How to Bathe a Horse

Get your pony squeaky clean in 10 easy steps.

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Bathing a Horse in a field
Photo by Elizabeth Moyer

Giving your horse a bath might seem like a simple task, but there is definitely an art and a science to doing a good job. Read on to learn how to bathe a horse AND find out the tips and tricks that pro grooms use. When I was a professional groom, I learned a ton by readying four horses for shows every weekend. (Hint: the gray horse took at least twice as much effort as the bays and chestnuts!)

STEP 1: Gather all of your bathing materials together. You will need: a bucket, sponge, rag, grooming gloves or bath mitt, shampoo, conditioner, sweat scraper, comb and a towel. If your horse is gray or has lots of white markings, invest in a separate whitening shampoo.

STEP 2: Heated water will make all the difference in your horse’s cleanliness and comfort, if available. Spray him from neck to hooves with warm water to thoroughly wet him down. Dunk your sponge into a large bucket of warm water, lightly wring it out, put about a tablespoon of shampoo on it, and get the suds going. Rub the sponge all over your horse, adding more shampoo and water as necessary.

Young Rider Magazine LogoSTEP 3: Use your grooming glove or bath mitt to scrub the shampoo down to the skin; switch to whitening shampoo on the white markings and areas (and let those sit a little longer).

STEP 4: Rub some shampoo between your hands and work it into the crest of the mane and the tailbone.

STEP 5: The rinse is the most important step. Using warm water on the highest pressure stream your horse will comfortably tolerate, start at the top of his neck and go with the hair direction down his back and legs. Make sure to use your fingers on his mane and tailbone to get all the residue out. Repeat your rinse to get all the way down to the skin until no suds remain.

STEP 6: Run your sweat scraper from head to toe to squeeze the water out of the hair.

Washing the tail
Work conditioner into the mane and tail and leave in for several minutes before rinsing. Photo by Elizabeth Moyer

STEP 7: Massage conditioner into the mane and tail; re-suds the white areas and markings and let the soap sit for a few minutes if they still look yellow- or green-stained.

STEP 8: Use a sponge or rag to wet down your horse’s face. Don’t spray it with the hose! Suds up your sponge and gently massage his face, paying extra attention to white markings. Avoid the eye area.

STEP 9: Dunk a clean sponge or rag into water, wring a little water out, and wipe down the face a few times until no soap remains.

STEP 10: Rinse conditioner and remaining whitening shampoo off; follow up with the sweat scraper. Rub with a dry towel to get more water off if it’s cold or your horse has long winter hair. Carefully comb out his mane and tail.

That’s it! You’ve learned how to bathe a horse. Now graze your horse in the sun until he’s dry so he doesn’t immediately roll and undo all of your work. Put a sheet on him if he lives in a stall, especially if you want him to stay extra-clean for an upcoming show.

This article about how to bathe a horse appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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Holly Caccamise has been with Horse Illustrated and Young Rider since 2007, and in August 2019, she took over as head editor. She’s been instrumental in the production of both magazines and helped Horse Illustrated win a 2018 American Horse Publications Media Award in the General Excellence Self-Supported Publication (circulation 15,000 and over) category. Before getting involved in the editorial side of print media, she worked as an award-winning ad copywriter for Thoroughbred Times magazine. Caccamise has her MS in Animal Science from the University of Kentucky, where she studied equine nutrition and exercise physiology, and her Bachelor’s from UCLA in Biology. Caccamise has also worked as a research assistant, horse camp counselor teaching riding and vaulting, and as a top-level show groom in the eventing world, where she continues to compete her horse, Artie, at the lower levels.

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