Clean it Up: Understanding When and How to Bathe Horses Better

By Kristin Deily

Head groom Margo Thomas has traveled the world making sure Olympic gold medalist Laura Kraut’s horses look their best. As a professional groom of 10 years, Thomas has had her share of experience making sure horses of all types and colors truly shine in the show ring. This week, she caught up with The Plaid Horse to talk about her grooming made easy tips for keeping horses clean and fresh from nose to tail. 

TPH: How often do you bathe the horses? 

MT: It depends on what each horse needs. At home, I typically try to keep their legs and tails clean to keep any fungus away, and then I try to give them a full bath once a week. If it’s really hot and they’re sweating, we spray them off or give them a rinse with water and apple cider vinegar. 

At shows, I’ll definitely give them a full bath. I also typically wash their legs and tails every time after they jump – I don’t want to rub footing under bandages, and tails are also easier to detangle if they don’t have footing in them.

TPH: Is every bath a full bath?

MT: If it’s a bath just to get them clean after a ride or if they’re in the paddock, it might just be quick. But if I’m bathing for a show or jog, I’m paying close attention to detail, making sure they’re clean and their socks are brighter.

At the end of the day, I have a pretty high standard of care. It’s not something I’m going to rush; I’m going to make sure it’s done well. 

Q: What are some of your favorite equine shampoo products? 

MT: The Gallop Colour shampoos from Carr & Day & Martin are great. Chestnuts really pop, and same with the bays. I also typically keep the Carr & Day & Martin Gallop Colour-  Grey shampoo around for grey horses. I try to really let it soak in, especially to get the horse’s tail white again. We also use that on the white socks with my other colored horses. 

I also like to have a good sponge. In America, you can find a product called a tiger tongue sponge that has a scrubber on one side and a sponge on the other, and it’s really good for getting stains out. 

Q: What about after a bath? Are there any finishing sprays or conditioners you use? 

MT: I really like the Carr & Day & Martin Mane & Tail Conditioner Spray for after they’ve had a bath or dried to keep them detangled and ready. The Carr & Day & Martin Canter Coat Shine is also really good for spraying after they’ve had a bath, and the Carr & Day & Martin Dreamcoat is good for when you don’t have time for a bath and you need to get them clean and shiny for the ring. The products are easy to use and have lasting results making my job easier.

Q: Let’s talk manes and tails. What are your secrets for growing a long mane & tail? 

MT: I’ve been known to dye a black tail before with some hair dye. But the main secret is getting the whites whiter, especially if they’ve had a few weeks off. For greys, it’s important to bathe or at least wash their tail a few days ahead of time and not just the day of the show. I find with grey horses that using the Carr & Day & Martin Gallop Stain Removing Shampoo and Gallop Colour – Grey shampoos helps a lot. 

When I wash, I really scrub the shampoo into their manes and even the fur on the crest of their necks. As a groom, I’ll notice more dirt on Laura’s coat if the mane isn’t completely clean. I also think their tails grow better if you wash all the way up to the roots. I think it stimulates growth, and it also keeps them looking less stained if you can get the whole tail and not just the bottom. When I do that, the hair is less likely to break or rip out when I comb it out. My personal preference is also to use a comb, not a brush, because I think it does a better job of detangling without breaking. 

Q: Let’s say a potential buyer is coming to see a sale horse within the hour. How would you get them ready? 

MT: I’d get a warm bucket of water with something like a lavender wash or coconut oil to get the dirt out and then I’d take a hot towel to go against the coat like a curry almost and then flatten it back down. Then, you use a dry towel to fluff it up and give them a good clean. 

If it’s a grey horse, good luck getting them ready in 15 minutes, but the Carr & Day & Martin Stainmaster is good to use with a damp cloth to get into a bit of a lather. I also will carefully comb out the tail and make sure I’ve cleaned around their eyes and around their nostrils, but do it in a gentle way if they’re not familiar with your program. 

Q: What are your tips for dealing with sensitive horses who don’t like to be bathed? 

MT: The main key is patience, and making sure you aren’t rushing things. If they’re especially head-shy, undo the crossties and hold them with a leadrope. Always make sure you’re doing it in a calm manner, even using cookies and carrots to show it’s a good thing and not a punishment. 

I personally don’t like spraying horses in the face with the hose. You can, and I’ve had horses that have come happy to do it, but I think it can cause more head-shyness and accidents in my experience. That’s why I prefer to wash a horse without a hose using a good, porous sponge where I can get all the soap out. I can then clean their faces with soap to prevent fungus and funk and then use a good sponge to get all the soap out and squeeze clean water over their faces.