“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.