Horse Problems: Bathing

Bathing can be a hassle if your horse has learned how to object.

Can he be hosed off in the grass on a loose lead? Is it the cross ties, the area, or the hose that seems to send him off?

The introduction of bathing can be accomplished with your horse on a lead in a large, grassy area. It is done much as you de-sensitized him to the stick or the rope: Hold him loosely, follow him with the water stream until he stops, remove the stream and let him relax.

Generally he will be bathed in a wash station, and it may have cross-ties. If your horse will not stand still or tolerate cross-tying, he must go back to some basic training exercises before you add water to the mix. see: Patience and Tying Exercises

If he is able to tie quietly, start introducing him to the washing station. Ours happens to have both ends open. It is simply two strong poles with a washing surface between them. Wherever you choose to wash, he should become familiar with the area and the surface first. Walk into the rack and stop. Let him feel his surroundings. Ask him to walk through it a few times. First walk through going forward and then enter from the other end. Walk in and back out like loading in a trailer. Walk in and stand. After a few minutes of this, he should stand quietly while you stand in front of him.

Water can be added after he ties well. Treat water as a De-Sensitizing Lesson. If you have a water hose that is coiled, you will have less trouble keeping the hose out of your way if you end up twisting and turning.

Start with a hose on gentle stream (no hissing sprayer) on the shoulders or legs (as in the picture and video). Keep the stream in one place until he stands still. Then stop the water. Let him rest for a minute. He will probably move away, trying to avoid the stream. If he is too frantic to stay in the ties without real panic, he needs to go back to the Patience Pole.

Assuming that he is quieting to the water on his shoulders, slowly move the stream down the legs until he objects again. Wait until he stops stamping or moving and remove the water again. Move the stream up to his withers, then back over his rump. Each time he stands still, remove the water. As you move up his neck, he will probably start to throw his head around to avoid the stream on his face. Don’t try to wash his face at this time.

When the horse tolerates whole-body bathing with the hose streaming, you can add the sprayer. It makes a noise, so start the process over from the beginning when you introduce it.

The perfect time to play this bathing game is when your horse has had a particularly good workout and is hot and sweaty. Almost all of my horses not only learn quickly to tolerate bathing on a hot day, but they learn to enjoy drinking out of the hose as a treat during the process.

The Face


Now we will add the face (with gently streaming water not a real spray.) It is just a trickle.

Here is the trick. Start with the dribble at his poll or just above his eyes. He will toss and throw his head. One of my horses actually threw back in the cross-ties because she did not like the water on her face. She was secure and did not go so far as to try to go over backward or anything more dramatic. But she let me know she did not like it. I stayed out of her way but persisted when she came back down. She found that her little tantrum did not stop the process.

When your horse makes the slightest move to lower his head (an accidental but fortuitous move) remove the water. The object, of course, is to teach him that lowering his head when you wash it is the correct move. As you progress, ask him to lower it and remain clam before you remove the stream. This is hard to do at first. He may be fighting and throwing his head up and down faster than you can react, but keep at it until you catch the head lowered for an instant if you can. Remember that the Release of Pressure is the key. When he is calm, remove the water.

If you cannot catch his head lowered then treat it as a de-sensitizing lesson: just keep the water dribbling on his head until he stops fighting it. The rearing horse tolerated the dribbles into her eyes after about 5 minutes of persistence.

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