Head Groom for Former Technical Advisor of the US Dressage Team Anne Gribbons Shares Her Thoughts on Learning to Hear What Our Horses Have to Say

Kristen McDonald speaks with Anne Gribbons, who she has groomed for since

Kristen McDonald speaks with FEI dressage judge and former Technical Advisor to the US Dressage Team Anne Gribbons.

Kristen McDonald, groom for former Technical Advisor of the US Dressage Team Anne Gribbons, grew up a member of the US Pony Club, competing in amateur eventing, dressage, and hunter shows. She began at Anne’s training facility, Knoll Dressage outside of Orlando, Florida, as a working student before working her way up to becoming Anne’s personal groom. In DRESSAGE WITH MIND, BODY & SOUL, the exciting new book from renowned animal behaviorist Linda Tellington-Jones, Kristen shares her thoughts on the role of the groom in the dressage horse’s life:

“There is an old Irish tale that depicts the island of Inishnills, where unicorns run free. Only those who believe in the magic power of the unicorns could ever be lucky enough to witness their purity and beauty, and perhaps earn their companionship. The man who acknowledges the unicorn as sacred and treats him with love and respect will have an ever-faithful friend and partner of unparalleled magnificence.

“A good partnership works both ways. Like the unicorn who devotes himself to the man who believes in his magic, the horse will willingly carry his rider safely if, in return, the rider does everything within his means to make the experience as comfortable and safe as possible.

“As riders, we must listen to the horse and learn his language, just as the horse strives to learn ours. I believe that learning to hear what the horse is telling you starts long before you are ready to get on his back.

“As a professional groom the very best advice I can give is to know your horse and his body. Not only does this ensure you catch small physical problems (strains or injuries) before they become bigger, more painful, and more expensive to deal with, but it also helps you discover the methods of handling the horse that keep him happy and sound.

“For example, the stallion I ride loves a metal curry rubbed gently but firmly all over his back. How do I know he loves it? When I begin to use the curry in slow, circular motions, he sighs, drops his head, and sticks out his nose, indicating I found ‘The Spot.’

“Another horse in my care is incredibly sensitive to any grooming. I must move really slowly, using only the softest brushes in my kit as I try to find the places he enjoys being touched before I move on to the areas that cause him anxiety—his back and underbelly. This horse is an excellent example of one who directs me to potential health problems by using body language—he now receives chiropractic treatment for his lower back, which is sometimes sore, and is on a special diet and medication for a mild tendency to develop stomach ulcers. As I am his only groom, I am very in tune to when his ailments may be flaring up: his behavior changes in his stall, on the cross-ties, and under saddle.

“When I ride, I like to use lots of praise to reward good work. I want the horse to know he has performed well so he is happy to do it again in the future. Once mounted, I always begin by giving the horse a sugar cube before he steps off. This helps teach your horse to stand still while you mount (he’s waiting for the sugar cube!), but I also have a friend who calls the practice ‘putting a quarter in’—I’m setting my horse up for an enjoyable ride by beginning with a positive moment.

“Working for Anne Gribbons has been the experience of a lifetime. She is one of my best friends, as well as my boss and trainer, because she knows that I love her horses as much as she does and will stop at nothing to care for and protect them. I feel we owe it to our horses to treat them fairly and provide for them. We expect them to grant us a ride on their back, pull a heavy load, or breed with another horse of our choosing. More often than not, they are willing and compliant to do our bidding. Only when we have attempted to learn the language of the horse can we even begin to repay him for his service and obedience.”

You can read more about grooming for optimal dressage performance in DRESSAGE WITH MIND, BODY & SOUL, which is available now from the TSB online bookstore.

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Toothbrushing–Good Horsekeeping or Barnyard Myth?

TSB Managing Director Martha Cook brushes Buster's teeth (she claims he "likes" it).

The TSB Managing Director has been spending her time in interesting ways of late.

She’s been brushing her Morgan gelding’s teeth. “The vet recommended at least once a day,” she says, “but I’m feeling pretty good if I manage it a couple times a week.”

Brushing his teeth? Now where in my old Pony Club Manual did it explain this process? Where in The Whole Horse Catalog did it depict the correct equipment for such a venture?

Are equine tooth brushes different? Are they bigger? Are they GIANT?

What kind of toothpaste do you use? Peppermint? All natural?

I’ve brushed my dog’s teeth….and that seems strange, a bit forced, and not at all significant as a means of preventive practice (his breath still borders on stinky and we’re “boning up” for another $400 trip to the vet for tartar removal in a few months). And, when I ask other dog owners how often they brush their dogs’ teeth, more often than not they claim they never have and don’t see any reason to start…which always leaves me feeling like I’ve been “had” by our veterinarian and her staff…

Buster appears unconvinced that the benefits of oral hygiene are indeed worthwhile.

So what good is it when it comes to dental hygiene in the horse (other than providing large animal vets an occasional giggle?)

According to Martha, her gelding tends to build up far more tartar than most horses do. Her vet has noted its unusually significant occurrence, pondered it, and although the reason for this phenomenon is still a mystery, with his many years of Morgan-old-age still before him, it seems worth it to give a little daily tooth scrub a try.

But his teeth really do look GREAT!

“Tartar is the thick, hard, yellow-gray substance that most commonly forms at the base of the canine teeth in geldings and stallions and sometimes at the base of the incisor teeth,” reports TheHorse.com (Your Guide to Equine Health Care). “If left to build up, the tartar will eventually irritate the gum surrounding the tooth and might cause bleeding and discomfort. Tartar removal is part of any regular comprehensive dental examination, which is recommended for all horses. Your veterinarian can show you how to remove any tartar between visits.”

Martha says she is using a regular old human toothbrush and some baking soda–and that her Morgan kind of likes it! We’ll check back in a few months from now with a progress report and let you know if he still does…and if the whole rigamarole seems to be having any (positive?) effect!

Are you brushing YOUR horse’s teeth? If you are, tell us what you’re using, how long you’ve been doing it, and whether it seems to keep your equine’s pearly whites, well, pearly white! We–and a whole bunch of other horse owners with extra time on their hands–want to know!

And, if you’re looking for a fabulous guide (with some of the most impressively graphic equine oral cavity photos I’ve ever seen!) to the horse’s mouth and dental care, check out CARING FOR THE HORSE’S TEETH AND MOUTH, available at the TSB bookstore where shipping in the US is always FREE.