Being a proud new owner of a horse entails a lot of responsibilities. Taking good care of your horse is one of the many gargantuan tasks of a horse owner – including how to wash a horse, and how to clean them.
Washing a horse, especially if you are doing it for the first time, will seem a little intimidating.
This is completely normal!
Don’t be embarrassed because you’re a little nervous about what to do or how your horse might react. I mean your horse is much bigger than you and it may very well be that he doesn’t like water.
The first time I had to wash a horse, I was so nervous.
I would try and avoid doing it by giving my horse tons and tons of sponge baths using a bucket!
This guide is going to teach you the exact steps of how to wash a horse with your and your horse’s safety as the number 1 priority. Furthermore, I’ll go over some tips and tricks that you can use to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
You can use these bathing steps and techniques to keep your horse’s coat glistening, shiny, and clean. Soon you’ll be an expert at washing horses!
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Before you start sudsing your horse up
Before you actually start washing your horse, you want to go through your horse’s usual grooming ritual (establish one if there isn’t any, especially for beginners). Here’s our complete guide on how to groom horses just to give you a bit of a refresher.
This just ensures that your horse’s body is free of larger debris.
You can use both a curry comb and a dandy brush to loosen any dirt. Brush off dried mud and dirt in your horse’s legs.
Smooth and detangle the mane and tail with a wide-toothed comb. Using your fingers, work your way through the tangles and knots.
See to it that he is calmer with the idea of you fussing with him. Never start bathing a horse that seems nervous or panicky!
Get your supplies ready
Next, make sure that you have everything that you’re going to need. You will need to have the correct supplies in order to give your horse a proper bath. Here’s a list of what I would have around:
- Dry clean towels
- A sweat scraper
- A hose (for water supply) with an adjustable nozzle
- A bucket of clean, warm water
- Clean sponges
- Clean wet clothes
- Other optional grooming products (conditioner, talc, lotion, etc.)
Finally, be ready to get wet and dirty. Don’t wear anything fancy or anything that you don’t want to get ruined. Prepare a washing station where your horse can get wet and soapy as well. Ensure that the water will easily drain away.
So find a spot outside – preferably on a sunny, hot day – and tie your horse up with a quick-release knot or (if you have it) a quick-release clip.
Always keep in mind that your horse is sensitive to sudden changes in temperature. He can get easily chilled during the cold weather. With this in mind, you should always bathe your horse on sunny and warm days.
It is advisable to tie up your horse using use a knot or clip you can quickly untie with a slight tug on the knot.
This will be very helpful in case your horse gets really frisky or spooked while he’s being washed, he doesn’t hurt himself trying to run away.
If you notice that your horse is getting out of control and he just wants to bolt, the best thing to do is release him and let him go. Otherwise, you could be risking injury to your horse as he tries to escape.
Hopefully the farm or barn area that you’re in is fenced in overall. But either way, you’re choosing the lesser of two evils by letting your horse run and get away from the situation so he can’t hurt himself by trying to break free.
How to wash a horse
Step 1 – Wet the horse from the hooves up
The first thing you want to do is wet your horse before applying shampoo.
When you’re doing this – a good way of remembering what to do is to think of how you like to get in the water. Maybe if it’s a very hot day you’ll dive right in but generally you’ll walk in getting your feet wet first and then work your way up to swimming.
Same thing goes for your horse!
The rule of thumb in washing a horse is to start wetting from the hooves and then work your way up to his back.
This will allow your horse to adjust rather than startling him with the cool water. So if you’re using a hose, then hose from the hooves first and slowly bring the water flow up the legs and then eventually across the back – spraying water away from his face.
Never wet your horse’s head unless he is clearly enjoying the bath and having a great time.
You can either use a hose or sponge soaked in water to wet your horse. Some horses do not like getting hosed down, so this is something you should consider.
Even if you are washing your horse on a really hot day, your horse should never be suddenly immersed in water.
Your horse is sensitive to quick temperature changes and you want to bring his body temperature down slowly.
Furthermore, he’s much more likely to spook if you suddenly are spraying his whole body than if you work up from the hooves.
Never have the horse on a harsh spray setting because this also might spook your horse. Ideally, you want the water just running out of the hose in one smooth stream. The good news is that most horse start to calm down once they are totally wet.
One last thing is you want to avoid spraying or hosing directly on your horse’s sensitive areas, namely, the face, genital area, and anus. Take extra care and use gentle strokes when washing these sensitive areas.
Rigorous washing and scrubbing may bring pain and discomfort to your horse.
Step 2 – Don’t use shampoo for sensitive areas
For your horse’s face, you want to take a sponge, soak it into a bucket of warm water, and squeeze off any excess water.
Gently wipe down your horse’s face in the direction of hair growth. You want to make sure that you squeeze out the extra water so you don’t get water in your horse’s eyes as he won’t like that.
Do not use soap to cleaning your horse’s face.
If their face is really dirty, constantly replenish your bucket with clean water. Repeat this as many times as necessary in order to get your horse’s face clean. You can tell that this horse below did not like getting soap in his eyes!
For the genital and anus areas, you may want to have someone more experienced to help you in washing them.
It might be a good idea to let them demonstrate exactly how to do the next steps just because your horse will be more prone to spook or get upset. Always use a different washcloth for these areas.
For male horses, you want to take this opportunity to clean their sheath and penis. You can do this using clean cloths or cotton wool. You want to wet them and very gently wipe down the sheath and the penis.
Be very delicate and also remember to keep your eye out for any abnormalities. Don’t use the cloth or cotton wool that you’ve used for this for anything else as it can transfer harmful bacteria.
Next you want to clean the anus of the horse, regardless of gender. Wipe the anus gently and have fresh, clean clothes handy so you can switch every time one gets dirty.
For female horses, their genitals will be right below their anus so make sure you are not wiping towards or on this area as you can transfer harmful bacteria.
Also, it’s very important not to stand directly behind the horse but always to one side. Be extremely gentle.
Step 3 – Lather the rest section by section
Shampooing your horse section by section will help you make sure that you will not miss any spots. Also, it prevents the shampoo from staying on your horse’s coat for too long and drying out. This will dull his coat and isn’t good for his skin.
To shampoo different sections of your horse, take a dollop of the shampoo on a cloth per section of your horse or as instructed by the bottle and work the shampoo into your horse’s coat. Lather the shampoo onto the coat in a circular motion.
Once you’ve done lathering one section, rinse the shampoo off (see Step 4) immediately before you proceed putting soap on the next section. Repeat these steps until you’ve washed every section.
Below you can see this Percheron has soap everywhere! Although he may look adorable with all the suds, this is not ideal because some of the areas that were soaping may already be drying out and doing some damage to the coat.
As I mentioned before, the one section you want to avoid using shampoo on is your horse’s face and genital areas. The shampoo isn’t good for these areas and may cause irritation. Also, your horse will not like it in his eyes — even if it’s non-stinging. If it is stinging then he really won’t like it!
Step 4 – Rinse the shampoo off before it dries out
After you shampoo each section, you want to hose that section off right afterwards. This will prevent certain areas from drying up, which will negatively affect your horse’s coat and skin.
When you’re hosing off the shampoo you want to make sure that you don’t leave any foam or shampoo residue on the horse. Same as if you leave it on too long, failing to completely rinse off all the shampoo isn’t good for your horse’s coat.
Again, make sure you hose your horse down with a steady stream of water. You don’t want to spray your horse with a forceful water current.
This means it’s going to take a little bit longer to get the soap off but your horse and his coat will be a lot happier.
Step 5 – Finish up with the mane & tail
You should have already detangled and combed through your horse’s mane and tail before starting to wash them as part of the general grooming process. It’s better to detangle the mane and tail when they’re dry to avoid breakage because the hair will be weaker when wet.
If your horse’s mane and tail aren’t wet yet, you want to wet them now.
For your horse’s tail, you can mostly dip it into a bucket full of water, shake it around and then squeeze the water out. Repeat this until the dirt is mostly out.
You can do this because wetting the tail doesn’t cool down the horse’s body at all. For the top of the tail that you can’t get into the bucket, you can wipe it down with a sponge.
Remember, as with everything you do behind your horse, don’t stand directly behind him. Always stand to one side or another so just in case the horse gets upset or scared and decides to kick. That way you won’t be in range.
For the mane, just use the hose to wet it. Then simply, shampoo both and rinse! You can also use mane and tail conditioner and then rinse that out also. Conditioner will make your horse’s mane and tail softer and smoother. Just make sure to follow the instructions that are outlined on the bottle.
Step 6 – Drying properly is crucial
Once there is no more shampoo residue left, you can start drying your horse.
Never leave your horse dripping wet, especially if it’s cold or cloudy outside. The water in his coat will prevent him from properly maintaining body temperature.
Using the sweat scraper, you can scrape the excess water off your horse. Move the scraper in the same direction of the hair growth. Keep doing this until your horse is just a little bit damp. You can also wipe your horse down with towels if you don’t have access to a sweat scraper.
It will take quite a bit longer if you do this but it’s very important that you make sure to get him as dry as possible.
When drying out the mane and tail, do not use a comb trying to detangle any knots. Use your fingers to gently comb through.
After the horse is just slightly damp, you want to let him completely dry off. First, you should walk him for about ten minutes just to get his circulation going and to warm his muscles up. After that, if it’s a warm, sunny day, you can turn him out. If it’s cold outside, very windy or cloudy, then put a breathable blanket on him and keep him inside.
Some specialty tips and tricks for how to wash a horse
- If you were just riding your horse, then make sure that he’s completely cooled down before you start washing him. This goes back to the fact that you really want to avoid changing your horse’s temperature suddenly. Keep everything as gradual as possible.
- For your very first wash, you might want to avoid using shampoo at all. This is just in case your horse ends up really hating water. If you don’t use shampoo then you won’t have to worry about getting it off.
- If you are handling a show animal, how to wash a horse is a little different. Show horses generally need to be shampooed more than once a month. If this is the case, they may not be as able to cope with different temperature conditions outside so you might want to stable them more often on colder, windier days.
- Next, you want to keep in mind that horses often like to roll right after they’re washed. This can be particularly annoying if you’re washing your horse for a show. You can’t very well go into the competition with your horse covered in mud!
- Lastly, just remember to be careful when you’re choosing shampoos and conditioners for your horse. Just like for humans, some products are a lot harsher than others. In the long run, your horse’s coat is going to look a lot duller and be less healthy if you’re using a very harsh product. How to wash a horse is partially in the tools you’re using!
The main ideas to remember
Above all else, remember to stay safe and keep your horse safe. Always use common sense and try and put yourself in your horse’s position, remembering that your horse is a flight animal and runs when he’s scared.
Also, keep in mind that everything you’re doing needs to be gradual and gentle. Don’t be too sudden with temperature changes, don’t pull or tug on your horse suddenly, and definitely don’t scream or run or jump. All of these things may spook your horse and put both you and him in danger.
Other than that, how to wash a horse is just wet, lather, rinse, and repeat except for sensitive areas that are cleaned only with water. And then dry everything as much as possible so your horse doesn’t chill.
If you know that your horse is not a fan of baths and it’s your first time, it’s probably a good idea to have someone around.
Lastly, if your horse is sick or injured, consult your veterinarian first before giving him baths. Make sure your horse is in good health before you start bathing him.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask people how to wash a horse – even if it’s not your first time!
Some horses can be more difficult than others and may need more than one person to bathe them.
If you follow this guide and do it a few times, soon you’ll be so comfortable bathing horses, you’ll be able to do it in your sleep. Other people will be asking you how to wash a horse!
If you have any specific question about how to wash a horse or questions about your horse in particular, don’t hesitate to ask them below and I’ll be more than happy to help 🙂
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