Bathing Your Horse

Man bathing horse with everything handy that he needs to get the horse bathed.
Man bathing horse with everything handy that he needs to get the horse bathed.

Why and when to bathe your horse?

How frequently a horse is bathed depends on the use of the horse, the condition of the coat, and the personal preferences of the human involved with the horse.

Essentially, there are no hard or fast rules to be followed. Some owners schedule periodic baths regularly; others bathe the horse when it gets dirty or needs to look its best.

Never bathe your horse while going barefoot for obvious reasons.

A dirty horse that has tack placed on its body is prone to trouble. Sweat, dirt or debris underneath a saddle and girth will cause chafing, itching, fungus, and other undesirable conditions, and may well affect the horse's disposition about being ridden.

The best rule-of-thumb is the one that works best for you. If your horse is a show or competitive horse, obviously you will want to bathe it frequently so it looks its best. On the other hand, if a horse is bathed too frequently, care has to be taken to make sure that the natural oils are not stripped from the horse's coat and skin.

If your horse works hard and gets dirty and sweaty, washing it down with clear water without shampoo will keep its skin and coat free of irritating debris and won't strip the natural oils.

Most people avoid bathing their horses during cold weather unless they have a protected area in which to bathe the horse and have access to warm water, as well as a place to dry the horse thoroughly, and keep him warm and free from drafts. Chilling lowers a horse's resistance to infection and predisposes some horses to respiratory disease.

Before bathing your horse

If you live in a cold climate or the weather is changeable, check the weather forecast before planning to bathe your horse. Bathing a horse is a big chore, so make sure you have the time to do it before getting started. At a minimum it will take 20 to 30 minutes to thoroughly wash and rise the horse, plus another 30 to 45 minutes to thoroughly dry it.

If you have access to a wash rack, use the hitches for tying the horse. If you are not sure how your horse will respond to being bathed, have someone help you get started and observe carefully how the horse reacts to the procedures. If the horse appears to panic, either hold off giving the bath or take your time and have someone there to help you.

Depending on your horse, you may want to use cross ties or tie the horse securely to a hitching post.

You may want to use a garden hose for your water supply, but during cold weather you will need approximately 72 gallons of lukewarm water on hand. You can purchase an electrical bucket warmer at feed and tack stores with which to heat your water supply

Wear shoes and clothes that you don't mind getting wet, but never bathe your horse while going barefoot for obvious reasons.

Assemble your supplies including:

  • Equine Shampoo
  • Equine Conditioner
  • A large body sponge
  • A face sponge usually composed to natural sea sponge because of its softness and ability to clean the delicate areas of the horse's face
  • A sweat scraper
  • A supply of drying towels
  • A cooler or sweat sheet to protect the horse from drafts during intemperate weather

The bathing process

  1. Beginning on the front left side of the horse, run lukewarm water from a garden hose, or use lukewarm water from a bucket to wet down the legs to get the horse used to the water and let it know it is going to be bathed.
  2. After the horse adjusts to the water, proceed to move the hose up to where the neck joins the head and wet the body all the way to the rear end. If using a bucket of lukewarm water, apply water with a soaked sponge.
  3. Apply shampoo to the sponge and lather the horse's coat starting at the neck and working down across the body. Scrub underneath the horse and along the back to remove any encrusted sweat and dirt that has accumulated. Wash the horse's legs and the outsides of its hooves.
  4. Once you have loosened the dirt and sweat, use the hose or water from the bucket and rinse the shampoo from your horse's coat. Be sure to rinse thoroughly since any soap or shampoo residue may irritate the horse's skin.
  5. Use the same procedure on the other side of the horse.
  6. Shampoo, condition and rinse the horse's mane
  7. Wash the horse's tail using enough lather to penetrate all the hair. Rinse and condition the tail and then rinse again making sure that all residue is thoroughly removed.
  8. Wash the horse's head. Some horse's do not like having their heads and faces washed so be gentle and considerate using lukewarm water from a bucket. Often shampoo is not needed on the head and face, and warm water will suffice to clean the facial areas and ears.  Don't squirt the horse in the face with a hose. Most horses will object and this can lead to complications the next time you want to bathe your horse.
  9. Depending on your horse, you will want to bathe the private parts of the horse on a regular basis. With some geldings, it's better to let your vet clean the sheath because a sedative may be needed before the gelding will allow the cleaning to take place. With mares, the cleaning job is relatively easy. Wearing latex gloves, clean out the waxy substance that builds up between the teats and between her back legs. Wet the areas with warm water and apply shampoo. Rinse thoroughly to remove all soap. Be cautious because the mare may not like the process and may attempt to kick you.

After the bath

Whisk away as much water as possible by using a sweat scraper.

Dry the horse's face with a towel being careful to not frighten it by letting it sniff the towel before you touch it to the face. If it is a sunny or warm day, walk your horse preferably on a hard surface or on grass to avoid any dust or dirt getting on his freshly washed feet and legs.

If the day is cool, dry the horse as well as possible using towels and cover it with a sheet that will absorb any dampness. Depending on the temperature, you may want to blanket the horse.

Never put a wet horse back in its stall, paddock or pasture. Doing so is not healthy for the horse, especially if it is cold enough that it will be chilled. Also, the horse may decide to get down and roll and most of your hard work will come to naught.

Consider this

Using a premium made-for equine conditioner on your horse's mane and tail will enhance those locks and keep them looking beautiful. If you want your horse's tail to grow, keep it loosely braided or in a tail bag.

About the Author

EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.