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Grooming For Glamour - Horse Bathing

By Jeffrey Rolo

Horse bathing can be a source of trepidation for you and your equine partner or it can be a relatively pleasurable experience, and whereas each horse has a varying individual acceptance of water, ultimately it is your technique that will make bathing a positive or negative experience for your horse. Luckily if you are armed with the proper equipment and knowledge, giving your horse a bath can be a snap!

Necessary Equipment:

The following equipment should be on-hand to make your horse's bath nice and smooth:

bulletHorse shampoo designed specifically for horses since the proper pH balance ensures skin and hair won't dry out or become irritated.
bulletA few half-moon (crescent) sponges. You want at least two, one for soaping and one for rinsing, but I prefer a third to handle the facial area and possibly a fourth to handle the abnormally dirty portions.
bulletTwo buckets – one for the soapy water and one with rinsing water.
bulletA sweat/water scraper – this is a plastic tool that almost looks like a giant shoehorn. It's designed to scrape excess sweat or water off a horse's skin.
bulletAn adjustable hose nozzle (optional).
bulletClean, dry towels (optional).
bulletVasoline or Garvin's ISP Ointment (optional).

Preparatory Steps:

Before you actually begin to give your horse a bath you should take the following steps:

  1. Perform a basic grooming on your horse with a curry comb and brush. You want to remove a good portion of the dirt and filth before moving on to the actual bath.
  2. Select an appropriate location for your horse's bath. Loose dirt is not ideal since the running water can make for a muddy, slippery mess in short time. Concrete is not ideal either for the same reason – not only can it become slippery, it could injure your horse if he did fall on it. Try to choose an area that will minimize the chance of a slip since a bad experience like taking a fall can cause your horse to be apprehensive about all future baths.
  3. If you are going to crosstie your horse during the bath, always make sure you use breakaway ties. You do not want your horse recoiling from the water, getting trapped in unyielding rope or chain and panicking – such a situation can hurt both you and your horse and make for a very traumatic experience.
  4. Unless your horse is experienced with baths, it is strongly recommended you have a partner to hold him via a lead. The partner can help control the horse and reassure him by petting him gently on the neck.
  5. Make sure your horse is desensitized to a hose. If your horse is apprehensive of the hose as it slinks across the ground during the bath it will be a challenging and unpleasant experience for you both.
  6. Frequent bathing can cause your horse's hooves to dry out and become brittle, so consider using a petroleum-based product such as vasoline or Garvin's I.S.P. ointment. Spread the vasoline across the surface of the hoof wall and heel. This treatment will seal the hooves from the water.

The Bath Begins

You have gathered the necessary equipment and performed the preparations… it's time to give your horse a bath! You want to start by wetting your horse down gently, starting at the hoof and working your way up the leg and body. Try to make sure the water is warm if at all possible because most horses hate an ice-cold bath as much as we do! Also remember never to spray a horse's face - when it comes time to wash the face use one of your sponges.

Be prepared for your horse to dance a bit, kick up or swat his tail during the wet down since the dripping feeling is a bit ticklish. The horse probably isn't kicking at you, so just be careful to keep your legs and feet far enough from his.

Once your horse has been wet down start applying the sudsy shampoo with a sponge. Work it in gently but firmly to take out the stubborn dirt, but remember not to allow any particular patch of shampoo to dry. This can irritate your horse's skin and remove the shine from your horse's hair. Be particularly careful around your horse's face; it is best to squeeze your sponge enough to prevent dripping, then apply it behind the ears, around the eyes (give a wide berth – you don't want soap getting in your horse's eyes) and down the nose.

Your next step is to rinse your horse off, so as with the wet down make sure you start from the hoof and work your way up. The rinsing must be thorough since any soap remnants can irritate your horse's skin. Pay particular attention to the lower belly since not only is this area easier for us to miss, it's also the area where all the soap from the back will roll down and collect. Remember not to rinse your horse's face with a direct spray; use your clean rinsing sponge instead.

When your horse has been thoroughly rinsed scrape off the excess water with your sweat scraper. Be firm enough to scrape the water yet gentle enough not to irritate your horse. Do not scrape your horse's face and be particularly careful if you decide to use the scraper on his legs – both areas are very sensitive and should be pat down with clean towels.

After removing the excess water it is a good idea to walk your horse around so that he can air dry. If you turn him out immediately after a bath it is almost guaranteed he will roll around on the floor, thereby thwarting all the efforts you just expended on making him look good.

Try not to bathe your horse too often since repeated baths can dry your horse's skin, strip the natural oils away from his coat and remove the luster from his hair. Many professionals will avoid bathing their horses except for show preparations in order to maintain their horse's coat's sheen. Of course a full bath is not the same as watering your horse down to remove the sweat after an intensive workout – such water downs are fine as long as you're careful about preventing your horse's hooves from drying out.

Many horses actually look forward to a bath once they have become accustomed to the hose, running water and process; it can be refreshing and the sponging can be soothing. Just remember to start slow and allow your horse to get used to the water. A little patience during those first few bathing sessions can create a lifetime of ease, whereas rushing an unprepared horse through a bath forcefully can create a traumatic experience and make him despise baths for the foreseeable future.

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