How Do You Know Your Horse Needs a Bath?
(Can your horse be too clean?)
Look; a horse was created to be dirty (period). What? But I want him to look clean and smell clean. So you have to ask yourself the questionâ€¦ what is clean? Clean to you or clean to him as a horse?
Are you aware of the risks involved with bathing your horse?
Let's look at two of the biggest problems with frequent bathing.
#1 The shampoo used on your horse will dry out and damage his coat. Not to mention cause him to itch if it's not rinsed out thoroughly which can often be a difficult task depending on the horse particularly on his head and face. I've had ponies actually scratch themselves raw after a bath by a well meaning child or parent that didn't rinse them well enough. Horses are equipped to handle what's in nature but don't fair well against what we un-naturally subject them to.
#2 A horse that's often wet from a bath can be subject to all sorts of fungal infections that can be literally crippling. I'm not referring to something known as "rain rot" which affects an equine usually in climates with a lot of humidity such as in our southern states and often sets up along the top line. What I'm referring to is an insidious fungus that sets up into a horse's heel area known as the dreaded "scratches"! Once scratches sets in it is very difficult to combat and can leave your horse completely lame or worse depending on how aggressive your treatment is toward it. Scratches can also spread like wildfire through a barn with contaminated wash racks being the biggest culprit. So how does bathing your horse cause this disease to come into being? It's simple; think of how you bathe your horse and what you do when you're done. You scrape the excess water off of his body from his coat, right? That's great and is an appropriate practice but next time you bathe make note of how many hours it takes for your horse's legs to dry particularly the hair that's closest to the hoof. Does it take one hour? Two, three? Are you starting to see what's happening? Chances are good that his lower leg will stay wet for hours because all the water is slowly dripping down his leg creating a perfect breeding ground for fungal spores found in many pastures and corrals. The problem with scratches is that the fungus allows in certain bacteria which makes this malady quite difficult to treat even with modern day treatments because the bacteria is becoming resistant to current therapies. The best treatment for scratches is prevention! And keeping your horse's legs dry is a first step.
So now that I have your attention you may be asking yourself; "what then is a sensible protocol when it comes to keeping my horse clean?" Let's look at this question from a practical point of view. Of course if a horse is going off to a show or anywhere where his appearance will be on display then a proper bath may be in order and for many that means weekly in the show season at the least. One simply must be careful to take necessary steps to dry the horse as quickly and as thoroughly as possible using towels on the legs to collect excess water. Also keeping the horse's coat and hair on the legs clipped is a great way to increase drying time but comes with a whole other group of cautions that will be address in another article.
As far as I can see the only other reason to bathe a horse is to remove its sweat which can be just as harmful to the skin (maybe more so) than shampoo because of its drying properties. Sweat also seems to make a horse's hair more susceptible to sun damage causing it to bleach and dry out. The salt in sweat is very irritating to the horse's skin even causing sores in extreme cases. When you need to remove sweat from a horse try using just a cool water rinse as opposed to a full bath so you may avoid the shampoo and save the moisture and oils in the horse's coat. Also try to spot rinse only where he's sweaty next time and don't underestimate a good grooming and its cleaning properties. Yes, these alternative methods can often take more time and elbow grease but think of the added benefit of spending the quality time with your horse. (Hint; grooming is a key element in "horse whispering" and can open up a new world of communication between you and your horse)
So next time you bring your favorite mount out of his stall for his daily bath keep in mind the above council and remember a little dirt is a good thing, at least if you're a horse!