Learn how to bathe a horse from Mari Valceschini, an FEI dressage trainer based in Bend, Oregon.
By The Horse Staff, The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care
- Assemble Your Horse-Bathing Kit
Here are some tools and supplies you might use when bathing your horse: A rubber mitt or curry, body wash, mane and tail shampoo, bluing shampoo (if your horse has white markings), mane and tail conditioner, coat conditioner, coat polish, mane and tail comb, bucket, sponge, clean rags, cooler, sprayer, dandy brush, and sweat scraper.
- Find a Skid-Free, Mud-Free Surface
The best place to wash a horse has a surface that won’t become a mud puddle when wet. You also want a safe place to wash your horse that will drain water and won’t become slick. Gravel, textured concrete, or rubber mats will prevent horses from slipping during washing. It will also prevent the formation of mud, which can be counterproductive when cleaning a horse.
- Find a Helper, or Safely Secure Your Horse
Horses that aren’t used to baths might require an extra handler. Horses trained to stand for baths can be tied, but make sure you use a quick-release hitching knot or, if using cross-ties, quick-release snaps.
- Pick Your Horse’s Feet
Before turning on the water, clean out your horse’s feet to prevent dirt and manure from dirtying your wash rack during the bath.
- Brush Off Obvious Dirt and Bedding
Brush off any dry shavings or dirt prior to bathing, so that it doesn’t turn into mud when it gets wet.
If working on mats or concrete, give the ground a good sweep before bathing to ensure you have a clean working surface.
- Check the Water Temperature
If you’re using warm water, test the temperature with your hand before starting to rinse your horse. Valceschini prefers water that is comparable to the ambient temperature. To avoid scalding your horse’s skin, check the water temperature periodically to make sure it hasn’t fluctuated.
- Start Spraying Low and Work Your Way Up
You want to ensure your horse is comfortable with being sprayed, so introduce the water on an area of the body where he is least likely to react. Valceschini starts at the front hoof and works up to the shoulder, using soothing words to reassure the horse if he’s young.
Rinse your horse’s entire body, including the mane and tail, before applying shampoo. Put your hand on the horse if he or she feels uncomfortable, and watch that you position yourself so that the horse can’t strike or kick you. If your horse doesn’t settle, consider seeking the advice of a professional trainer or equine behaviorist.
Valceschini uses a concentrated body wash with a built-in sprayer that produces suds at the flip of a dial. If you’re using another kind of shampoo, follow application instructions found on the bottle. Some are used full-strength and others diluted.
- Bluing Shampoo
To wash white markings, Valceschini puts bluing shampoo on a rubber mitt and then uses the mitt to scrub the horse’s legs. The shampoo she uses doesn’t require diluting; however, products vary, so make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Mane and Tail
Valceschini uses a special volumizing shampoo on her horse’s mane and tail. She takes extra care to massage shampoo into the tail dock using her fingers.
- Washing the Face
Some horses tolerate having their faces gently sprayed with water on a low setting, but doing so can risk getting water and soap in a horse’s eyes and ears. Valceschini prefers to dilute gentle body wash or shampoo in a bucket …
- Use a Sponge
… and uses a sponge to dampen her horse’s face and forelock. If you’re not confident you can remove all the soap from your horse’s face. Valceschini recommends skipping shampoo and using water only. A separate clean sponge or rag can be used to wash other delicate areas, such as the teats and vulva on a mare, or the outside of a gelding’s sheath.
- Rinse Thoroughly
Valceschini removes shampoo and body wash from her horse using the sprayer’s “rinse” function. As she rinses, she uses a sweat scraper to remove water. She continues rinsing until all signs of soap and suds are gone.
- Rinse the Tail
Pay special attention to the horse’s tail, Valceschini says. If any shampoo is left on the dock, the horse will likely itch, rub, and break tail hairs.
- Condition the Tail
Valceschini applies a small amount of a leave-in conditioner to her horse’s tail. Because the mare is a dressage horse and will likely get braided after her bath, Valceschini skips conditioning the mane. This will make it easier to braid. However, she does apply mane conditioner to horses that have full manes or are not getting braided.
- Use a Wide-Toothed Comb
To avoid breaking hairs, Valceschini doesn’t brush her horses’ manes and tails on a regular basis, preferring to finger comb them instead. When they’re wet and slick with conditioner, however, she takes the opportunity to detangle manes and tails with a wide-toothed comb.
- Apply a Coat Conditioner
For horses with dry coats or that get bathed often, such as those in the show string, Valceschini applies a conditioning spray.
- The Final Polish
Valceschini finishes her horse’s bath with a polishing spray. Because it can make the coat slick as well as shiny, she avoids the mare’s saddle and girth areas.
- Applying Polish to the Face
As a finishing touch, Valceschini sprays coat polish on a clean cotton rag. She then gently uses the cloth to apply coat polish to the mare’s face.
- Apply a Sheet or Cooler
Valceschini puts a cotton scrim sheet on her horse and hand walks her while she dries. Doing so keeps the mare clean and prevents her from rolling while wet. Tip: Avoid using new sheets in bold colors on light colored horses, such as grays or pintos. The sheet’s color can bleed and stain the horse’s coat.
Reprinted with permission from The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care/TheHorse.com. Find more veterinarian-approved horse care information at TheHorse.com.