Seeing the horses get so wet made me think about grooming. Here are my three reasons for grooming my horses as often as I can:
1. For the health of the horse. Cleaning up your horse - even if it's just knocking the mud off with a curry or picking their feet - can really contribute to their health. Skin problems can develop as a result of insufficient grooming, and if your horse is prone to such things, frequent grooming (with brushes that are cleaned frequently and not used on a bunch of different horses) can help. The motions of grooming, particularly currying with a rubber curry and brushing, stimulate the skin and underlying tissues, improving circulation. Grooming also - and this is where the rain got me thinking - brings up the natural oils in the horse's coat, improving their weatherproofing. I like those very soft small rubber curries for this - when we were showing our horses never needed any Showsheen because they were shiny already from the groomings and a wipe-off with a soft cloth. Frequent hoof picking can head off some abscesses - would you like to stand all night with a rock in your shoe? - and are a must for horses that are prone to thrush. I also pick feet before and after every ride, for the horse's comfort and health.
2. To assess the horse's health and mental/emotional state. When you groom your horse, you have a chance to look at every square inch of your horse's body, and assess any lumps, bumps, scrapes or other ouchies. I've also found that the horse's behavior during grooming may tip you off to other issues, such as soreness or cramped muscles, or ulcers or poor saddle fit, or even impending colic. One thing I like to do during grooming is to run my hands over the whole horse, including the legs - sometimes our hands will pick up things our eyes miss. If you do this frequently, you'll know what's "normal" for your horse, which can allow you to more quickly detect a problem and can avoid alarm if a bump has been there all along and isn't a problem. If I feel a tense muscle or the horse tells me they want an area massaged, this gives me an opportunity to do this as well - although sometimes this isn't enough and the horse will tell me we need to call the chiropractor. Grooming time is also a great way to tell how the horse is feeling inside - you can tell if their behavior is normal for them or if they are worried about something - it's often a good predictor of how the ride is going to be and what you may need to work on.
3. To build a relationship with the horse. I just love grooming - I think I actually may like it even more than riding. When we groom, we're on the same physical level as the horse, and they can look at us and interact with us. Many horses enjoy grooming as long as we're not too rough or in a hurry - a horse that is concerned about grooming or doesn't like certain areas touched may have some health issues that need addressing - soreness that may require veterinary or chiropractic attention, saddle fit issues or ulcers. Grooming provides a calm space before you ride or do other work with your horse, and can set the tone. It also can provide great training opportunities for you and your horse, such as your horse learning to stand still and you learning to really focus on your horse and what the horse is trying to tell you.
And here are my three reasons to clean tack - which includes cleaning/laundering saddle pads and cleaning anything else that touches the horse, such as boots:
1. For safety. If you don't clean your tack frequently, you may miss that rein, stirrup leather or latigo or billet that's about to break - frayed stitching or stretched holes mean it's time for repairs or replacement. I've seen people have tack break, and believe me it can be ugly - you can end up on the ground or under your horse, and a broken bridle may be even worse. I try to wipe down my tack frequently - I only use a sponge dipped in water and squeezed out and bar glycerine soap - and try to take apart my stirrups/leathers and bridle completely on a regular basis to thoroughly clean them, and really clean the saddle - lifting up all the flaps and getting into all the crevices.
2. For the comfort of the horse. Any part of your tack that touches the horse - particularly girths, saddle pads and bits, needs to be clean. How would you like to have to wear a bit that is crusted and filthy - horses have extremely sensitive mouth tissues - or a girth that is covered in sweat and hair - a great opportunity for girth sores - or a saddle pad (think your own t-shirt but with weight on top of it) that is stiff with sweat and dirt? I religiously rinse my bit and clean my girth every day - it's takes only a couple of minutes but it's worth it for my horse's comfort. I also clean my saddle pads frequently.
3. To preserve the tack. Frequent cleaning of the tack helps preserve the leather and keep it supple and more rain-resistant. I've tried lots of different tack cleaners, and some of them have a tendency to make the tack, well, "tacky" to the touch. I keep it simple now, and only use, as noted above, a small sponge, some water squeezed out and bar glycerine soap. It works for me. A seriously stiff or moldy piece of leather might require more that that, but 99 percent of the time the glycerine bar works - it's cheap and it lasts a long time.
If there are young people in your horse life, I hope they learn the benefits of grooming and cleaning tack - and for that matter, cleaning stalls! These reasons are a big part of why I'm not a big fan of full-service barns where the riders don't groom and tack up their own horses and don't have responsibility to ever clean tack or a stall. I think they give a distorted picture of what it means to own and care for a horse, and can lead to thinking of the horse as just another piece of equipment - I'm sure all riders at full-service barns don't do this but it can happen. I also think riders at these barns miss out on some of the most interesting and useful aspects of being with horses and also miss out on some learning opportunities. That said, there are certainly valid reasons for full service, such as a rider with disabilities or recovering from an injury, and sometimes horses on full service get better and more consistent care than they would from their owners.
Enjoy your day with your horses!