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Bathing: How much is too much?


“How often should you wash a horse in the non show season? I rinse him off after hot work days but don’t want to over strip his natural oils.” – Valerie P.S. via Facebook

How much is too much to bathe your horse? In truth, with a lot of elbow grease, grooming your horse on a consistent basis should be enough to keep your horse’s coat in good, healthy condition. An old friend once told me of her experience in Ireland where no bathing was allowed. You groomed your allotted horses. At the end of the day, the barn manager would walk thru and do the white glove test. If he wiped your horse down and his glove came away dirty then you’d better be ready for a few more hours of grooming before heading into dinner!!! Admittedly this was a “few” (!) years ago, however you probably get the gist of the story.

Washing your horse in the off-season should be kept to a minimum. If assuming the off-season is in winter, maybe a blanket can be used to help maintain some basic cleanliness. I would then only wash tails with shampoo and a good conditioner on an as-needed basis. If your horse is in work and it’s winter then I would use the hot toweling method to remove sweat marks after exercise. Towel dry the horse and then do a full grooming, currying well to bring dirt to the surface. If your horse is very dusty and you want him a little cleaner, try using a hot damp towel in a circular motion all over his body. This should help pick up dirt without getting him really wet. On clipped horses I will use witch hazel on a rag to remove dirt.

Should your horse have a skin condition that needs attention, then use warm water and shampoo and spot clean where needed.

I would not recommend bathing in cold weather unless you have a heated wash stall that your horse can remain comfortable in thru out the whole process. A chilled horse can lead to a sick one. Hot toweling and spot cleaning with a bit of extra time for grooming can lead to a great shine and healthy coat.

If off-season is during summer or in a warmer climate then hosing off your horse after work does not strip him of natural oils so can be done daily. Not adequately removing the sweat marks can lead to skin irritation, so you are better to hose them off than just let it dry and try to groom them out. Again, I would shampoo the tail on an as needed basis and use a good detangler that leaves the tail flexible to avoid hair breakage whilst swishing trying to get rid of those annoying flies!

As a sidebar, a technique not practiced much these days is “strapping.” Using a cloth or straw wisp, stroking the horse, with more of a light slapping action, over the larger muscle groups brings a brilliant shine to the coat and improves circulation to these muscles groups. I was fortunate enough to groom at a racing barn during school holidays. Each horse would get ‘strapped’ for 20 minutes at the end of the grooming session. They would fall asleep through out the process and looked exceedingly “buff” at the end of it. It’s a practice that no one has time for these days but if you can find the time to do it on a daily basis you, and your horse, will love the result.

To conclude, shampoo washing your horse on a regular basis, leaves a coat that may be clean but often has that “fluffy” look. This is due to the lack of natural oils. If this is what you witness then maybe take a break from the shampoo and spend a few extra minutes a day with the curry comb and body brush. Shampoo bathing a few days prior to the show can help to have a shinier coat by show day as some of the natural oils will have returned to the skin.

Happy grooming!!

Emma Ford

Emma Ford is one of the most respected grooms in US Eventing. Born and raised in the UK, Emma came to the US in 1998 to groom for top eventer Adrienne Iorio. After seven years with Adrienne, Emma moved to True Prospect Farm to work with five-time Olympian and 13-time USEA Leading Rider of the Year, Phillip Dutton. During her tenure with Phillip, Emma cared for many famous equine athletes including Connaught, TruLuck, Woodburn, and Mystery Whisper. She’s groomed at Burghley, Blenheim and Boekelo, cared for horses at the 2006 and 2010 World Championships, 2007 Pan Am Games, and 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and groomed at Rolex Kentucky and Fair Hill International every year since 2001. And now she’s here to help you! Submit your grooming questions and Emma just may be able to teach you a few of her tricks!

Posted in Ask The Groom

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11 comments on “Bathing: How much is too much?
  1. Breana Nicholas says:

    I hardly ever actually bath my horses with soap. I hose down after rides if they’re sweaty. I bath with soap and conditioner the day before we leave for a show and then other than that maybe 2 or 3 times the rest of the year..If ive been showing alot probably only once.

  2. Taylor says:

    So what happens when you have a grey horse?

  3. Ashley Bizelli says:

    My horse does not tolerate being groomed. Most would say its a behavior issue that needs to be fixed but he has been constantly worked with and will not stand for grooming very long. Thus he usually is only ok for brushing with a soft brush. I cant curry him for long without agitation and don’t use shampoo repeatedly but he does have the fuzzy look in come spots. Is there anything I can do other than grooming/rubbing skin for the oils to come out??

    • Emma Emma says:

      Hi Ashley, your horse reminds me of Connaught! He was very much the same way! I think I tried every type of curry on the market. I did find a rubber one with very flexible teeth that he actually enjoyed. I would also use a hot towel in a circular motion all over his body. This opens up the poors. Do this before riding and after on the days when hosing isn’t really needed. Hope this helps.

  4. Emma Emma says:

    Hi Taylor. Thank you for your comment. Grey horses and their attraction to dirt is an endless project especially during the show season. Basically you take it day by day. Hopefully you have some days where you can just hose him off, however when needed, I would spot clean with a mild soap, I like ivory detergent, you can add a small amount of purple shampoo for the worst stains.
    Obviously when you need to sparkle then full bathing has to be done. If you find your having to fully bathe him a lot just keep an eye on his skin for signs of dry and irritated areas and remember…. Just because you gave him a bath doesn’t mean you can miss a good grooming. A good curry helps the skins circulation and therefore enhance its oil producing qualities.

  5. Tamika Sheffield says:

    I have a grey and the battle with dirt is year round. However, I use the Lucky Braids All-in-one shampoo and find that it promotes natural oils! Urine and feces stains fall right off with a decent curry. The tougher stains will maybe take two days to come off without using any water, but its better then risking my thin skinned tbs comfort if I don’t have to. I’m usually not a fan if the all in one products but as a dog groomer and a grey horse owner I’ve gone through many products and this one works wonders! Don’t mi it with anything, it whitens, adds shine, body to manes and tails, and treats fungus (my mare has scratches). Try it!!!

  6. Tamika Sheffield says:

    Also, I only believe in bathing as needed. My horse is a huge roller and only needs a hosing after sweaty rides. Otherwise a proper cool out and a good curry before and after rides keeps her very clean

  7. Emma Emma says:

    Thanks tamika for that tip, like you I am very wary about all in ones but it sounds like you have found a good one.

  8. Emma Emma says:

    Hi Ashley, your horse reminds me of Connaught! He was very much the same way! I think I tried every type of curry on the market. I did find a rubber one with very flexible teeth that he actually enjoyed. I would also use a hot towel in a circular motion all over his body. This opens up the poors. Do this before riding and after on the days when hosing isn’t really needed. Hope this helps.

    • Ashley Bizelli says:

      Thank You! I will try the hot towels. I think I may have the same rubber curry with flexible teeth that I try and use while he is distracted lol I had the privilege of seeing Connaught win at Rolex in 2008 and he looked brilliant as ever. Hopefully with your tips, my guy will be on the right track! Thanks Again! 😀

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