So after a great ride - wearing just a long sleeve shirt and normal riding breeches (and feeling the freedom of riding sans heavy coat and winter riding pants) - I couldn't resist giving Cyrus a short but awesome first shower of the season.
Cyrus enjoyed the hosing as he usually does, and played his usual antics (licking at and chewing on the water stream). He truly seemed to appreciate the water washing out the winter grime from his coat. At the end, his coat was shiny and sleek and sweat-free.
Giving your horse a regular hose-down is one step toward maintaining great coat condition. If the temperature is warm enough, and you have a little extra time, go for it! Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to giving your horse a bath.
1. You can wash off your horse with water every time you ride.
Water is harmless and in fact, can be very beneficial. Assuming that you have enough water to wash your horse after every ride, and the weather is mild enough, a nice hosing can wash off sweat, under-the-fur mud and accumulated dust. It's also a fun way to interact with your horse and get him used to things like wash stalls, water, different sounds (water stream, or water hitting off the far wall) and generally being fussed over.
2. Shampoo only once a month or so.
Soap can cut away at the horse's natural oils - the very ones that put the shine on. Shampooing is fine when it's done once in a while, especially if your horse is turned out and rolls in mud often. But if your horse is generally clean and gets a regular hosing with water, shampoo is not necessary very often.
If you show, time your shampoo days just before the show. With my non-showing horses, I shampoo them every 4-6 weeks through the summer just to get the mud and sweat out of their coats. Otherwise, I stick to plain water.
3. Use a strong enough water stream.
If you use a super soft water stream, you will only move the dirt and grime around on the horse's body. Don't be shy! If you can get a strong "shower" from your nozzle, or even a steady single stream for any caked-on mud, you will do a better job at removing the dirt.
4. Go over the body at least twice.
The first time you wet the coat, you might notice that the water just slides off the top of the fur. This is a good thing, because this means that your horse's coat has plenty of oil coming to the surface and acts as a water repellent.
After you go over both sides of the horse, come back to the first side and go to it all over again. You'll be amazed to see how much extra dirt washes off the second time, because now the fur is wet and cannot let the water just glide off. This is your opportunity to really get to the dirt at the skin level.
4. Work the stream against the direction of the coat.
Don't be shy! You can aim the stream to fluff the fur around so that all the old sweat and grime is released. Get the water into the sticky saddle area, the neck and hind end, especially between the hind legs where sweat often builds up.
5. Remember the more difficult areas.
At this time of year, the pasterns and feet get the most mud damage. I use the steady water stream, making sure that I can see the pink skin underneath the white socks - a sure sign that I've gotten all the mud off.
Be sure to hose the belly, between the hind legs and under the elbows where the girth builds up sweat.
6. Use a squeegee or scraper at the end.
There are many types of water scrapers available now that will enable you to get almost all of the water off your horse before you leave the wash stall. Be sure to scrape the excess water off - to get that last bit of dirt off, and to remove as much moisture as you can manually. The horse will continue to dry off through evaporation but you can get the wettest areas mostly dry by hand. A wool or fleece cooler can help the horse dry quickly if it's cold after the shower.
7. Spend the time you have to, but be done quickly.
Don't wait until your horse becomes uncomfortable. Wash off, squeegee and be done!
Once Cyrus is squeaky clean, I will usually need to turn him back out into his paddock. Invariably, he'll be on a mission to roll - pronto! So when I know the ground is particularly muddy or wet, I'll be sure to cover him up with a blanket so that he won't be able to cake the mud right back into his fur.
It sounds almost too good to be true. Adding a regular hosing off with just water keeps the skin clean and clear of embedded grime, allows the natural oils to come to the surface of the coat, and clears off any old shedding fur.
And the bonus - future grooming is easier, quicker and more pleasurable for both you and your horse!
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