Tips for Bathing Your Horse

Courtesy of Farnam’s Stable Talk

Bath time is a great opportunity not only to bond with your horse, but also to give her a good “look over” for any health conditions that may escape your attention during regular grooming. A frequently asked question is, “How often should I bathe my horse?” And the answer varies greatly depending on owner preference, use of your horse, if you show or not, what the weather is and where you keep your horse. Most horses don’t necessarily need bathing — a thorough rinsing to remove sweat and loose hair is usually enough to keep their coat and skin healthy, and over-shampooing may cause dry skin and coat conditions. Of course, if you are headed for a show and she has just rolled in her favorite mud hole, a good bath may be your only option for a clean and shiny coat.

It’s important to gather the right tools for the job. A rubber curry, sweat scraper, gentle horse shampoo, mane/tail detangler, hose, sponge, towel and bucket of water are the essentials. When using a shampoo, it’s important to use only products specifically made for bathing horses, as other products can deplete essential natural oils and dull her coat.

Before the bath, give her a thorough grooming to remove excess dirt and hair. You may also want to treat your horse’s hooves with a hoof conditione as soaking hooves in water and then drying them may lead to cracking.

Start slowly; most horses love a bath, but for those that are nervous you may want to use a bucket of water in lieu of a hose, washcloth and sponge at first. Don’t introduce a horse to bathing on the coldest day of the year with an icy blast from the hose — a good guide is to ask yourself if you would feel comfortable bathing in the same conditions you’re subjecting your horse to. If not, a good going over with a warm, damp towel might suffice until the weather improves.

If your horse is skeptical about the idea of a bath, you can start by rinsing her legs first and move up the body from there. Or you can bathe in sections, like you would wash a car, starting at the neck behind the ears on one side and moving backward, then switching sides. Wash the head and tail last. For horses sensitive to water on their faces, a good wipe with a wet cloth or towel (no soap) is enough. Dunking the whole tail into a bucket of soapy water and swishing it around is a great way to rinse out dirt. When you’re finished, give her one more good rinse — you don’t want to leave any soap residue. A good idea for brushing out a wet tail is the use of a detangler.

Once she’s clean and rinsed, make sure she’s completely dry before putting her back in her stall or pen. A freshly bathed horse will almost always roll and you don’t want all your hard work to go to waste as your clean, wet horse turns into a muddy mess before your eyes.

Can’t decide if you should bathe your horse? Bathing makes good sense at these times:

  • The end of spring shed-out — a good bath can get rid of the last of the loose hair and any dirt that has built up under that fuzzy winter coat
  • If your horse is caked with mud that’s too thick to get off with a curry
  • You are preparing for an event — bathe your horse the day before show day
  • You have a light-colored horse with a stained coat and you are preparing for a show or event

After a particularly strenuous workout to remove grime and sweat from under tack

Otherwise, daily grooming and a good rinse after exercise should be enough to keep your horse clean and happy.