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How Often Should I Bathe My Horse?

by Wendy Sumner
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Horsehair and skin are as varied from horse to horse as humans’ hair and skin varies. Some horses don’t need baths at all, while others need baths on a regular basis. Read on to learn about the important roles of a horse’s hair coat and how often you should bathe your horse.  

Roles of a Horse’s Hair Coat 

The largest organ a horse has is the skin, which includes the hair. When we look at our horses, the first thing we notice is their hair coat. The color helps us to identify them. But more importantly, their hair coat is an indicator of overall health. Long hair in summer can mean worms or other issues. A dull, rough, or sparse hair coat can indicate a nutritional deficiency, hormone imbalance, or early signs of illness. Grooming your horse regularly will help you to be aware of any underlying health problems.  

A horse’s hair coat is designed to keep insects away from the skin. Furthermore, it adjusts to the elements, growing longer in winter to insulate against the cold. The oils in a horse’s hair coat help to shed water and protects them from the snow. When a horse sheds in the spring, their hair coat is designed to protect them from summer sun and heat.  

how often should I bathe my horse?

Role of Horse Hair Oils

Equine hair is made up of several layers. If you are interested in the anatomy of horsehair, here is an excellent article in Equus Magazine. Like human hair, horse hairs are attached to the skin with follicles. Next to the follicles are sebaceous glands that produce an oil called sebum. The roles of sebum are to protect against micro-organisms and provide a protective barrier from water. A shiny coat is a result of the sebum oil smoothing the outer scales of the hair strands. If there is not sufficient oil, the hair coat will be rough and dull in appearance.  

How Shampoo Works

The purpose of shampoo is to attach onto dirt particles so that they can be rinsed out. Oil is also rinsed out at the same time. Shampooing too much, or with products not designed for equine hair coats, can strip away the oils horses need to protect their hair and skin. Some horses have skin sensitivities to different products, and a dry shampoo may be needed. After a good shampooing, it takes a few days for the oils to build back up.  

When To Bathe

What is the occasion for the bath? Did your horse role in the mud and is now caked in it? Is he sweaty after being ridden? Do you have a big event coming up? Does he look dull and lack shine? Has there been a recent injury that needs cleaning? The answer to each of these questions will determine how often you should give your horse a bath.  

Baths every week are not recommended for horses unless a commercial conditioner is used to replace the oils. Even with conditioners, bathing too often can damage the hair and skin.

Horses that are caked in mud may get by with a good rinsing. If there is dirt residue left after the rinse, a bath is needed. This is especially true if the horse is being ridden. Dirt rubbing under tack can cause irritations and discomfort. Think of it like having sand inside your boot and wearing it all day. 

After a good ride, a nice rinse will get rid of the itchy sweat as well as cool your horse down. It is not necessary to give bathes after each workout.

If you have an event coming up, a bath will probably be in order. It depends on when your horse had a bath last, and how dirty he has gotten since. If you decide to give a bath, do it a few days in advance, if possible. Bathing ahead of time will allow the sebum oil to recoat the hair strands and bring back that shine.  

Dirt can cause a horse’s coat to lack shine and appear dull. However, nutrition and health would be the first consideration. If the horse is receiving an adequate diet and is healthy, then a bath will help bring back the shine. If the coat is still dull and lackluster, then look more closely at your horse’s diet and health. Remember, it takes a few days for the oils to recoat the hair strands. 

Different injuries require different care—some require rinsing with cold water, while others require a daily wash. The first thing to do when your horse is injured is to try and get any dirt away from the injury so you can see the extent of the damage. It will also help to lower the chances of bacteria getting into the wound. Do this with clear water unless your veterinarian tells you otherwise. After evaluating the injury, follow your veterinarian’s instructions on how to clean and care for it.   

how often should I bathe my horse

Final Thoughts

We want our horses to have a gleaming hair coat that shines in the sunlight. The first step to accomplishing this is to provide proper nutrition. The next step is good grooming, which includes bathing with the right tools and equine hair products. How often you should give your horse a bath will depend on your horse, and the reason for the bath.  

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