Whether you’re getting ready for a horse show, preparing to body clip your horse, or just spending a warm fall day giving your horse one more bath before the cold weather sets in, here’s how I like to give a thorough and complete bath.
First thing’s first. Gather all of your supplies ahead of time. If possible, crosstie your horse somewhere that can get wet, or at least have a horse-savvy friend hold them outside on pavement, in gravel, or as a last resort in the grass. You don’t want to bathe in the mud, as this is easily splashed back up on your horse’s legs. Warm water is much more easily tolerated by some horses, and it is useful to have a good nozzle on your hose too!
1 - Thoroughly wet your horse starting with their front legs to allow them to get used to the water temperature, then work your way up their neck and then back towards their tail. With a little water pressure, you can get a lot of the dirt and dried sweat loosened up. Don’t forget to wet their mane and tail, as well as under their belly and tail. You should gently wet their face, with minimal pressure from the hose, or even with a clean sponge. Avoid getting water in their ears. After this step, there shouldn’t be a dry spot on your horse.
2 - Squirt some shampoo into a bucket and dilute it by filling the bucket with warm water. I highly recommend a tea tree oil based shampoo. My favorite one is “Lucky Braids” brand. Be aware that cheaper shampoos will strip the coat of oils, and may actually make the horse more suseptible to dry skin, rainrot and other coat conditions.
3 - I like to take the tail and dip the whole thing in my bucket of soapy water. This is a good way to make sure you get the inside of the tail wet, and allows the shampoo to start working at loosening any manure or haircare products.
4 - I use straight shampoo on the mane and the base of the tail, being sure to scrub down to the roots with my fingertips. If you can pull your horse’s forelock back behind his ears, it is easier to wash here. If not, I will wash the forelock later when I wash the horse’s face.
5 - I also use straight shampoo on the legs, from the knees or hocks down, especially on white socks.
6 - Once the mane, tail, and legs are soaking, I start sponging the soapy water all over the horse, starting at the neck and working my way down and back. Be sure to get everywhere, under their tail, under their belly, betweek their legs, etc. (Although I save the face for last!) If you are getting ready for a bodyclip, or if your horse is just really fuzzy or dirty, it is beneficial to scrub with a rubber curry comb at this point too.
7 - The last thing I soap up is the horse’s face. Rinse your sponge and use very diluted shampoo on the horse’s face. Pay attention to the places your halter and bridle sit on their face, and also under their jaw. Don’t forget their forelock if you haven’t washed it yet. If your horse doesn’t like to have their face washed, try to gradually get them used to it. You can use a step stool, and even a small tack sponge. Most horses will tolerate their cheeks and jaw better than the front of their face. Be patient and take your time in teaching your horse to accept this.
8 - Rinse. Now I start with the face. Gently rinse all of the shampoo out of their forelock and off of their face either with a light spray from the hose, or a freshly rinsed sponge. Keep working at it until their face is squeaky clean, literally. Then begin rinsing their mane and neck, then their back, and then work your way down. Remember that water runs down, so it is helpful to get all the soap off of the top of the horse before you focus on their belly or legs. Often I will rinse one side, then go to the other, and finally come back to the side I started on to get any shampoo than ran over while I was rinsing the second side. I end by thoroughly rinsing the tail and the legs.
9 - Use your hands to squeeze extra water out of the mane and tail, then use a sweat scraper to remove as much water from the horse’s body as you can. I run my hands down each leg, squeezing as much water off of the legs too. If at any point you find bubbles, you need to go back to rinsing and get all the shampoo out.
10 - Towel dry the face and the legs. This is very beneficial in preventing scratches and rain rot, and it allows you to see how good of a job you did scrubbing those legs.
11 - Use a conditioner or detangler on the mane and tail (Unless you are braiding! A conditioned mane will not hold braids.), and comb out each, starting at the bottom of the tail and forelock to avoid pulling hair out unnecessarily.
12 - Allow the horse to dry completely on the crossties, or better yet, outside in the sun while you handgraze them. Wait until they are completely dry before you turn them out or put them in their stall. This will help prevent a lot of skin conditions as well.
13 - Step back and admire your work! Your horse will be ready to bodyclip, as soon as they are dry, or ready to look stunning in the show ring.