Soap suds and bubbles in the wash-rack: in some barns it’s a daily sight. In others, horses might only get a bath before special occasions like shows or parades. Determining how often you should bathe your horse is often based upon personal preference and need, or even industry practice. If you run a racing stable, you’re probably giving your horse a soapy bath after every ride, but if you’re managing a hunter/jumper barn, it’s more likely to be once a week. So when it comes to bathing your horse, what’s really best for your horse’s coat, skin, and even hooves?
Anytime you give a horse a bath with shampoo, you’re going to strip oils from his skin which, unfortunately, are what give your horse that glossy look you’re going for! Shampoo should be more about removing stains and correcting skin conditions than about cleanliness. For daily use, a shower with pure water is much easier on your horse’s skin.
When you are going to use shampoo, however, there are a few different factors to consider.
First, consider the weather. Humid climates or long stretches of wet weather can be hard on a horse’s skin, encouraging the growth of fungus or the bacteria which causes rain rot. Drying your horse carefully after a shower helps prevent bacterial or fungal infections from taking hold. Use a rubber-sided squeegee instead of a traditional sweat scraper, and toweling off fetlocks and heels, where water tends to pool. A weekly bath with an antimicrobial shampoo is probably the best choice for these wet days, skipping a few days between baths to avoid drying essential oils out of your horse’s skin.
That leads us to next factors to consider: the condition of your horse’s coat and the type of shampoo. In some barns everyone uses Ivory soap. In others, Orvus Paste. In still others, it’s the latest shiny-horse shampoo from a big grooming manufacturer. Which is best? Unless you’re trying to regulate a certain condition, such as fungus, bacteria, or even dandruff, less is probably more. Go for concentrated shampoos which you can dilute in a large amount of water. While you’re hosing off your horse before his bath, take a look at how the water beads on his coat. The longer it takes for water to penetrate to the skin, the more protective oils your horse has on his skin. If the water doesn’t bead up at all, you’re dealing with a pretty dry coat. Go easy on the shampoo with this horse, or you’re going to end up with an itchy, dry-skinned horse after the bath.
Consider, too, if stains can be removed without a full bath. Spot-clean whenever you can. If your horse comes in from the paddock with a green stain on his shoulder, can you just scrub out that one spot with a wet towel and some green-stain remover, rubbing alcohol, or a little shampoo? If you’re not prepping for a show and you’re not trying to correct a condition, there’s probably little reason to upset your horse’s natural skin balance with a shampoo bath. Stain-removing shampoos and coat color enhancers, in particular, tend to be very drying and harsh, so go easy on your paint and gray horses!
Daily shampoo baths tend to strip the oils from your horse’s coat, so while they’re tempting, it’s best to carefully weigh the factors of weather, your horse’s coat condition, and the actual need for a full bath before you get out the shampoo. Chances are, plain water is best!