There's nothing prettier than a clean grey horse, right? Most of you already know I do a little bit of horse breeding for my competition horses. It all began with Ladybug my ‘89 model grey Thoroughbred, who loves to be filthy. Grey being a dominant gene, Ladybug blessed me with 3 more grey horses. All with her desire to be any color other than grey. I now have a Ph.D. in whitening skills and thought I would share some of my stain removal secrets with you.
Something I have noticed through the years of competing with this gang is that there is a cycle to break. If you’ve ever noticed how dry your skin gets in the winter from hand washing, understand that your horse’s skin works the same way. Over-washing with soaps creates dry skin. Dry skin is flaky and itchy—horses with dry, itchy skin like to roll in muddy puddles to soothe the itch. Lots of things contribute to this cycle, be sure to look at the ingredients list in your coat sprays. Anything containing alcohol can be a contributing factor to dry skin, alcohol-based fly sprays included. This cycle, once you get in it, is VERY hard to break mid-show season.
Body clipping and grooming go a long way in helping the grey’s stay clean. But when your first show of the season is looming, and your horse is a pretty shade of Carolina Ombre Orange, the show bath is inevitable. I like to start with a conditioning shampoo; Corona is my personal favorite. It’s gentle, has lanolin in it to help replenish essential skin oils, and does a good job at cleaning the hair and conditioning the skin without drying it out. After this first lather up with Corona Shampoo is out of the way, I look for any leftover stains, Oliver manages to get his ears, hocks, and knees pretty badly stained over a Winter. To the stains, I will take a small bit of QuickSilver shampoo, gently scrubbing it into the stain, and then let it sit for about 5 minutes - use cold water to rinse, this usually takes care of hard set stains.
I have found bluing/whitening shampoos as a whole to be very drying, so I limit their use to deep set-in stains only. We can all see after using the stuff how deep it penetrates. Show me those fancy purple fingernails and cuticles - am I right? With the body and bad stains taken care of, it’s time to tackle those wild locks and tangles in the mane and tail. Before we even address stains - brush out both and be sure to remove any debris, fairy knots, burs, hitchhikers, and any other pasture debris your pal has entwined in his mane or tail.
Once they are free from tangles, start like we did the body - warm water please - your horse will thank you when you reach his tail bone. Again gentle shampoo to avoid drying out the skin on your horse’s tail. I generally let the shampoo sit for a few minutes and rinse out well. - Read that again - RINSE WELL. Your braider will thank you or curse you based on your rinse skills. Mane’s and tails with any sort of leftover bath residue are notoriously difficult to braid. It’s like trying to hold on to a wet cat while braiding.
Mane’s usually come fairly clean with just the conditioning shampoo. If not I break out the shimmering highlights senior ladies shampoo. It’s your grandma’s grey hair shampoo that she gets at Sally Beauty supply. I also use this in the second soap application on tails to clean up any remaining stains still clinging on. Always make sure you rinse well, there is no such thing as ‘over rinsing’ when it comes to bathing your horse.
Oliver always manages to get some sort of clay stain in his tail that just will not budge; for these, I will use a dot of quicksilver directly on the stain and let it sit a minute or two. Much longer than that, and your horse will have a purple spot in his tail. Be sure to use the bluing shampoos sparingly on whitetails and rinse, rinse, rinse, RINSE!
After this first bath of the season, before I’m finished. I treat his coat - *Not Mane Or Tail* JUST his coat to a deep-acting conditioner like Cowboy Magic Rosewater Conditioner. I massage it into his coat with his favorite curry comb and then rinse it out. Make sure to keep any product out of your horse's mane and/or tail if you intend to have them braided. Your braider will thank you for a squeaky clean mane and tail.
Over the years, I have tried all the ‘whitening hacks' I’ve been able to get my hands on, including Gentian Violet- diluted in water, ketchup, vinegar, bluing, crazy concoctions, the list is very, very long. I have found none of them work better than breaking the itchy skin cycle on the horse. After the first major bath, I mostly only need to use a conditioning shampoo pre-show to clean him up. Occasionally he will give himself a good grass stain or snuggle into that poop pillow, but even then, all that is required is the stain treatment. A horse with healthy skin is a happy horse, and one is less likely to grind in the dirt when going down for roll.
Happy Horse Showing
~Michelle & Oliver.