Linda Murat, who groomed former Olympic silver-medal jumper Gem Twist, shares her methods for keeping gray horses show-ring spotless.
Adapted from an article in Practical Horseman by Linda Murat
Occasional pre-show baths aren’t enough to prevent a gray horse from yellowing — and if he does yellow, clipping is the only way to remove the stain. To make sure your horse never reaches that state, you need a daily routine for basic cleanliness and a weekly (or at least biweekly) bath and touch-up system that stops stains from setting.
To minimize the amount of stain removal you have to do and the energy you have to expend, pick up your horse’s stall frequently (the less manure in his bedding, the fewer manure stains he’ll have). Also check for grass stains when he comes in from turnout (the longer they set, the harder they are to remove).
Groom your horse daily with curry comb and brush, finishing off with the towel.
As you curry, use extra elbow grease (or your vacuum) on any manure, mud or grass stains you find. Especially if his coat is toward the darker end of the “gray” range, that may be enough to get most stains out. But if, after currying, he still has a stain or two, what you do next depends on whether you’ve bathed him within the last couple of weeks.
If you have bathed your horse recently and he’s still clean, put warm water on the stain, apply about a teaspoonful of shampoo (more if the stain is large), scrub the area with your scrub brush (back and forth on the body, up and down on legs), and rinse. But if he’s dirty or hasn’t been bathed in a while, such spot-cleaning will leave him looking streaky; instead, you’ll need to work on the stain as part of a full bath.
Cold-weather modification: Substitute hot toweling for spot cleaning.
Ideally, you should bathe your gray horse at least every other week, following the procedure described below. But if your barn is cold, your water is cold, you don’t have bucket heaters, and you can’t bring yourself to do a full bath that frequently, at least shampoo the spots where stains tend to build up and set: hocks, elbows and tails on most horses. Be careful to scrub the tail all the way down to the roots of the hairs, because when you braid, any lingering dirt will be obvious.
Cold-weather modification: In the very coldest weather, your horse may object strongly to your washing the base of his tail. In that case, concentrate on his legs and the bottom of the tail, where most stains tend to happen.
Wet your horse’s whole body with warm water. Put about half a cup of shampoo in a full-size bucket and fill with warm water; then sponge the liquid on and lather his whole body. Use the scrub brush to remove ground-in dirt. Don’t forget his ears and the base of the mane, both places where dirt builds up, and where left-on dirt will really stand out against a sparkling white coat. (To clean the ears, wet them first with the sponge; then apply a small amount of shampoo to the outsides with your hands and scrub with your fingers. Be careful not to get any water inside the ears when you rinse.)
Rinse your whole horse thoroughly. If you let the shampoo dry on his coat, he’ll look dull instead of shiny.
Cold-weather modification: Take advantage of any unseasonably warm days to bathe your horse. If you must bathe him on a colder day, wash just one area at a time. Start with the legs, tail and hindquarters; when they’re finished, cover the quarters with a cooler. Next do the neck and mane, and finally the midsection (the most important part to guard from getting chilled). When you’re finished there, cover his whole body with several dry coolers and walk him to help his body temperature stay up.
The two-bath routine I use is a modification of my regular bathing technique. If you’re not bathing your gray horse regularly in cold weather, I suggest you do this variation a week before he competes, so that you get out most of the
built-up dirt, and again on the day of the show.
As a final touch, after the horse is dry, use spray detangler on his tail. It works a little like floor wax, helping to keep dust from settling on those clean tail hairs. If the tail doesn’t get braided, I comb the detangler through the whole tail; with a braided tail, I just use it below the braid.
Simple step-by-step guide
Grooming tips and techniques
Selecting the right shampoo
Basic bathing tips: Shampooing
Basic bathing tips: Rinsing
Keep Your Gray Horse Gleaming
Horse Hoof Care Tips
Equine Massage Therapy
Winter Horse Grooming Tips
Grooming for Show Day
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