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									                                       Warm Weather Lesson!
                                                         By Darcie Litwicki


                            Ah! Warm weather is here and our horses are ready for a good spring cleaning
                            after a long winter of dry skin, dirt, and sweat. The problem some of us run into
                            is that our horse’s idea of a bath centers around a good roll in the dirt while we
                            feel that soap and water means “clean.” One horse may love the feel of water
                            and frothy lather cleaning away their grime. Another may not be so keen on this
                            idea and may not fear just the hose monster but the common bath tools we want
                            to use as well. Since it’s not natural for horses to be cleaned our way, we need
to use a considerate and methodical approach in training them to accept a bath. Most horses figure out that
a bath feels nice once given a chance to relax. This is especially true if he is hot, has itchy skin, or insect
bites. This month, I will share some tips to help you get your bathing beauty in a cooperative mood
through ground work and a gradual introduction to the process.

In order to be successfully bathed, your horse has to be willing to stand still. So, before you get your soap
and buckets out, work on having your horse stand still until he is able to do so. Since there is no cue for,
“stand still,” you will need to teach fundamental exercises like leading, backing up, moving hips, and
moving shoulders to help your horse understand that it is better to stand still than to fidget. (Feel free to
contact me for past step-by-step articles on these exercises and I will be happy to send them to you.) These
exercises will teach your horse to be responsive by moving his body in the way you ask, when you ask.
This will help keep you safe by avoiding being stepped on or dragged off. It will also help you position
your horse’s body as needed for washing and rinsing, and if you think about it, you can’t possibly force a
1,000 pound horse to stand still.

Start with baby steps by having your horse walk in several circles around you or have him move his hips
over numerous times. Once you have had him move a bit, ask him to stand still. If he is not able to, start
him moving again. Basically you are offering him the choice of standing still or working. Eventually he
will understand that it is a better choice to stand still. When you first begin this lesson, try to move your
horse before he moves himself. For example, if he is able to stand for three seconds, move him in two.
Continue working to increase the time you allow him to stand and be sure to praise him each time he stands
longer. He won’t feel stressed from being restrained and he will understand that you don’t expect him to
stand there forever. With patience and consistency on your part, he will be willing to stand for longer
periods of time in a relaxed manner. Take the time your horse needs to learn how to stand still.

Once your horse is standing still, it’s time to introduce the items you will use for his bath (see the bath
supply list for recommendations). Allow your horse to deal with one item at until he feels comfortable with
each one before you actually bathe him. For example, rub a sponge on his body in a matter-of-fact way as
though you are grooming him. Do this until he accepts the sponge. Next, let him look at the bucket and
shampoo bottle and so forth until you have introduced each item you will be using for his bath. If he is
worried about any of the items, just set them off to the side where he can see them and keep them within his
comfort zone. Then set him to work using some of the ground work exercises until he seems to want to
look at the items on his own. Allow him to sniff, nuzzle, and lick the items if he wants to. You may need
to sack him out with the towels too. Start by folding them small and then increasing them to full size as he
becomes more comfortable. Go at your horse’s pace with all of these items and don’t force them on him.

If your horse loves to play with water in hoses your bath task will be much easier. If not, be sure to
introduce the hose without water and then with a small trickle of water increasing the amount of water up to
the level you plan to bathe him with. Do ground exercises as you did before until he will accept first just
the hose, then the trickle, then the incrementally increasing water pressure on his own. Be cautious of how
you approach your horse with the hose and note your body language. Hold the water end down towards the
ground and apply it indirectly. If you hold it like a whip or rope as when you cue your horse to move, you
may actually be telling your horse to move away from it. Some horses will show major fear over a hose.
In this case, back up, move the hose away and instead wet a sponge and give your horse a sponge bath and
keep working slowly on the hose over a period of time. When the hose is acceptable to your horse, keep
the water pressure low and start applying the water on the lower front legs. Do not stand in front of or
behind the horse. Stay at a 45 degree angle to his shoulder and slowly move the water up his legs to his
chest, shoulder, neck, barrel, hip, and then back legs. If he becomes upset at any point, stop, put down the
hose, do some ground exercises and try again as before or stop for the day if you feel he has had enough.

Once your horse will tolerate water on every area of his body, even sensitive ones, get ready to bathe. You
may want to start his initial bath by wetting and soaping small areas at a time so that you can rinse right
away. This will prevent you from having to stop due to your horse feeling stressed. It is not a good idea to
have him all soaped up then find out he won’t tolerate a rinse. If you apply soap it is important that you
rinse it all off thoroughly to avoid skin problems. There is nothing wrong with washing one leg and then
stopping for the day and continuing to build on it over subsequent sessions. The following tips will help
you be more successful with your bathing lessons.

√ Assemble all the equipment you will need for your horse’s bath ahead of time
√ Try to bathe when flies are bad, or when your horse is hot, itchy, or sweaty
√ Bathe in a safe area with room to move around, secure footing, and good drainage
√ Hold off on shampoo until your horse is willing to have all areas wet down with the hose
√ Work on bathing while holding a lead rope, do not tie your horse up until he is comfortable
√ Sponge the face and carefully wash around eyes, nose, and ears; don’t spray water in the face
√ Horses may kick or stomp at water dripping off of them so be aware
√ Curry and brush off loose dirt and dander prior to bathing
√ Use a detangler or leave in conditioner on the mane and tail, comb when dry
√ After the shampoo is rinsed off; use a finishing brush on the coat after applying a coat conditioner

                                             List of Bathing Supplies

Hose with adjustable nozzle
Two or three buckets of warm water - one for rinsing water, one for mixing shampoo, one for sponging the face
(You can set them in the sun to warm prior to bathing time)
Large body sponge, small face sponge or shower puffs
Mild shampoo with proper PH balance for horses
Body conditioner for horses and leave in conditioner/detangler for mane & tail
Sheath cleaner for stallions and/or geldings
Sweat scraper
Clean, dry towels.

Finishing Brush, mane & tail comb or brush


Take your time teaching your horse to enjoy his bath. Work at his pace. Don’t wait until the day of the
show to start this lesson. Work on it well ahead of time. You will be building his trust and confidence in
you because you are not forcing him. It can be a relaxing and rewarding time for both of you. Not only
will your horse look great but his coat will be clean and it can provide relief from heat, bug bites, and itchy
spots. It’s a win-win situation. Enjoy your horse!


Darcie Litwicki is a CHA Certified Riding Instructor, horse trainer, clinician, and certified K-8 Teacher
located in Vail, Arizona. She has a life-time of horse experience, competed for three years in National
Intercollegiate Rodeo Association and in 2005 completed a one year horse training apprenticeship with
Steve Sikora who is a John Lyon’s Certified Select Trainer. Darcie is available for private training,
working with problem horses, private or small group lessons, clinics and demonstrations. Feel free to
contact her with training questions or to book lessons, clinics, or demonstrations at 370-8093,
dlitwicki@msn.com, or by web-site at: www.changedhorse.com

								
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