Shampoo Savvy for Best Results

Courtesy of Farnam

You’ll never catch a horse primping in a mirror. He couldn’t care less what his hair looks like, although some horses apparently think, the dirtier the better.

That said, your horse’s coat, mane and tail benefit from the same care as your own hair: Clean, nourish, detangle and protect. Don’t underestimate the cleaning part.

“The bottom line is if you just keep the horse clean, it will solve a lot of your concerns,” said Faith Hughes, DVM, DACVS.

No doubt you have a least one equine shampoo on your tack shelf, but are you using it correctly?

You may be thinking, Huh? Shampoo isn’t rocket science…you just squirt some on the horse and start washing.

And that’s the number one mistake if you’re using a concentrated shampoo.

Read the Label

Okay, confession time. When was the last time you read the directions on a bottle of shampoo? Doing so only takes a few minutes, but it can save you time and money and ensure that the product works the way you expect.

For example, many shampoos are concentrated (it will say so on the label), meaning you need only a small amount per horse. It needs to be diluted in a bucket of water, preferably warm. Concentrated shampoo is not intended to be applied directly to the horse, yet that’s what many people do, and then they wonder why it doesn’t work as advertised, or why skin concerns develop. You may be a traditional bucket-and-sponge person, but consider trying one of the shampoo bottles that attaches to your hose. This method mixes water with concentrated shampoo and the force from the applicator spray makes it easy to remove dirt and grime from the horse’s coat.

It’s especially handy if you’re in a hurry and still want to do a thorough job.

If you do use the bucket method, apply the soapy water with your sponge, but then use a curry comb or grooming mitt to work the shampoo into the hair and down to the skin. (Skip the hard curry comb on legs and faces; use a soft, nubby curry or rag instead.

Tips for Better Shampooing

Washing a horse isn’t complicated, but doing it right will give you better results.

Groom first. Before wetting down the horse, a good currying will raise dust and dirt from the skin, making it easier for the shampoo to do its job.

Don’t use human hair products, detergents or dish soap. They can leave build-up, strip oils and lack pH balance for the horse’s sensitive skin. For best results, use products formulated only for equines.

Don’t overuse it. Unless your horse is extra filthy or you’re showing the next day, shampooing once a week is plenty, if that often.

Follow label directions. You’ll get the best results if you use the product exactly as the manufacturer recommends.

Use the right amount. If the directions say two ounces will clean one horse, take them at their word and use two ounces, no more, no less. This will also save you money in the long run. “The bottom line is if you just keep the horse clean, it will solve a lot of your concerns,” said Faith Hughes, DVM, DACVS.

Use the right kind. If you’re looking for something more than just general cleaning, you’ll find a host of specialty shampoo products. For example, some are formulated to brighten white markings, while others contain color enhancers designed to bring out the horse’s natural color. If the directions say two ounces will clean one horse, take them at their word and use two ounces, no more, no less. This will also save you money in the long run.

Medicated shampoos are formulated with active ingredients meant to help certain skin conditions. For best results, ask your veterinarian to recommend the right type of medicated shampoo, and be sure to follow label directions carefully. In order to work properly, medicated shampoos must remain on the horse’s skin for a set amount of time, as noted on the label. The directions will also note how many days the product should be used for specific skin conditions.

Rinse well. Spray thoroughly with clean water until no soap residue remains, paying close attention to the mane, tail and under the belly. Use a scraper to remove water. It can be hard to get all the shampoo out of a tail with a hose and you don’t want to end up with a gummy residue along the tailbone. After hosing, follow up by dunking the entire tail in a bucket of clean, warm water and swishing. (Always opt for warm water over cold if you have the choice, as it tends to be better for rinsing and removing every trace of shampoo.)

Now that your horse is sparkling clean, take a minute to admire the results of your labor, because there’s no guarantee how long he’s going to stay that way. A good roll in the dirt seems to automatically attract most recently bathed horses.

Tip #1: Start with Nutrition
The grooming products aisle tends to be more fun to shop than the feed section, but a radiant, shiny coat starts with a quality nutrition program. You can groom for hours, but the results won’t last unless your horse is eating a complete, balanced diet with the right nutrients to have a velvety soft coat, well-hydrated skin, and a healthy mane and tail. If you have questions or concerns about nutrition, talk to your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist. Your horse may also benefit from a supplement made for hair, skin and coat.

Tip #2: Go Waterless 
Add a dry shampoo to your grooming box for days when it’s too cold to bathe or for spot-cleaning. Such products are perfect for removing manure and urine stains. Spray on the coat and leave on as directed; dirt and stains lift off with a towel.