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Grooming Basics – Bathing, by Lynn Palm



Lynn Palm and Her Dog

lynn Palm MBathing is a basic grooming procedure that a  horse needs to learn.   Introduce this lesson only  when a horse accepts basic training commands.   A wash stall is an ideal teaching spot, but these  techniques will work outdoors along a fence.

Step-By-Step Bathing Success –  Stand the horse in a straight position with his  right side along the wash stall wall.   Use a hose  with a nozzle that releases a soft stream of water,  and make sure the water temperature is comfortable.   Stand off the horse’s left shoulder, keeping a  loose tension on his longe or lead rope.   Let him  look, smell, and investigate the wash stall.   When  he relaxes, hold the hose a few feet from him.   The hose can be a scary object.   Move slowly and  give your horse plenty of time to get used to it.  Turn the water on so it trickles from the hose  onto the floor.   Again, let him get used to the  running water.   If he moves forward to get away  from it, hold up your hand and give him the command  to “whoa.” Reassure and praise him to  encourage him as he accepts the hose.   Slowly move the hose toward your horse.   With  the hose pointing downward, slowly move it close  enough so that water falling on the floor splashes  up on his foreleg.   When he accepts this, bring the  hose up and direct water on his leg.   If he lifts his  leg to avoid contact with the water, move with him  and maintain the water’s touch.   If he wants to  sniff the hose or play with the water, let him for  now.   These are signs of acceptance.   Gradually move the hose up the  foreleg to the shoulder.

To give him  more reassurance, hold the end of  the hose in your hand and stroke  him with that hand at the same time  the water is touching him.   Work  from front to back, letting a gentle  stream of water run along his topline  and barrel.

Introduce water to the  hind leg area by using the same  steps as on the foreleg.   When the  horse accepts the water on his hind  leg, then move the water up the hind  leg, across the hindquarters, and  back to the shoulder and neck area.

Face Washing  – Many horses do not like getting their faces wet.   Start with a soft damp sponge to teach your  horse to accept this important grooming procedure.   Hold the side of the halter and bring the  sponge up the crest of the horse’s neck, behind  his head, and rest it on his poll.   Once he accepts  it, bring the sponge between his ears and down  to his face.   With short, soft strokes, gently wipe  his face, ears, and head.   If he brings his head up,  move with him, keeping contact with the sponge  until he relaxes his head and neck down.   This  step may take some time and practice to master.

Once your horse accepts a sponge with water,  introduce the hose.   With the hose turned off and  in your hand, bring it up the crest of his neck and  hold it on his poll.   When he accepts this, repeat  the same procedure except this time with the  water turned on to a very gentle stream.   Hold it  on his poll, and let the water trickle down his face.   Gauge his reactions to know when he accepts  the feel of the water on his face.

Finally, teach the  horse to accept the hose being brought up directly  in front of his head with the water applied  directly to his face.

Incorporate a bathing lesson into your daily  training–even if it means just getting your horse’s  legs wet with a hose–until he learns to accept  bathing without the blues.   How long will it take for a horse to learn to  accept bathing?   Horses, like people, are individuals.   There is no set amount of time that should  be spent on this lesson.   Your horse will tell you  through his reactions when he is relaxed, accepting,  and ready for the next step.   The hardest thing for us is to be patient and  take the time the horse needs to accept these  new experiences.   Time spent in teaching this lesson  will pay you back many times over in a horse  that accepts and trusts everything you want to do  with him.

Need more help learning how to teach your  horse to accept bathing?   Visit  us online at

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 3, Issue 7.]


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