Home » Do Horses Need To Be Bathed: Here’s What You Need To Know

Do Horses Need To Be Bathed: Here’s What You Need To Know

There is nothing more frustrating than spending hours of your time grooming and bathing your horse only have them roll in the dirt a few minutes later.  My gelding is no different.  His response to a nice, sudsy bath is a vigorous dust roll right after.  This got me thinking.  If he likes being dirty, should I waste my time bathing him at all?  

After a bit of online research and consulting various veterinarian reference books, I learned that repeated baths are actually not healthy for my horse.

Horses do not require frequent baths and grooming is usually sufficient for removing most dirt and grime from their coats.  Baths are appropriate when extreme mud or sweat is difficult to remove but over bathing with harsh soaps will strip important oils or sebum from a horse’s coat and can lead to numerous skin infections.  

There are circumstances when bathing is necessary.  Keep reading to learn a few tips that will make the process less frustrating for you and your horse.     

Why you shouldn’t bathe a horse frequently

Horses have natural skin oil called sebum which coats each hair, giving it a shine.  A sufficient sebum coating causes the hairs to lie flat and repel water.  These oils also protect their skin from bacterial infections.  By brushing your horse, dirt is removed and sebum is distributed over the hairs making them shiny again.  

Contrary to what you may think, frequent bathing does not create a shinier coat.  Bathing a horse with shampoo strips the oils from their hair and skin.  The stronger the shampoo, the more sebum it removes and consequently, the shine and protection it provides.  More baths equal duller coats and dry skin which becomes susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections.  And many people think that bathing will help solve a skin issue when in fact it only makes it worse.   

Make sure to use the mildest shampoo you can find but even these will remove too much sebum if used too often.  Fully rinsing out the shampoo and applying a hair conditioner will help the skin retain some of its oils.  

When should I bathe my horse

There are several factors that determine how frequently a horse actually requires bathing.  These include specific riding disciplines, health issues, and if the dirtiness of your horse will affect how you work with them.  As long as the saddle area is clean and free of debris, dirty legs on a trail ride pose no issues.  

The following list gives 5 examples where bathing makes sense regardless of the time of year. 

1.  When your horse is extremely dirty and is coated with mud, dried sweat or manure and standard grooming just doesn’t cut it.  Try washing only the specific area unless a full body rinse is needed.  

2.  If your horse has a health condition that requires keeping an area or their whole body clean.

3.  Show horses must be pretty.  Many equestrians save time with grooming by rinsing or washing their horse before each event.  Just be careful that you aren’t over washing with shampoo which actually dulls the hair.  

4.  After a really strenuous ride, a quick hose down will help remove sweat buildup under the saddle and prevent it from caking up when dry.  Dry sweat is harder to remove with a brush.   

5.  Some horses get extra itchy at the end of spring shed-out and a full body bath can help remove loose hairs and dander.    

Before you reach for the soap and hose, make sure a chronic illness or dietary deficiency isn’t the underlying cause of a poor coat.  No amount of bathing or grooming will compensate for unhealthy skin and hair.

How warm should it be to bathe a horse

You’ve decided your horse needs a full body bath but is it warm enough to do so safely?  To keep your horse from getting sick after a bath, make sure the outside temperature is warmer than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is especially important if you are bathing outside and using cold water.  Wind chill and time of day are also important factors to consider.   

Horses naturally get wet from rain in temperatures below 50°F.  However, rain water runs off their coat due to the sebum.  Bathing pushes the soap and water under the hairs onto the skin.  

Protect your horse from hypothermia by washing in the warmest part of the day and allowing their coat to dry completely before temperatures drop at night.  

For winter time baths, you should have access to an enclosed barn with a wash stall and warm water.  Do not bathe horses outside during the winter.

Can you wash a horse with cold water

Most of the time warm water is more comfortable for both you and your horse.  I have yet to give a horse a bath without getting wet myself.  If you don’t have access to a hose with warm water, consider waiting until the warmer months to give your horse a full body bath.  Spot washing can be done with cold water anytime if you don’t have warm water available.  Just make sure to completely dry the area afterwards.   

My horse seems enjoys cold water baths during the summer months or at least he tolerates it.  Does any horse actually enjoy baths?  Hot summer temperatures and sunshine dries his coat quickly and I have no fear of hypothermia.

It’s a good idea to acclimate your horse to cold water slowly.  Spraying a stream of frigid water on a horse’s back is asking for trouble, especially if they don’t know it’s coming.    

What soap can I use to wash my horse

When rinsing with water alone is not enough to remove the dirt and grime, reach for an appropriate horse shampoo.  The best shampoo for horses is strong enough to remove dirt while retaining as much skin and hair oils as possible.  

Using a shampoo that contains a conditioner or applying a cream conditioner afterwards helps restore skin health and hair shine.  Look for a natural, protein-based shampoo and conditioner with aloe vera, lanolin or coconut oil.  

Stay away from medicated soaps unless directed by a veterinarian.  Again, healthy skin and hair is able to protect itself from bacterial and fungal infections.

My three favorite brands are available on Amazon and at most farm supply stores.  All three are gentle and great for full body washes and spot cleans.

Mane n Tail Shampoo and Conditioner

This classic shampoo and conditioner set works together to gently clean your horse’s mane, tail and body.  Fortified with moisturizers and proteins that clean without stripping natural oils, this soap is a favorite among equestrians.   

Horse Health 2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner

This 2-in-1 soap cleans and moisturizes while saving you time.  Coconut oil is the natural protein base in this shampoo which helps retain moisture in the hair and skin.  It is advertised as “gentle enough for daily use.”  Just remember that all shampoos, including this one, will strip their skin of oils if used too often. 

Natural Rapport, The Only Equine Wash Horses Need

The brand name pretty much sums it up.  The Only Equine Wash Horses Need gently does it all.  Made from coconut and palm surfactants it cleans, moisturizes, deodorizes, detangles, and conditions.  No need for multiple products.    

Why do horses roll after a bath

No one knows for certain why horses roll after receiving a bath but it is certainly frustrating.  You spent all that time cleaning him up and he turns right around and re-applies a nice coating of dirt.  

Horses have a natural tendency to roll because a coating of dirt and dust helps repel insects and absorb sweat.  Maybe they feel too clean after a rinse and it’s their own way of protecting themselves. 

There are a few things you can do to prevent an immediate roll after a bath.  First, keep your horse tied or go on a walk until they are completely dry.  When they eventually roll, the dirt won’t become mud.  Dry dirt is easier to brush off.  

Second, place a clean sheet on your horse before turning out.  They will probably still roll but the blanket will keep the majority of dirt off their body.

Third, turn your horse out in a grass pasture if you have access to one.  Grass is cleaner to roll on than a dirt paddock. 

Finally, if you need your horse to stay clean for an upcoming event or show, don’t turn them out.  Schedule a bath one day before or even the morning of, if you have time.  Keep your horse in a clean stall or tied up to prevent rolling.  A light sheet will also help keep them clean while trailering to the show.     

Final thoughts

As an average horse owner, you do not need to bathe your horse very often.  For those of you in the show circuit, try to minimize shampoo use.   

Not having to bathe a horse frequently has two upsides.  First, you don’t have to waste your time washing him.  A layer of dirt is beneficial when they’re not being ridden and not over washing prevents skin ailments.  And two, your horse will thank you, as most of them dislike getting a bath anyways.