Volunteer Guide – Grooming and Bathing

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Volunteer Guide – Grooming and Bathing

the Horse

""Proper grooming starts with the rubber curry comb, which you’ll find on the white shelves in the tack shed. Using the curry comb in circles starting on the neck behind the horse’s head helps to loosen dirt and hair and bring it to the surface. Work the curry comb down the body and to the top of the legs on both sides. Once you’re finished with the curry comb, the horse will likely look even dirtier.

Now look at the mess you’ve made! That’s where the body brush comes in. Starting at the head and working toward the tail, brush in short, sweeping strokes to dust all the loose dirt away, all the way down to the hooves.

Clean the horses’ hooves with a hoof pick, also found on the tack shelves. Hold the pick in your your dominant hand with the head of the pick coming out of the bottom of your hand, facing away from your body.

  1. Stand next to the horse’s leg, facing the tail
  2. Bend from the waist and run the hand nearest the horse down the back of the leg
  3. If you need to shift the horse’s weight off of the leg, use your shoulder or hip until you can pick up the hoof and slide your hand down to the toe
  4. Transfer the hoof to your non-dominant hand
  5. In downward motions, pick away the dirt and rocks starting from the heel of the hoof. Clear debris from the V-shaped frog area and the edges of the hoof wall.
  6. Gently guide the hoof back to the ground. (Don’t drop it.)
  7. Move to the next leg.

the Horse

""Gather all the supplies you’ll need from the shelves in the tack shed and put them in a bucket. You can use either the water hose attached to the house or the hydrant in the yard.

  • Sweat scraper
  • Curry comb
  • Body brush
  • Mane and tail comb
  • Chamois leather or towels

If you’re washing a horse with a tall back, grab a step stool from the tack shed.


Halter the horse and lead it to the bathing area. Tie the horse using a quick-release knot in a spot where it can’t get tangled or injured.

Never stand directly behind the horse, even when combing or washing the tail.

As with grooming, start the bath with a curry comb to loosen up the dirt and grime. Work the comb in a circular motion to gently stimulate muscle and skin circulation.

Use a stiff-bristled dandy brush to sweep away layers of dirt and loose hair. Brush all the way down the legs and hoof walls. Brush downward to sweep off dried mud.

Use a mane and tail comb to tease out any debris or knots tangled in the mane or tail. Work major tangles out a few strands at a time if necessary. Rather than struggle with the comb, use your fingers to work out the worst kinks.

When combing or washing the tail, stand beside the horse’s rear-end facing behind him. Standing close to the horse, guide your hand along his hip and reach around to grab the tail so he’s not surprised by the movement. This way if the horse kicks with a back leg you are out of harm’s way.

Time to Bathe

Opinions differ as to where to start the horse’s bath. This volunteer guide provides our perspective on what works for us. Some say to start with the head to get it out of the way. I prefer to start hosing the horse off at the legs.

Wet the horse.

Set the hose head on the shower setting. Don’t use the jet or high-velocity setting as it may upset the horse. Not all horses like water, so it’s best to start spraying around their feet first, then allow the water to splash its hooves, then work your way up to the body and head. Wet the whole coat before applying shampoo. For horses that don’t like the hose, soak a sponge in water and wipe it over the horse’s coat, squeezing out water as you rub.

Shampoo the horse.

Once the coat is wet, apply shampoo as directed on the bottle to a wet sponge and work it around in circles to a lather. You may need to apply shampoo several times depending on the horse’s size and the amount of grime on its coat. Shampoo the horse in sections so it doesn’t dry in the coat. Rinse the sections as you go so the shampoo doesn’t remain on the skin and cause chafing and irritation. Rub out the shampoo until the water runs clear (without suds).

Mane and tail.

Once again, never stand behind the horse when washing the tail. Slather shampoo in the horse’s main so it’s easier to comb. Work through stubborn knots with your fingers. Scrub the mane at the roots to work out grime and oil in the scalp. Rinse as you go to avoid buildup. Clean the top of the tail using a sponge dipped in warm water mixed with shampoo. Work the shampoo into a generous lather in the tail and work through knots with a comb and your fingers. For extra stubborn knots, pour in some conditioner. Begin rinsing the tail by holding the bucket of water up with one hand and lifting the tail into the bucket with the other. Swish the tail around in the bucket and squeeze out the dirt. Repeat the bucket process a few times with fresh water, then finish rinsing with the hose until the water runs clear.

Wash the head and face.

There are a couple of reasons I like to save the face and head for last. First, most horses don’t like to be sprayed in the face; second, the horse is already accustomed to having you rub him with the towels you used for drying, so why not use them to clean his face?

Use damp towels to wipe over the horse’s face, following the direction of the hair. Be careful not to squeeze or spray water into the horse’s eyes. Never use shampoo on the face, just plain water. For a very dirty face, replenish your bucket with clean water until it rinses clean and clear.

Dry the horse.

Once the rinse water is clear and there is no shampoo residue left, you’re ready to dry the horse. Use the sweat scraper in the direction of hair growth to squeegee the excess water off the body. You can also use the edge of your hand and forearm as a squeegee. Use clean dry towels to wipe away the rest of the water. When you are satisfied the horse is as dry as possible, walk it for ten minutes or so in the sun. If it’s clouded over, put an anti-sweat sheet or cooler blanket on the horse.