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Lauren's Guide to Show Horse Bathing


If you've never shown before and you've never owned your own horse, chances are your idea of washing a horse includes getting him all wet and then squeegeeing him off before releasing him to pasture where he's surely going to roll in the dirtiest spot he can find. 


Or at least this was the case for me. So when it came time for me to make a horse a squeaky-clean and show-pretty, I needed a little extra instruction. Kris gave me a crash course on how to wash a horse in prep for show. With her information I've put together this cheat sheet for anyone else who, like me, has holes in their horsing knowledge. 


  • You want to start with the tail. Completely soak it. (It may take a little while and some finger combing, it's thicker than you think)

  • Use dishsoap and your hands and soap through the tail. Remember with dish soap a little goes a long way. 

  • Use your fingers and fingernails and really scrub at the base of the tail and all along the tailbone. You want to free all the dandruff so when you part the hairs you don't see any dirt or flaky skin under the fur/hair. Don't worry the horses love this. You can really dig in. Look for very still horses and quivery horse lips for signs of success.

  • Rinse the tail thoroughly until all the soap is out.

  • Now take a palmful of conditioner and work it into the entire tail. Repeat with palmful after palmful until you've really covered the whole thing. You should end up using about 1/3 of a bottle of conditioner here. Let the conditioner sit in as long as you can while you work on the rest.

  • Wet the horse down everywhere else except his face and ears. Most horses don't take well to having their face washed so we will only hose as far up as his neck to avoid unnecessary chaos. Start hosing at the hooves and work your way up slowly in case he's not such a fan of being washed. (Tundra I'm looking at you). 

  • Apply dish soap to a curry comb and curry your horse to a sudsy lather on all his big broad areas. So neck, body, flanks, etc. Again, a little dish soap goes a long way. Too much soap and you'll be rinsing for days to get it all back out. 

  • Use dish soap on your hands to clean his legs. This may take a little effort if your horse is prone to grass stains. 

  • More dish soap on your hands, this time to soap up the mane. Like with the tail, you want to use your fingers and fingernails to really scrub at the skin at the base of the hair to free up any dandruff. 

  • Take a scrub brush with some dishsoap and scrub the hooves all the way around. It may not look like you're accomplishing much but you'll really be able to see which hooves you did or didn't do when you get to the rinsing step. 

  • Rinse everything, excepting the tail for right now. Check your work. If anything doesn't look up to snuff, just re-curry with some dish soap and rinse again. Do make an effort not to spray water out of the front of the washrack into the aisle. Even a little wet dirt turns into quite a puddle by the time a show's worth of horses get washed. 

  • Apply conditioner to the mane. You will want to use sparing amounts of conditioner here. The more the mane is conditioned the more it will stand straight up like a poofy mowhawk. (Funny, I know, but not quite the look we are going for for show). 

  • Take a comb and carefully brush through the conditioned mane and tail. With the tail you will want to start combing through at the bottom tip and work your way through in small sections going up. We want to be careful to not break or pull out hairs if at all possible. We love those thick, long flowy tails!

  • Once mane and tail have been detangled, rinse the conditioner out. 

  • Spray your horse down with the coat shine, but be very careful not to spray the saddle or girth area or his sides. Coat shine makes his coat soft and shiny and helps to repel dirt but also can be very slick. You don't want your saddle or girth going anywhere and you probably want your legs to stay put too. 

  • Squeegee your horse down. Towel him a little drier if you like and graze him until he is dry. Releasing him to pasture while still wet is a recipe for rolling. 

  • On the day of the show you can use a sponge to spot clean any areas that got dirty overnight and clean up his face. 


Ta da! That's all there is to it. It goes faster with experience and eventually, with practice, you'll get less wet during the bathing process. (I hope.)

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