Tips for Bathing Your Horse

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Bathing a Horse

It’s amazing that horses agree to our strange requests—and this includes wearing a flashing Rudolph nose and reindeer ears at Christmas. But every now and then horses draw the line at some sort of human behavior. Baths often fit into this no-go area. While most horses could care less about a shower, others fight it tooth and hoof. If your horse is one of these, he may have started to dread bathing due to bad experiences in the past—a slip and fall in the wash rack or maybe an unenlightened individual sprayed him straight in the face. Or he’s just one of those sensitive souls. Whatever his issue, here are some tips to help make bath time a more pleasant experience—for you and your horse.

Attention to Safety

  • Concrete wash racks must be non-skid to avoid falls. If your concrete isn’t texturized, put down strong, texturized rubber matting or lining.
  • Have a friend hold your horse, or wrap the lead rope loosely around the wash rack railing. If your rack has cross-ties, make sure they are fitted with panic snaps (panic snaps should ideally be at the pole, not the halter end of the tie). If your horse should pull back, you want to be able to release him as quickly as possible.
  • Watch your hose. Never let your hose get under your horse’s feet, particularly the nozzle. If he steps on the nozzle and it breaks, a gush of water could suddenly spray up and startle him. If your horse is afraid of the hose, then it’s important to be extra diligent in keeping it off the ground and away from his legs. Overcoming a severe hose fear may require a lot of short sessions, with a great deal of praise and treats. Re-introduce the hose to your horse slowly. If the washrack causes added fear, pick a grassy area. Try spraying his front legs lightly at first, moving up and back as the horse’s comfort level increases.

Attention to Comfort

  • Outfit your hose with an adjustable plant sprayer. Look for one that has several adjustments, including one for misting.
  • Start hosing at your horse’s legs to allow him to get used to the temperature slowly, like stepping into a pool.
  • Avoid spraying your horse directly in the face. Turn your nozzle to mist, start at his cheek and very slowly play the hose down along his face. Use a damp sponge to clean his ears and poll.
  • Purchase a heating coil. You can heat a bucket of water and use it for your rinse water. The warm water will help relax your horse and make for a more pleasant experience.
  • Be ready with an anti-sweat sheet or cooler to keep your horse warm and free of drafts.
  • Reward your horse with treats during and after the bath. If you make the time a pleasant experience he’ll begin to look forward to bath time.

Attention to Time

  • Don’t wait until a day before the competition to teach your horse about baths. Give him a short wash every day (no longer than five minutes); it doesn’t have to be the works, you can wash his legs or tail. You can increase the time as he gets comfortable.

Read on for more grooming tips.

Sharon Biggs is a freelance writer based in England.

35 COMMENTS

  1. If you use a expensive shampoo, you can dilute it with water. Just add alittle “elbow grease”, and you can get your horse as clean as you would with straight shampoo, yet cut back on the expense!

  2. An OK article, could have spent more time on how to give the horse a bath instead of getting it introduced to the hose, and waiting for the horse to calm down.

  3. Good article, another suggestion is, to get my Hackney mare used to water, I placed her apples in her water trough. apples float, and she wanted those treats…so she got accustomed to getting wet. Now bathing is NO problem

  4. This comment refers to the article on bathing your horse. I found the article to be most helpful. I gave my horse a bath yesterday and found that he did not like the cold water that comes from a well at the Stables. Since my horse, Morgan, doesn’t like the sound of spraying water, or how cold the well water gets, I slowly introduced him to water on his front hooves and legs. I also used a nice big sponge filled with water to sponge him with. Doing it this way enabled me to keep my hands on Morgan giving reinforcing my touch and gently talking to him, stroking his body as I washed. I also kept the bathing session short so I didn’t make him hate bath time. When he exhibited fear, I reassured him, gave him treats which distracted him, too. Thanks for the tips!

  5. Please send me any articles that endorse “only” bathing your horse NOT
    TIED UP – Bathe the horse with someone else holding it; or ground tied.
    Danger of rearing back; breaking neck; damaging property and others in
    nearby area when startled. I was always taught to bathe the horse without
    being tied up for safety reasons – – – – why all of a sudden are ALL the web sites recommending “tying” the horse up. I need some old fashioned documentation. Thanks.

  6. A good way to introduce your horse to the hose is also the way Clinton Anderson desensitizes his horses to everything- bull whips, sacks, ropes, his handy stick, everything! Where you keep the preasure on until the horse relaxes, and then you reward by realeasing the presure, and eventually he doesn’t mind. My Arabian mare used to be pretty skittish about the saddle being swung up on her back, and after a few sessinos of desensitiziing with the rope all over her body she couldn’t care less what I put on her back.

  7. My horse used to fight me with baths. I used to give her little baths, I would bath her feet, legs and butt. Then the next week I would go further. Eventually she got to the point I could wash everywhere but her neck.

  8. Great idea! I never thought about getting an adjustable plant nozzle with settings such as mist to have different options for different parts of the body!

  9. this is a very helpful article. my horse is slowly getting better with bath time. I never thought to heat the water or use a plant nozzle for baths. thanks a ton, im sure it will make bath time go much smoother next time!:D

  10. Yeah finally Great article. My horse is great when we first start out then she gets board and starts to fuss. I cant wait till next weekend to give her a bath. I gave her one this weekend so i have to wait.:0)

  11. ok who ever wrote this artical was not thinking!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not all of us have exspesive horse barns whith wash racks and safteythings on the leadrope!!!!!!!!where not all wealthy!!!!!!!!!

  12. This is very good information, this is exactly how I started my horse on baths. The wash room has heated water and he most feared the hose at first but now he walks right in, because I have been very careful with the water hose.

  13. This article was very helpful to me. I just recently purchased a Tennessee Walker Mare who was terrified of water hoses, and now she loves being bathed, and all I did was use these tips. Thank you so much for the great advice.

  14. ok safety cross ties are not expensive. And washing outdoors is just as easy. Just be sure the area doesnt get muddy. I’ve been to plenty of barns where they have no dedicated wash area. it can be done.

  15. My horse hated baths! so I decided to take her out in the yard and bathe her on a hot day. She didn’t care about the water while she was eating the grass. Now I have someone hold her while I bathe her and she eats grass with no worries!

  16. My horses like to squirt the hose at each other, or if I spray it in the air, they like to stand under it….specially if it is HOT out….but they hate baths…go figure.

  17. My 16 yr old QH gelding “Boogie” Likes baths but when I move the hose he freaks out!! And he hates it when I Spray his face.
    Anybody have an idea?
    Reagan

  18. Hi Reagan, you need to get your horse accustomed to “snake” like things. Begin to drag rope, short pieces of hose, lounge line near and around him to de-sensitize him. Always you are calm amd have treats and lots of praise so that he will hopefully associate ground movement with less fear.
    It works for my guys. Good luck!

  19. cool article!ilove it!im gonna use those awesome tips!im looking forward to summer when i can wash my horse, fred more often on really hot days! thanks for the info!

  20. hello, i liked your artical on bathing a horse BUT; i have an ARABIAN MARE THAT IS 17 YRS. OLD AND I RESCUED HER FROM A NEIGHBOR THAT BARELY FED HER LET ALONE BATHED HER.. ; MY PROBLEM IS THAT I CAN NOT EVEN WASH HER WITH A WARM CLOTH OR ANYTHING AT ALL WITH OUT HER TRYING TO KILL ME OR HERSELF..SHE IS ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED OF WATER NO MATER HOW I TRY TO WASH OR BATHE HER….DO YOU OR ANY OF YOUR READERS HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS AS TO HOW I CAN HANDLE THIS SITUATION? I’VE TRIED EVERYTHING THAT I CAN THINK OF ! I EVEN LEFT HER OUT IN THE RAIN TO SHOW HER THAT THE WATER IS NOT GOING TO HURT HER AND STILL, I CANT GET HER TO LET ME WASH HER!… I CANT EVEN SPRAY OR WIPE ON A FLY DETERRENT TO KEEP THE FLYS OFF HER WITHOUT A TREMENDOUS FIGHT….PLEASE HELP IF YOU CAN!!!THANK YOU ROGER

  21. hey roger, sorry this is rather late, I know it has been a while since you posted here.
    I might have an idea that could help. In your comment you mentioned that you could not even rub fly spray or water on her, first you need to desensitize her to rags. If you have no trouble with grooming after you are done bunch a rag together and rub it over her body, be careful around especially ticklish area such as the stomach. Work your way to where you can rub the rag any where and then gently dampen the rag and work up from there.
    Another thing you can try is gaining her trust, she was neglected and needs a strong leader to show her that that is not going to happen again. work on lots of ground work and vocal commands and, if she lets you, work on some under saddle maneuvers, soon she will learn to trust your judgment and allow you to introduce scary things like a bath.
    final suggestion, try introduce her to scary object like small plastic bags and things like that, once she gets used to things like that, bathing will be much easier.
    hope this helps!

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