Thoughts on Washing Horses

Written by Martin Black

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.35

Every summer I witness people washing their horses. This is a very good practice; it helps to cool them down and remove ground-in dirt and salt from sweat. Horses learn to enjoy a bath as long as the water isn’t uncomfortably cold. But the first experience may raise a lot of suspicion or even fear depending on how we present the water.

When dealing with the problems we have with our horses or just trying to improve a situation to make things easier, I find myself analyzing every angle. How a different approach or presentation may affect the outcome, how the horses’ previous experiences or genetic makeup may suggest a different procedure. One of the most difficult, but I think the most important, things is for us to realize how the horse perceives our presentation or what circumstances are causing the horse to react to what we are doing.

Typically the horse is tied or held by a person, then approached with a garden hose with water shooting out the end, with or without a spray nozzle. The horse is scared and tries to leave so the person regulates the distance from the horse that the water is hitting and splashing on the ground while dragging the hose around trying to spray his legs. If the horse can’t or doesn’t move, the flight defense could be exchanged to fight with the feet striking or kicking at the water when it is sprayed at the legs first.

First of all, do horses like their legs splashed? No, that’s why they stretch out when they urinate on hard ground. Secondly, they are the most defensive about their legs, so starting there to introduce something new is likely to get an undesirable reaction. Third, are horses comfortable with anything dragging around them on the ground? Horses’ visual perception isn’t good at ground level; that’s why they put their head down when they investigate things they are uncertain of. Also, from the side they bend their neck and tilt their head so the eye can get a direct shot at an object on the ground. Fourth, are they familiar with the sound of the air and water hissing at them? The list goes on and on.

Persistence usually prevails with minor injuries, if any, and the horses learn to accept, or get desensitized to a person dragging the hissing snake, spitting on them.

On the other hand, how many horses are afraid of rain? Instead of starting at the ground, feet, or legs, spray the water high in the air so it comes directly onto the horse’s back. Key word being spray, not a pounding stream. As the horse gets confident with the water falling on his back, then you can reduce or increase pressure or just deliver it more horizontal and eventually under the belly and on the legs and feet. If he starts to show some concern with the water on his bottom half, try to deliver a wider spray to hit a more acceptable area and the area of concern at the same time, or move down a little and then go back up before you get a reaction and just keep working your way down. The thing to remember is not many horses haven’t experienced rain. Their top-line gets wet, water runs down their legs, and most of their body ends up wet. Presenting water as rain allows them to accept it like “previous experiences;” from there, the transition to the lower half of the horse doesn’t create the uncertainty. If you don’t drag the hose around on the ground and if the water falls like rain from the sky, the horse accepts the water much faster and it is much safer.

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.35

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