How To Wash A Horse – Step By Step Instructions

Whilst it is not necessary to wash your horse on a regular basis there will be times when you look at him and decide now is the time! Or perhaps you’re off to a show and need him to look his best. Well, read on for a step by step guide on how to wash your horse.

Rinse Only or Full Wash?

Firstly decide whether a full-on wash with shampoo is required. If you’re just wanting to shift some recent mud, a simple rinse might be sufficient. However, if you are wanting to get rid of scurf and ingrained dirt you will want to use shampoo. Rinsing a horse follows basically the same procedure as washing a horse – just leave out the shampoo and conditioner.

It is also a good idea to wash your horse on a warm day, so that he doesn’t get chilled and so that he dries quickly.

Equipmentwashing a horse

Equipment you will need includes:

  • Hose (ideally)
  • Bucket
  • Sponge (preferably 2)
  • Sweat scraper (if available)
  • Towels (optional)
  • Shampoo (optional)
  • Conditioner (optional)

Which Shampoo and Conditionerdonnybrook equine natural shampoo

Many people prefer to use a natural shampoo and conditioner which are less likely to cause any irritation. My preference is Donnybrook Hoof products which you can get on eBay, but there are many other good products available. Tea Tree shampoo from Amazon is another that I recommend.

Get Your Horse Comfortable

Tie your horse up with a slip knot, or to something breakable like a loop of hay band. Make sure he is calm and relaxed before starting. A haynet often helps with this.

Most horses are fairly ok with being washed, but if not, he may get stressed and you may want to release him in a hurry.

Loosen Mud and DirtUsing a Dandy Brush

Give your horse a quick groom. This will remove any excess mud, and will loosen the scurf and dirt embedded in the coat.

Brush Mane and Tail

If you’re including mane and tail in your wash, then it helps to remove any major tangles first. Use a strong, wide-toothed comb or even your fingers. Again this helps to lift the dirt and make it easier to wash out.

Clean the Horse’s Face

Many horses are sensitive about having their faces washed so do this part first before your horse gets bored or uncomfortable.

The best way to clean the face is to use a damp cloth or sponge, and just gently wipe. Do not use shampoo or conditioner on the face and never spray your horse in the face with the hose.

Wet the Body

It is now time to wet the horse’s body. This can be done with either a hose, or a bucket and sponge.

If hosing your horse, start low on the legs. As he gets used to it you can lift the hose higher on the body. Use a mild stream of water and rub the area as you gently apply the water so as to wet the coat right through.  With a hose you can probably wet the whole body before shampooing.

If wetting your horse using a bucket and sponge make sure you wet the coat right through. One way to do this is to gently rub against the direction of the hair, allowing the water to penetrate the top layer. Wetting using a bucket is slower than using a hose, so you might want to wash the horse part by part.

The video below demonstrates a friendly way of wetting the horses’s body. It also shows the technique to use in order to remove rinse water using a sweat scraper.


Shampoo The Coat

Apply a small quantity or shampoo ( as per the manufaturer’s instructions) to a sponge and work it in to the horse’s coat. If the horse’s coat is particularly dirty, the shampoo might not lather initially. Rinse it off and wash again.

Note that you do not always need to use shampoo. Shampooing too frequently can remove the natural oils that enable your horse’s coat to provide a protective, waterproof barrier to bad weather.

Wash the Mane

It is a good idea to wash the mane before rinsing the shampoo off, otherwise more soapy water will run over your already rinsed coat.

Wet the mane thoroughly. The horse may be a bit uncomfortable as you try to wet the upper part of the mane, so best to use a sponge and “wipe it wet”.

Apply shampoo and lather.

Rinse Off Body and Mane

This is probably the most important step of the whole process, especially if you have used shampoo. If shampoo is left on for too long it can irritate and dry the horse’s skin and coat. This is not only uncomfortable but can predispose to skin infections.

You can rinse by using either a hose or bucket and sponge. If using a hose, start by directing the water to the lower part of the legs first (as when wetting the body). This helps your horse understand what you are doing and gives him time to adjust to a cold shower!  Once your horse accepts the water stream you can gradually hose higher and higher up the body.

Once the horse is accepting of water on the body rinse from top to bottom. Start with the mane and rinse until soap-free. Then do the neck, shoulders, quarters, belly and lastly the legs.

Make sure you keep rinsing until all the shampoo has been removed.

Condition the Mane

You now have a lovely clean mane with a ton of tangles. Apply conditioner liberally and work in well. Comb your horse’s mane before rinsing the conditioner off – you’ll find the tangles are easier to remove!

Now rinse the mane to remove the conditioner in the same way you rinsed out the shampoo.

Dry the Horse

Once all the shampoo has been removed use the sweat scraper to scrape excess water off of the horse (see video above). If you don’t have a sweat scraper, just use your hands to remove excess water by firmly stroking in the direction of the hair.

You can then use a number of towels to stroke the horse’s body, which will remove more water.

Walking your horse in the sun for a few minutes will help to dry him.

Wash the Anal Area

Keep a separate sponge just for this area. Lift you horse’s tail, or move it to the side (if he will allow it!). Using a damp sponge, wipe the area around the anus. Rinse the sponge as necessary, and keep wiping until the sponge is no longer soiled.

Wash the Tailhorse's tail

Now that your horse’s body and mane are squeaky clean and dry, it’s time to do the tail. The most difficult issue here is getting the water to penetrate the tail. If using a hose, direct the stream to the top of the tail and rub the hair allowing the water to flow into the strands of hair.

Another way to wet the tail is to hold a bucket of water at about the level of the hocks and just dunk the tail into it. Then lift the bucket as high as convenient, and swirl the hair around. Use a sponge to wet the uppermost parts of the tail.

Apply shampoo and work it in well. As before you may need to rinse and reapply before a lather is seen.

Once well washed rinse the shampoo out thoroughly, and dry any excess water with a towel.

Condition the Tail

Apply conditioner to the tail and work in well along the full length of the tail.

This would be a good time to comb your horse’s tail. Start with the bottom 6 inches or so. Once tangels have been removed from this section work on the section above, until the full tail has been combed. Combing in sections from the bottom will stop combing tangles on to more tangles below.

Rinse the tail well to remove the conditioner.

Clean the Sheath

If your horse is male this may be a good time to clean the sheath. Note that the sheath does not need to be cleaned more than once in 6 months or so (if at all). Also bear in mind that a horse’s sheath is very sensitive, so be as gentle as you possibly can.

If you want to wear gloves, use thin, latex gloves so that you retain a sensitive touch. Stand facing the horse’s rear end with your hip and  shoulder near the front legs.

Use a sponge (not the one you used to clean under the tail) and lukewarm water and gently sponge the area. Start on the belly and work towards the sheath. Wash away the dirt and grime from the outside of the sheath.

Do not use soap or shampoo on the sheath area.

It is possible to go one step further and clean the inside of the sheath. This will require lubrication of both hand and sheath, and is a very sensitive operation. More information on how to clean the sheath can be found here.

And Finally …

horse rolling

And finally you’re done. Hopefully it’s a lovely sunny day, and the two of you really enjoyed the process! Now untie your horse and watch him … roll! Well, at least it will be clean dirt 🙂

Just remember that a full wash can take quite a long time so either do it in stages over a few days, or choose a time when you are not rushed. Not everything has to be done every time. If your horse is not used to any of the steps, take extra time to introduce things slowly.


Anything to share regarding washing your horse? If you have any thoughts on the above, or some useful tips to share, please do leave a comment below.

Happy washing 🙂





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *