Updated: Feb 25, 2021
I have noticed lots of comments over on Facebook about people's ponies not loving to be brushed in the winter time. This leads to replies that vary from "Your pony probably was a show pony and has bad memories of being groomed." to "You just need to show your pony who is boss. It's trying to boss YOU."
Not all ponies who don't enjoy being brushed are being naughty or had a bad experience. In fact I would venture to say that nearly NONE of them fit in either of these categories. Most likely? Their long thick winter coat makes the brushes we are using feel uncomfortable. Whether your brushes are making static electricity, so that each time your brush touches your pony, there is a light shock (or a giant one!) or if they don't reach down through the hair, but just pull at the hair from the top (Furminator, I'm talking to you!) there can be a very good reason for their dislike.
OR they simply don't really like to be brushed. Ponies are like people, in that, some really like to be groomed and show us all their itchy spots and lean in. Others have a larger 'bubble', are more stand offish, and grooming is uncomfortable for them, no matter how kind and gentle you are. To be honest there is NOTHING wrong with a pony that doesn't like to be groomed. (I don't particularly like to be touched most of the time. I can say that is 100% fine with me!!) If you happen to have one of those ponies who don't particularly like to be groomed, it doesn't mean anything about YOU or your relationship with your pony. It just means that you will go about grooming a bit differently and will NOT use grooming or scratching as a reward when training.
Sky is one of those ponies that does not like being groomed. Yes she was a show pony for a few short years, but at 20 years old, I can confidently say that being shown for 3 of those 20 years did not make it so she doesn't like to be brushed. Also, I am the one that groomed her for those show years, she never had a bad experience, was also kindly handled, and actually does enjoy being clipped!!! She simply doesn't like to be brushed in the winter. She doesn't mind it so much in the summer. Why do I think this is?
I think that ponies grow a very long, thick and dense winter coat and brushing is uncomfortable because most of our brushes either pull the hair, tickle the top of the hair, create static electricity or are too pokey. Also, they have a long thick winter coat for a reason. When it's cold, the hair will stand up, creating an insulation between the air and their skin. If we are constantly brushing the hair and making it lay flat we could be making them feel cold. You can really see this when you pull a pony from the pasture, all fluffy, then work them a little bit, get their blood flowing and warm them up. The hair will lay flat once they are warm! Then when you put them away you can watch the hair fluff back up as their bodies cool back down.
So what do we do when we pull them from the pasture and they are covered in mud, manure and hay? We brush them! If you have a pony that doesn't like to be brushed experiment with a few different types of brushes. My ponies happen to like these three brushes in the winter time:
Epona LOVE brush: Even Sky likes this brush. When I have to brush her I do so fairly quickly, but smoothly and make sure to give her treats the entire time. By offering her treats as I work, her mental attitude stays pretty positive and she doesn't turn into a dragon. But I do not dwell on the grooming sessions with her! I think the fact that the 'bristles' are wood makes her more comfortable. They are not poky or sharp and the more you use it the more rounded the tips get. I do go through about one of these a year! I hope they never stop making them!
The next brush I use in the winter is the Urchin: This brush is great for getting down into the winter coat and brushing the mane and tail. I like this little brush because it's easy for me to hold. Zorro especially likes this brush. I would say this is a great brush for those that LIKE to be groomed as the bristles are more sharp than the Love brush above. Oliver also really likes this brush, but it took him a little time to settle in to it. It does reach down through the hair to the skin! So be gentle when using it.
The last brush I use in the winter is this red non static brush. It was designed to NOT cause static build up. I can't find this exact brush so they must not have it anymore but here is a link to a brush that is non static from the same company I bought this brush from: Wash & Groom Brush
I don't really like to the use the brushes like the one just above with the softer bristles as they don't do much good on a thick pony winter coat. But they do lightly brush the hay off if they have some on their backs and are good for brushing off the snow that can accumulate on their backs, before working them. **Side Note: If your pony does have some snow piling up on it's back, unless you are going to be working it, just LEAVE THE SNOW THERE! It acts as insulation and helps keep them warm on cold, windy days.
Zorro before I groomed him with the above brushes:
and then after!
Basically, if you aren't working your pony, then I suggest NOT grooming it very much in the winter time. At least not with brushes. If you have a blower that is a great choice as it will clean the dirt off, all the way to the skin, without causing the hair to lay down or pulling at their coat. I don't have one so my ponies stay a bit dirty. They really don't mind!