Stables - Grooming of the Horses

Grooming Gear

Proper grooming was required and assisted in keeping the dragoon horses healthy. The horses were groomed twice a day, even if they were away from the fort on an expedition or patrol. Grooming was usually done early in the morning and during the evening as part of stable call. The basic equipment used by the dragoons to groom their horses included a hoof pick, currycomb, brush, grooming cloth, whisp and mane comb. Grooming a horse consisted of the following steps:

  1. Using the hoof pick to remove the impacted straw and manure from the horse's hoofs.
  2. Using the currycomb to raise the dirt from the horse's hair and skin.
  3. Brushing the horse's coat to remove the dirt, mud and loose hair.
  4. Using the grooming cloth to polish the horse's coat and wipe its eyes, nostrils and muzzle.
  5. If the horse was wet, a whisp made of straw or hay was used as a sponge to dry its coat.
  6. Using the mane comb to remove straw, hay or burrs from the horse's tail and mane.

The currycomb removed caked mud and loosened matted dirt in the hair, but care had to be taken not to scratch or irritate the skin of the horse.

The hoof pick, which sometimes was attached to the back of the currycomb, was used to clean the feet. Farriers could make hoof picks by straightening a horseshoe and sharpening and rounding an end, which then was bent one-quarter inch from the tip. The opposite end was made into a ring for a handle. Cleaning out the hoof prevented thrush and canker and provided healthy growth. When the hoof was washed, and oil dressing was applied to aid the horn in drying to retain some moisture and to prevent it from becoming harder than originally.

The horse brush removed scurf, dirt, and dust; it stimulated the skin, improve the coat and massaged the muscles. Grooming cloths were made from old toweling or condemned blankets. They were about two feet square and were used to wipe the eyes, nostrils and lips, rub the head, ears, and muzzle, remove dust and sweat from the elbows, under the flank, and between the hind quarters, polish the coat, and clean the dock and outside parts of the sheath.

Whisps were easily made from a handful of hay or straw and as easily discarded. Approximately one foot long and two to three inches thick, they were used to dry the horses and to loosen and remove caked mud from the legs and heads. When a whisp was made to massage the horse or improve the appearance of the coat, it was usually about ten feet long.

The grooming equipment had to be cleaned occasionally to prevent the spread of disease. This could be done by washing pieces in a strong soda solution, dipping the brushes in a strong solution of salt to stiffen the bristles, and soaking some items in a disinfectant.

Too much currying, especially in the winter, could be harmful, and officers, who insisted upon applying the rules without regard to circumstances, often injured the animals. Too vigorous use of the currycomb and brush could leave the pores open, the skin scratched, and an animal suffering in the cold all night.

The information for this section was taken from the Historic Furnishing Report for The Dragoon Stables by Sally Johnson Ketchum and from an article in Fort Scott's files called Horses of the United States Dragoons.

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Last updated: July 25, 2016

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