Introducing your young horse to bath time can be an adventure… to say the least. Here are some tips from SmartPak on making it a positive experience.
By SmartPaker Maia Frey
Let’s face it: It’s going to be an incredibly hot summer. No matter where you live, you’ve likely already experienced some stiflingly hot days this summer. The heat can be brutal, but it also brings one of my favorite times of the year for horses—bath season! Being able to comfortably bathe my horse without worrying about her getting chilled afterward is one of the best parts of summer. While most older and more seasoned horses are generally experienced in this area, bathing is one of those things that must be introduced to a horse. For my yearling Truffles, creating a positive experience with each bath was essential. In the future when we start showing, she’s going to need lots of detailed cleaning, so I wanted to ensure she became confident with bathing in her formative years.
Getting Acclimated to Water
Before I jumped right into spraying little Truffles with the hose full blast, I started by introducing her to the wash area. Most barns I’ve been at have a wash rack that is not a high-traffic area, or not a place I usually take my horse to. To establish a solid foundation from the beginning, I brought Truffles into the wash area without the hose running or any additional stressors and simply asked her to stand quietly. Sometimes we would just hang out there or do a quick groom—anything that was helpful to make her comfy in an unfamiliar space. Once she consistently remained calm and confident standing on the wash rack, I brought water into the equation.
I first introduced her to water using a sponge. I heavily wetted the sponge down until it was soaked and then washed her body off with it. This helped acclimate Truffles to the sensation of being wet as well as to dripping water that tends to be a bit annoying to many first-time bathers. Initially, she was pretty much convinced it was flies, which resulted in a lot of stomping, but she eventually got used to it! My favorite sponge to use with young horses is the Half Moon Body Sponge. It’s a big sponge that holds a significant amount of water, which was exactly what we needed for our first few baths. Additionally, it holds up to use very well and is easy to keep clean!
Introducing the Hose
Once Truffles was comfortable with our new arrangement of being wet and having water drip off her, I introduced the hose. Using the gentlest setting possible, I started by hosing her lower front legs and then gradually worked all the way up to just below her shoulders. Once she was comfortable with her front legs being sprayed, I moved on to her chest and neck. Since she was very accepting of this, I moved along her body and finished with hosing off her hind legs.
In my experience, young horses tend to be more reactive when their hind legs are sprayed, so I found hosing her off in this order really helped her to relax and acclimate to the sensation of being sprayed before moving on to her hind legs. During our first few baths, it definitely took Truffles longer than it would a more seasoned horse to get through each area while maintaining a calm demeanor, but I’ve found that to be a normal part of the process with young horses. My top priority was to ensure she had a positive bathing experience, and patience and taking my time helped make that happen.
Adding Bath Products
After Truffles was comfortable being sprayed by the hose over all areas of her body, I felt it was time to introduce bathing products. There’s nothing more satisfying than scrubbing off paddock dirt and winter grime from a horse, and young horses are the best at getting themselves filthy. Truffles’ favorite napping spot is the nearest patch of mud in her paddock, so we need some extra cleaning power during bath time.
My favorite bath products are by Cowboy Magic, specifically their Cowboy Magic Rosewater Shampoo and Conditioner. Both products have a delightful rose scent and contain panthenol and silk proteins to help to penetrate the hair and condition the skin, aiding with coat dryness. Additionally, these silk proteins also leave a rich and natural shine on her coat.
I applied a healthy dose of this shampoo to a Jelly Scrubber and curried it into Truffles’ coat, starting just behind her withers and working my way over the rest of her body, neck, and legs. I start behind her withers as a safety precaution. If she were to spook at any of these new sensations, I’m already standing at her side and would be able to move away quickly. This also puts me in a good position to quickly and safely grab her lead rope in an emergency.
The Jelly Scrubber does a great job of helping this shampoo penetrate the layers of her coat to remove dirt and to really lift and clean whatever grime she’s gotten into. It’s also a very gentle grooming tool, so it’s great for bathing young or sensitive horses. I next applied the shampoo to her mane and tail with my hands, taking extra time to untangle any knots or minor snarls. Personally, I did not use the Jelly Scrubber on her face; instead, I brought back the Half Moon Body Sponge and lightly cleaned her face, being sure to avoid her eyes.
Once little Truffles was covered from head to tail in soap suds, it was time to bring the hose back again and start rinsing off the shampoo. Going in the same order as before, I started with her front legs, moving to her body, and ending with her hind legs. At first, Truffles was wary of the soap suds running off her coat, but after a thorough inspection, she realized they weren’t anything to be worried about.
After I fully rinsed off all remaining suds, I applied the Cowboy Magic Rosewater Conditioner in the same order as the shampoo, using the Jelly Scrubber for her body and the Half Moon Body Sponge for her face. Using the conditioner in conjunction with the shampoo helps demineralize the hair, reduce static electricity, and fight tangles. Plus, it really brings her coat quality to the next level! After fully applying the conditioner to Truffles’ body, face, and legs, I rinsed her clean.
I usually don’t use a sweat scraper unless I’m in a time crunch or it’s a little chilly outside. Since the baby bath should always be a gentle experience without a time limit, I just let her drip dry afterward. Especially right now when it’s hot out, that extra cooling from evaporation is always welcome!
With the conditioner gone and only a shiny, little yearling left, we were all set! After Truffles’ first few baths, I took the time to give her some good scratches and her favorite mint-flavored treats as a reward for tackling a new experience. Bathing isn’t something a horse just inherently knows how to do; it’s definitely a skill that needs to be taught. On these upcoming hot days, we’ll be sure to make bathing a fun time with good smells and even better rewards afterward!
You can find this and more on the SmartPak blog. Go SmartPak and go riding!