The two big factors are nutrition and planning. You usually know in advance when you’re going to need your horse’s coat to be in top form, so don’t wait until the month before (or less) and try to curry them raw to get them ready. Keeping them on a healthy diet year-round is important too. The right blend of nutrients and oils can make a huge difference. Even long and fluffy, your horse’s coat should be glossy and soft. Maybe they’re not as clean as you’re able to keep them in the warmer months, but the overall condition should speak to their overall health. There are a number of supplements on the market designed to aid in shedding and maintaining a healthy coat, but your best bet is to talk with your Veterinarian to decide the best dietary options.
Assuming you horse is receiving the best nutrition and you’re working well-ahead of your anticipated show schedule, here are the basics of the Spring shed…
The tools. Your best and often simplest choice, will be a basic black rubber curry. They’re inexpensive (I believe they even come in more colors now, for those who like a bright brush box), and they usually do the best job. The rows of small, blunt, rubbery teeth are best equipped to grab loose hair, especially when used correctly, rubbing steadily in circles against their coat. Always be careful of the delicate areas, any with minimal meat over bone, like face and lower legs. Pay attention to your horse’s body language while you’re digging in. Some may be sensitive to heavy-handed rubbing and may voice their opinion with a bite or stomp.
If your horse’s coat is fluffy and ready to come free, sometimes a shedding blade or metal curry is a better option. Again, using caution with metal teeth against their skin, short strokes with the blade or curry and a wrist flip at the end can quickly rid their coat of unwanted hair that’s just barely hanging on. From experience, do yourself a favor and DO NOT apply chap stick, lip gloss, or any other sticky product to your face prior to grooming, unless you want shake n bake lips! For finishing a nearly-shed coat, the grooming blocks work well for detailing. They’re roughly the size of a sanding block, and their fiberglass/charcoal like texture grabs the fine fluff easily.
Since you’re an experienced groomer, you know that the amount of daylight plays a big role in encouraging your horse to shed. Blanketing over the cold months can assist as well in less elbow grease being needed come spring. If possible, lighting your horse’s stall so they THINK they’re experiencing up to 16 hours of daylight a day can trigger the shedding response. It’s actually similar to folks who have the SAD (seasonal affective disorder) diagnosis who use special lights to make themselves think it isn’t dark all the time, and therefor encourage a more positive outlook. I don’t really recommend heat lamps, those can go too far by creating a bigger difference between life in the stall and life outside. If they go from a warm, cozy stall to a chilly arena, it’s likely their reaction will be to blow out even more hair to stay warm. In addition, they create a potential safety hazard if they aren’t installed and used properly (sometimes even when they are).
For some people getting your horse to shed may not be as high of a priority, until your horse gets hot and sweaty on a ride, and takes FOREVER to cool back down because they’re covered in downy fluff. Body clipping can be a viable option for you. There are plenty of clipping “styles” that can be done just for the benefit of a faster cool down period, or maybe just to remind you of warmer days…
If you’ve never body clipped before, don’t be intimidated, it’s not terribly difficult, it’s just very tedious. Give yourself the day to take your time, and as many breaks as you and your horse need, so neither become frustrated with the process. I always clipped with a partner, so when my entire arm was buzzing but my horse was still standing quietly, we could tap in and out. Start with the larger muscle areas, like shoulder or hips, and work outward, similar to mowing a large field. If you really need to clip and aren’t sure how your horse might react, consider talking to your Veterinarian about a mild sedative for them, to at least buy you time for the delicate and tickly areas. Hopefully by the time it starts to wear off, they’d be accustomed enough to allow for the bigger, less sensitive areas. Also, do yourself a favor and buy a set of the painters coveralls. Even a paper jumpsuit will save you hours of discovering horse hair on you that doesn’t belong where you’ve found it. Consider goggles and hair covering as well. Grooming isn’t glamorous. The cleaner the horse, the dirtier the groom!
Clipping isn’t the overnight solution to a wooly horse, but it does cut your time down. At least if they are still shedding, the hair is shorter, and you’re closer to their skin to rub it loose. At the end of the day, nothing beats warmer weather and elbow grease. I’ve also been told a good bath can trigger a shedding spree. I don’t know too many horses though who appreciate it in the winter, even if they are indoors!
Despite having fuzzy horse hair glued to every surface, I can think of far worse ways to spend an afternoon than grooming and bonding with my horse. Use the time as an opportunity to reacquaint yourself with their topography. Remember old marks and scars, search for any new. Remind your horse of how nice the human touch can be. They’ll probably even “groom” you back a little when you hit the good spots. Try to not scold, but enjoy their reciprocal affection (unless they get really out of control and nearly knock you down, then do what you must!). Spring is a time of renewal, enjoy it, don’t dread it, and your horse will too!