From Endurance to Dressage
We all know I adore my boys, Speedy and Izzy. They get everything they need from timely farrier work, chiropractic/body work as needed, and visits to the vet for regular care (and emergency treatment when life goes sideways). They also get high quality forage and supplements based on each horse's requirements and overall health. The one thing that I don't spend as much time doing is grooming and pampering. My boys are always presentable, but no one ever oohs and ahhs when one of them walks by.
Speedy always cleaned up nicely, but keeping a gray looking fabulous during the winter is nearly impossible, especially if your horses live outside like mine do. With that being said, that doesn't mean I couldn't do just a little bit more to smooth down some of the rough edges. Izzy's braids were a bit wonky for the last two shows, and his tail just won't get full at the ends. I keep it trimmed, but it is perpetually thin at the bottom. Now that he's on prednisolone for his allergy to the gnats, he's no longer rubbing his mane and tail out, and his skin is free of rubs and wounds. I'd like to keep it that way and maybe even get him looking a little sharper for the rest of the show season.
I recently connected with Cassandra Rabini, a young professional working in the San Diego area. Long before I started training with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, Cassandra had been Chemaine's assistant. As many talented trainers who are just going out on their own will do, Cassandra headed to both Florida and Europe to further her education. As a CDI groom, she's worked with some big names in the sport of dressage and has now gone out on her own. Along with her business partner, Kelly Phillips, the two ladies run First Gem Dressage, a training, coaching and sales barn in San Diego, California.
Knowing that Cassandra has gained a wealth of experience while working with some top riders, trainers, and grooms, I asked if she'd be willing to share some tips with me about how I can get Izzy looking just a bit more polished. To my relief, I am not totally screwing up; I do do many of the things that Cassandra suggested, but after reading her answers to my questions, I realized that there is more that I could be doing. Here are some of Cassandra's tips for bringing out the best in your horse.
What do you recommend for getting a really shiny coat?
"Use a metal curry comb every day in firm, circular motions followed by a stiff, dense brush (I love HAAS brushes) these clean very well and will bring out the coat’s natural oils. I like the Epona Glossy Groomer for face, legs, and for “currying” in shampoo during bath time as well. But for the body/overall coat condition, a classic metal curry with firm pressure in circular motions is the best. It also gives them a great massage and is really good for their muscles."
"Add oil to the diet for lots of shine. Start with a very small amount and work up based on the horse’s weight and energy levels. About 1/4 cup a day will give lots of shine without putting on too much weight, but you can go up to 2 cups a day for a very thin horse. Gradually increase to manage energy levels. I like Havens EquiForce Oil, but flaxseed is also great and seems to be the most palatable for picky eaters. If you are on a budget and buying from the grocery store, choose canola oil over corn or vegetable oil for best omega ratios."
"For scratches/fungus/rainrot, use dish soap! I love Ivory dish soap because it is ph balanced and gentle enough to use daily. I scrub my horses' legs with this every time I shower them, and it keeps any gunk or fungus from forming. For very stubborn spots, I will wash with Dawn dish soap, towel dry completely, and spot treat with witch hazel until it goes away. If the fungus is very bad and already a scab, I will use alcohol on it for the first 1-2 days to really kill it, but then I switch to the more gentle witch hazel, as the alcohol will dry the skin. The most important step when dealing with scratches is to keep it clean and DRY. Keep legs clipped if you can so they dry quickly and completely. Don’t put your horse away wet, towel dry, then sun dry and feel with your hands to be sure your horse is bone dry before putting them away.
What about tails? I would really like to get Izzy's looking fuller and more healthy.
"I wash tails 1-2 times a week with a moisturizing shampoo, followed by conditioner. My favorite is the E3 Elite Equine Evolution Argan Oil Shampoo and Conditioner. It smells amazing and makes the hair so soft and shiny. Another cheap, drugstore alternative I love is Dove Intense Moisture Shampoo. Really scrub the tail dock and get in there with your nails, especially if the horse is prone to rubbing. I also wipe their bums, and everywhere under their dock, every day with either baby wipes or a damp cloth, especially when it’s warm; they sweat and can chafe under there."
"I NEVER brush the tail wet or without spraying some show sheen in. To avoid breaking tail hairs: brush carefully and consistently, every day. Spray Show Sheen in first, then start from the bottom and slowly work up. If the tail is freshly washed, spray with Show Sheen, then brush the next day when dry. For chestnuts with thin tails, don’t brush - just pull the hairs apart with your hands and remove any shavings (tedious but effective)."
Any advice for keeping hooves looking healthy and shiny?
"A step that I think often gets overlooked, and I didn’t completely understand until I worked in Germany, is that they keep the hooves over there PRISTINE. It makes such a difference, both aesthetically and for hoof health. Keep the hoof clean and picked out, as well as brushed-out inside the hoof. This includes after riding; brush/pick out arena footing (there’s always a hoof pick at the entrance of the indoor arenas), and also use a wet, very stiff brush to clean any manure or dirt off the hoof and apply hoof oil. Use the hoof oil inside and out, every day, especially in our dry west coast climate. It keeps the perfect balance of moisture in the hoof which makes them look amazing for show day."
"My hero product is Birdsall's Farrier Barrier - I used this every day in Florida with fantastic results. It doesn’t dry out or harden the hoof, but it really helps strengthen and improve the integrity of the hoof, especially around cracks or for tender feet. It also really helps with thrush/bacteria and is great for muddy winter times, as well as summer when they are having to be bathed frequently. I put it inside the hoof, between the hoof and the shoe, and around the nail holes or any other cracks. Do not put it on the coronary band, as per the label’s instructions. Other great hoof products I like are Absorbine Hooflex Conditioner and good old Rain Maker."
While I certainly don't do all of the things Cassandra recommends (I'm busy, my boys live outside, etc.), there are many that I already do: both of my boys enjoy a gentle curry, but they prefer plastic or gel curries. I also feed milled flaxseed - oil got too messy, and it gets HOT here in the summer time. Oils don't do so well stored in high heat. I also use Knotty Horse Mane and Tail Treatment and Detangler on my horses' manes and tails, and I always start from the bottom and work my way up gently.
There are a few things that I think I can do better, namely keeping Izzy's feet cleaner. While I pick them out, I never add any type of conditioner, but I think his hooves could use it. I also like Cassandra's idea of cleaning the tail dock with a gentle soap. Izzy does rub his tail dock, so does Speedy for the matter. I imagine doing more than a quick hose off might keep that area feeling less itchy. I hate monkey butt myself, but I never really considered that my horses might enjoy getting cleaned up "down there" as well.
I am hoping Cassandra might be willing to answer even more questions. I have a few about braiding and tack cleaning.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: