing perfectly still as well.

It was a good lesson to me that horses don't HAVE to submit to every little thing... that could be a good blog post maybe? Knowing the difference and picking battles?

mugwump said...

TB- I agree, some of them like it. Now that I'm retired from training I've actually got time to scratch the itchy spots on my horses. It's great.

Vaquero Girl- Me too. I was so proud of my first set of good clippers. It faded though.

fugly- I clip fetlock hair if my horses are in mud...

Horses and Turbos- I put a braid in the manes where the bridle path used to be. It's very pretty and works just fine.

Sydney - I haven't had tails get long enough to step on yet. But I guess that would trim them....

nagonmom - sigh.

mommyrides- see? Less time with the clippers, more time scratching those sweet spots!

Ruckus Butt - I could do that.

Glenatron - I also like the mustamg look she gets from letting the hair go wild.

Val and Muriel- Now that I get to choose when I show I decided when they get hairy I'll quit for the year and when they get shiny again I'll start to show. Unless it's windy, cold, or I don't feel like it. Hee hee hee.

EvenSong - It's probably when I started rethinking my program.

Shanster - I've had to do that too. My mare lets me handle her ears now. It only took six years....

I do like the idea of a post about picking your battles. I'm going to finish up the stop thing. Then I'll cover jigging for badges....
and then we
we'll go to battles.
I love having an agenda..just keep me on it folks, OK?
I have so got to get to work...

An Image of Grace said...

When I left the Western Pleasure ring for Barrel Racing, the first thing I did was let my mares mane grow! She has a crazy thick tail and I could not wait to see what her mane could do. I still keep her legs, bridle path and ears clipped. But that mane is our own personal way of rebelling!

kel said...

I love clipping and brushing and all that stuff. I find it extremely relaxing. It also forces you to put your hands on every inch of the horse. I think that running your hands over legs, feet, face etc is as important as any other task we do. Strange little bumps and lumps can come up so fast. My horse loves his "spa days" he is white so he gets them often. We have a hot water wash rack and I swear I can see/hear him go AGHHHHHHH when he gets a hot bath. He even likes his face washed if the water is hot. But I do agree with mugwump on the not brushing the mane and tail between bathes. I have found they just stay longer and less broken if you just leave them alone. I rarely comb my boys out unless he is getting a bath and tons of conditioner.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I have always gone au natural. My horses are backyard pets so there's no need to clip. I even let the bridle paths grow and just part the mane for the halters and bridles.

HorseOfCourse said...

Au naturel as much as possible.

I would never, ever clip whiskers.
I take a turn on the mane when it gets too long, and the same with the tail, and I clip a bridle path.

I very seldom shampoo as it takes the natural oil out of the coat, but I often give my horse a cold shower in the warm season - something she really loves.

I am a tack perfectionist though. I always clean the stuff after I have been riding. I love the feel and look of clean leather.

Bif said...

My current guy gets the hairs outside the folded ear clipped, a bridle path, lower legs and jaws and cheeks, because he is just so hairy. I clip about two to three inches at his withers too, because his hair grows farther down the back than most, and it would get caught up under the saddle/pad and he hated that. He gets upset when his hair doesn't lie smooth under the halter, too. You have to straighten his mane and forelock after you halter him or he fusses. Strange duck.

He does keep all his whiskers, and I don't usually clip his legs in winter unless we have a lot of snow than makes ice and he gets too much balling.

This summer I clipped his upper eye feelers off (they will curl in to his eye if I try to use a fly mask, and this year I hadn't even put a mask on yet and I noticed his forelock or whatever was causing them to curl in). He is pretty sensible about his head, hopefully he won't harm himself missing the top feelers, but since they had grown and were millimeters from touching cornea, I snipped them off.

You can see his handsomeness at

joycemocha said...

My girl likes her spa days! She actually enjoys having her muzzle clipped and will get all sleepy-eyed and relaxed while I'm trimming muzzle whiskers and jaw hairs. Her ears also look better when they're clipped, and her bridle sits better when she's got a path--but I don't do a long path.

Because we keep thinking we might go the reiner route, we keep the long mane and flowing tail. I use Cowboy Magic every once in a while and she loves the scent of that stuff. She loves having her tail groomed out and straightened out, but scissors haven't touched it at all--it's fetlock-long and will stay that way. She's very expressive with her tail and really seems to like it better when the tail's running straight and slick from CM!

I'll trace clip her in the winter just to cut back on the amount of coolout time I need to spend in the evenings. I also clip fetlocks because of wet and mud.

But she is definitely a Princess Pony and likes it when we have our "make the girl pretty!" days. I just wish she'd grow her forelock out as long as her mane and tail.

Funder said...

My horse looks like a My Little Pony. Double mane 2 feet long and still growing, curly thick tail that will brush the ground, fluffy white feathers on her fetlocks... But she hates to be groomed. She'll go to sleep while I'm brushing or braiding her mane, but she stays jiggy and irritable for anything else. So we don't do anything else! I keep her tail whacked off to the fetlocks, and I use scissors to whack off a wide bridle path and trim her jawline. The bridle path makes my life easier, and the jawline is strictly for me to admire her head.

Our sport is all about the horse's comfort. I'd get some looks if I went to an endurance ride with an unbraided mane - her neck would be so hot and sweaty, and her recovery times would reflect it! But no one expects me to thin her mane or god forbid pull it short, just do something to get it off her neck.

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