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Complete Guide to Giving Your Horse A Bath


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When bathing a horse, you need to consider how dirty your horse is and how much time you have to give him a bath. Another deciding factor is temperature. Both of these will impact the type of bath you decide to give your horse.

There are three main types of baths you could give your horse. They are hot toweling, rinsing off and a full bath. Complete instructions are given below for each type of horse bath.

Hot Toweling

In the wettest, coldest types of weather, you can give any horse a hot towel bath. This type of bath can take a bit of time to both setup and complete so you may only want to do so when absolutely necessary.

Hot toweling is great for cold weather, even when it is snowing, because you never get your horse completely wet. In fact, you never use the hose directly on your horse at all. In order to get started, you need to gather a few supplies.

Supplies Required for Hot Toweling

  •  Hot Water
  •  Many clean, dry towels
  •  Regular Grooming Set (Brushes, etc)

How to Get Started Hot Toweling

You will want to note that the materials list did not include shampoo. With out toweling, we are not going to use shampoo of any kind. Shampoo needs to be rinsed and, if we are hot toweling, it is too cold for that.

Instead, we’re going to use hot towels to get our horse as clean as possible. If you have access to hot water at the barn, or keep your horses at home, you will want to fully complete this step before you prepare your bucket of hot water for the actual hot toweling process.

This step can easily take 30 minutes and you don’t want your hot water cooling down too much during that time.

To start, you need to give your horse a thorough grooming. This is going to take time and elbow grease. The more dirt you are able to remove in this step, the less time you will need to spend Hot Toweling your horse. 

  1. Remove loose hair and dirt. Go over horse with a curry to get rid of any mud clumps and to remove as much loose hair as possible.
  2. If your horse has a natural winter coat, use a stiff bristled dandy brush to start to remove dirt.
    I recommend starting at the crest of the neck and gradually working you’re way back. You will want to use firm, short strokes. You want to make sure enough pressure is applied to get to the skin and then quickly flick your wrist to bring that dirt to the surface where you can brush it away.
  3. Next you will want to repeat step 2 but, this time, with a body brush. Typically a this brush is less stiff than a dandy brush and will bring up finer dirt that was left behind by the stiffer bristles. This is also the brush you will want to use as a starting point if your horse has been blanketed or body clipped (or both). 
  4. Go over horse with a very soft finishing brush. Once you have finished with the body brush, you will want to move on to the finishing brush. Again, you’ll use the same short strokes with a flicking motion of your wrist to remove the finest layers of dirt and dust. Once this is complete, we are ready to start hot toweling.

How to Prepare Bucket for Hot Toweling

Before we can get started with hot toweling our horse, we need to prepare the bucket (or buckets) we’ll use. Typically, you will want to start with at least one large bucket. This can be a standard 18 qt horse bucket or even a 5 Gallon bucket from your local hardware store. As long as it holds water it should be fine.

Note: The large size is important in order to help maintain heat. The smaller, 8qt size buckets will loose heat and cool down too quickly.

You will want to fill the bucket about 2/3 full with the hottest water that you can stand with your bare hand. If you don’t have a hot water heater out in the barn near the horses, keep in mind that this water will start to cool so you may want it just a little bit hotter.

Cover the top with a towel or plastic bag and use a rubber band to secure. This will help keep some of the heat in as well as help prevent water from sloshing out.

Grab as many towels as you think you will need, plus about 5 more. I recommend starting with at least 10.

For your first time doing hot toweling, it is better to have more towels available and not need them, than to have fewer towels and have to run back up to the house.

Hot Toweling Your Horse

Now that you have your horse as clean as possible, a bucket of hot water and a bunch of clean towels you can get started.

  1. Wet the towel. Take one towel and plunge it into the bucket wetting it fully. 
  2. Wring out as much of the water as possible.
  3. Immediately place the towel on your horses neck and start scrubbing him vigorously with the towel. You are going to work in small sections. Depending on how many towels you have, this could be your “neck and shoulder” towel. 
  4. Flip the towel over as necessary to expose clean sections. The idea here is to get as much dirt and dust off as possible.
  5. When. you are done, depending on the weather, you can either let your horse air dry while you move onto the next section or, use a dry towel to remove as much moisture as possible.
    Your horse shouldn’t be soaking wet, as he would be with a hose bath. Instead he should be just damp. If it is really cold out,  you may want to use a clean cooler to cover your horses wet sections as they dry OR use a blow drier to help speed up the process.
  6. You are going to use a new towel for each section of your horse’s body. You will probably want at least 8 towels. 2 for each side of the neck and shoulders, 2 for each side of the barrel and 2 for each side of the hindquarters. The 6th towel for the face and the 8th for the legs. If you started with 10 towels, the extra two are for drying.

When it is too cold to bathe a horse, hot toweling can be a great way to get your horse clean without getting him soaking wet. The labor and time involved means that you will probably reserve this for those times when absolutely necessary, but it is a great process to know how to do when you need it.

Now, let’s look at how to bathe a horse in fair weather when we can use a hose.

horse with wet head showing teeth

How to Rinse off A Horse

The very most basic kind of bath that you can give any horse is a “rinse off”. For this, you don’t need any special supplies. You can do it one of two ways, depending on what is available to you.

Method 1: Rinsing Off with the Hose

If you have a hose handy, this is by far the easiest way to rinse off your horse. On a very hot day, let the hose water run for a minute or so until the water is cool to the touch. Water can heat up in a hose hot enough to scald you horse so it is important to check the temperature before getting started. 

For most horses, the best way to start is by wetting the legs with the hose and working your way up. This allows them to acclimate to the temperature of the hose water.

Some horses are more sensitive than others. A horse will typically stand still once they are used to the water. Then you can slowly work your way up. 

Once your horse is used to the water all over it’s body, use your thumb to create a higher stream of pressure from the hose (or better yet use a nozzle that will do this for you). 

Starting from the top of the neck, run the hose back and forth until the water runs clear. Slowly work your way from front to back, top to bottom. Finish one side first and then repeat with the other side.

When you are all done, use your hand or a sweat scraper to check if any dirt remains. As you use your hand or sweat scraper to remove water, the water that comes off should run clear. If it doesn’t repeat the rinsing process again until it does.

Once you are finished, go over the horse one last time with your hand or a sweat scraper to remove as much excess water as possible and then tie them up or cross tie them somewhere to dry. Usually tying them in the sun will allow them to dry more quickly.

Method 2: Rinsing off with a bucket and sponge

Sometimes you may not have easy access to a hose or, using a hose isn’t convenient but you still want to rinse off your horse. In this case, you can use the bucket and sponge method.

This method works best for horses that have shorter coats so it is great for summer or for horses that are body clipped. In fact, its a popular method used at the race track.

You will need a bucket full of clean water and a sponge. That’s it! Just dip your sponge in the bucket, don’t wring it out, and wipe it over your horse’s body.

Start with the neck and work your way to the hindquarters. Focus on the body first and then finish up by rinsing the face and legs.

When you are all done sponging your horse down, if there is water remaining in the bucket, you can slowly pour it over your horses back and hindquarters to help remove excess sweat / salt from his workout. 

Rinsing your horse is the best option to use on a routine basis as it allows the horses natural oils to remain in the coat. This will help your horse to stay shiny and looking his best. Sometimes, though, a full bath with soap is needed. In those cases, let’s cover the additional steps you will want to take.

horse getting a bath

Giving a Horse a Full Bath

To give a horse a full bath you will want to start with rinsing your horse off as described above. The only difference is, you don’t have to wait for the water to run clear. You just want as much of the mud / dirt off as possible. Here are the steps for giving your horse a bath.

  1. Rinse off your horse with water, using one of the two methods above.
  2. While your horse is still wet, make a bucket of shampoo water. Typically you will use a small amount of your favorite shampoo and the rest of the bucket filled with water. Mix well.
    1. You can ALSO apply the shampoo directly to your horse in most cases, both methods work. 
  3. Work the shampoo into your horses coat. While you can use a sponge for most horses I personally feel a brush does a much better job at getting the horse clean. You will want to soap him up all over.
    • When it’s very hot out, your horse may start to dry before you can even get to the other side. In that case, rinse the first side before you start soaping up the other side. If need be, apply more water to the new side as well.
  4. Once your horse has been soaped up, rinse him with clean water until the water runs clear. It is very important that you remove all of the soap. Any soap residue could cause your horse’s skin to get itchy.
  5. When your horse’s body is clean, you can wash his face if he will allow it. Some horses are OK with their face being wet with the hose or sponge, others really don’t like it. All horses can be taught to accept it over time but be cautious the first time you go to wet a horse’s head. 

Washing the Tail

I typically wash the horses tail very last which is why I am including instructions in their own section. The truth is, you could wash it first, or at the same time as the body, it is completely up to you. You could also wash ONLY the tail, and not the rest of the horse if you wanted.

  1. Wet the horses tail. You can do this using a hose or a bucket. If you use a hose, be sure to spread apart the hairs otherwise, the water has a tendency to only wet the top hairs and you’ll soon find that the hairs in the middle are all dry. You want to make sure the tail is throughly wet before continuing to the next step.
  2. Apply the shampoo of your choice. Much like with bathing, you can decide whether to apply shampoo directly to the tail and massage it in OR add shampoo to a bucket, add water and then dip your horses tail in the soapy water solution. I have use both methods and they both work fairly well. You need to use caution, however, with using the bucket method on a new horse. Some horses are fine with it but it may spook other horses.
  3. Work the shampoo thoroughly into the horses tail. Be sure to get the all the way down to the skin on the tail and get the sides as well. For the body of the tail, where there is no bone,  be sure to work the shampoo in thoroughly. You want to make sure all of the hairs get cleaned, not just the ones on the outside.
  4. Once you are done, rinse the tail with water until the water comes clean. This is very important. Any soap residue that remains in his tail, especially in contact with the skin, can cause your horse to become itchy and start to rub his tail out.
  5. Once you are done rinsing out the shampoo, you need to decide if you are going to use a conditioner or not. On my own horses, I only use a conditioner a couple of times a year. In most cases, it isn’t necessary. If you are using one, just apply it to the tail and massage in. You could also use the bucket method and make a conditioner water solution. Once the conditioner has been rubbed thoroughly into your horses tail you are ready to rinse.
  6. Rinse out any conditioner, again, be sure that no residue remains as it could cause your horse to itch. Even conditioner can make a horse itchy so you want to take extra care that all product is rinsed out of your horses hair.
  7. Brush out your horses mane and tail. Now that your horse’s tail is completely clean(and possibly conditioned) you are all done. You can try to brush your horse’s tail out while it is wet, I personally wait until it is completely dry. 

Safety Considerations

Bathing a horse, like any other activity with horses, can be dangerous if you don’t follow some basic safety precautions. Here are a few I would like to point out but this is by no means a comprehensive list. It is always best to have an experienced horse person walk you through the steps of bathing a horse the first few times you do it. 

Be mindful where your hose is.

Don’t let the hose get curled up and tangled around your feet or the horses feet. If it gets around the horses feet, it could cause him to get scared and spook. If it gets around your feet, it could cause you to fall which could get you hurt and also, could cause your horse to spook.

Be careful not to get soap in your horses eyes.

You don’t like soap in your eyes, neither does your horse. It does sting. My preference is to pick up a bottle of no tears baby soap at the dollar store to have on hand specifically for washing the face.

horse head getting sprayed

Be careful when wetting your horses head and ears for the first time.

Many horses don’t like this at all.  Never do this when a horse is tied, even if your horse is used to it. If your horse gets water in his ear or upset about it for any other reason he could set back violently and hurt you or hurt himself.

Never stand behind your horse.

Whether you are bathing your horse, rinsing him off or washing his tail, never stand directly behind your horse. While a horse can kick to the front and the side, it is much easier for them to kick at things behind them which makes that a dangerous place for you to be.

Be mindful of where your bucket is.

You always want to be sure to place your bucket out of your way and out of the horses way. Don’t set it down somewhere where you or your horse could accidentally knock it over or step on it.

Be careful not to get water in your horses ears.

They don’t like it and will often violently shake their head if you do put water in there (even accidentally) which could cause them to accidentally hit you in the process. Getting water in their ears could also cause them to set back in an effort to get away from the water going in their ears.

Final Thoughts

I have covered several different ways of giving your horse a bath in this article. You have learned how to hot towel a horse when it is too cold to bathe, how to rinse a horse off and how to give a full bath when the weather is just right.

No matter which way you chose, the result is a horse that should be much cleaner than it was when you started. Giving a horse a bath can be fun but remember to stay safe when doing so. 

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April

I've owned horses for 25 years and have a particular love for gentling wild horses (I've trained over 100). I write these articles to help others learn more about horses. If you enjoyed the article please take a moment to pin it to Pinterest or share on social media. It really does help!

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