(From Clare's article archives, Circa 2010-2015)
I know that showering and bathing a horse sounds like a 'no brainer,' but there are many things you can do when showering and bathing to make the experience much more enjoyable, and to keep your horse healthy and happy.
Lets talk about showering first, then I will provide information about bathing
(using shampoo and conditioner.)
Always shower, if at all possible, using luke warm/tepid temperature water.
Even on those very hot days, I think it's hard on a horse's muscles and on their psyche, when freezing cold water is sprayed on their bodies.
I always start at the front of the horse and work my way back and down.
So, let's start with the most important part...the face.
Please DO NOT SPRAY your horse in the FACE!
Horses do not like to be sprayed in the face;
no matter what people try to convince you of otherwise.
Spraying a horse in the face, to get off the sweat or shampoo, is for the convenience of the handler, not for the comfort of the horse.
I ALWAYS sponge off my horse's face; an experience that they very much love.
You can sponge the face off at any time, I usually do it at the beginning or
as the last part of the shower.
When sponging the face, be sure that you DON'T get WATER in their EARS!
Horses absolutely hate that, and it is not good for their ears either.
The type of sponge you use is whichever suites you, although, I think you will find that the natural sponges, although they cost more, are much better.
I start from the ears, and work my way done to the muzzle.
This is important, because you want to rinse the sweat all the way off the horse's face,
so there is no buildup of residual sweat anywhere.
Leaving sweat on a horse's body anywhere is bad for their skin and coat,
and is uncomfortable for your horse.
Just the same as humans showering off the sweat from their bodies.
Accumulated sweat is dirty, itchy, leads to skin and hair conditions,
and is just generally 'icky.'
Sponge off around the ear area, then down the face, and off the muzzle.
Make sure the sponge is wet enough to really get all the sweat off.
Be sure to do the under side of the throat (like a child washing behind their ears). This 'valley' is a place that likes to accumulate 'grunge,' dirt, and sweat.
If you do it right, the head rinsing experience will be a very pleasant, enjoyable,
almost 'Zen' experience for both yourself and your horse.
Obviously be careful around your horse's eyes as well.
Next, I like to set the hose spray nozzle on the setting for 'shower,' and I then start high on the neck, just behind your horse's ears, pointing the flow of the water towards the hind end.
If the horse is reactive, or head shy from bad experiences, you might have to use the sponge to the place on the neck where you can start the spray from the hose.
You'll know right away if someone has been spraying them in the face; they will probably be very reactive, and try to get as far away from you as possible.
A trick to getting a horse to lower their necks:
if your horse is frantic or terrified or stubborn about lowering their necks so you can sponge off their faces, the easiest solution is to use a chair.
I guarantee that once your horse learns that having their face sponged is a wonderful experience, you will surely be able to abandon the chair soon enough, and your horse will be sticking his head right into your arms.
This is the easiest, least forceful solution.
Obviously be sure that you are safe on the chair and don't get knocked, or fall off;
and be sure that the chair is in a place that it is not dangerous to the horse
if they move forward or into you.
The head lowering trick that I learned when I was 12 from my riding instructor Angela Littlefield, from England, is this:
Pull gently, or if need be, firmly, down on their forelock.
This exerts pressure on a pressure point behind the ears, and invites, encourages,
forces your horse to lower her head.
You often see this illustrated when a trainer/horse handler pushes their fingers down on the poll area, just behind the ears, to lower the head for bridling, etc.
At first, you might have to exert quite a bit of pressure, but once your horse understands how this concept works, and that the following experience will be pleasant, you should be able to drop the head and neck with just a slight pressure on the forelock.
For those of you who don't know, the forelock is the mane hair that
hangs down over the horse's forehead.
To continue the shower:
start spraying the body just behind the ears and work your way down and back.
This pushes the sweat and grime all the way off the horse's feet, and off the base of the tail.
Thoroughly spray down the neck, the shoulders, the chest, the forelegs.
Pay very close attention to the chest and between the front legs
where grunge accumulates.
Spray water all the way down off the hooves, making sure the sweat goes all the way off the hoof and to the ground, and doesn't stop at the coronet band (the area of hair just above where the hoof starts), another area where sweat builds up.
I leave the topline area from the back of the withers to the top of the tail till last.
This gives these very important muscles of the back, loin and top of
rump the most time to cool down.
When it is cold out, I rarely get the back area wet
(I'll talk more about showering or bathing when the weather is cold in another post).
Spray the barrel, paying extra attention to the girth area and the under-side of the belly.
This 'midline' section accumulates sweat and gets really itchy.
It's also the area that the flies like to attack in the summer.
I'll talk more about that issue in an article for "Fly Care."
Spray thoroughly, but carefully, the 'private' and sensitive area between the hind legs,
another place that tends to get grimy.
Spray the flanks, and down the back legs.
Then go back on the same side, and spray the back (saddle area), loin (area between back and top of hind quarters), and croup (the top of the rear end).
Make sure the water runs all the way down and through the dock of the tail
(the bony part of the tail).
This is very important to keep the dock from getting itchy, which encourages
your horse to rub his tail out.
I have a super effective trick to keeping the dock itch free.
I'll talk about that in the "Fly Care" article.
Suffice to say now, make sure to rinse the sweat and dirt completely out of the
dock of the tail during every shower.
Last, gently lift the tail and carefully spray the private area under it.
Don't be surprised if your horse abruptly and dramatically tucks his behind down under his belly, this is a reaction to the water on his personals.
They usually do this only if the water is too chilly.
Using warm water should prevent this physical reaction.
Now, one side of your horse is done.
You simply repeat the whole thing on the other side.
After the second side is completed, it is important to return to the first side to rinse off the sweat and grime that was pushed over the horse's back when you showered the second side.
After that, you should be done.
I use a sweat scraper to scrape off the extra water from the horse's
coat before I leave the wash area.
Horses dry faster and seem to like this more than to 'drip dry.'
Either the plastic or the metal scrapers are fine.
You choose the style you like, there are many varieties.