Grooming Horse Care Young Rider

This Esme Tips: Mud Magic

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With four light-colored steeds, Esme is no stranger to #grayhorseproblems. Read on for her tips on cleaning a muddy horse.

This Esme pointing to her muddy horse
It’s just a fact: Horses absolutely love rolling in mud and finding the dirtiest spots to lie down and sleep!

In some cultures, it’s said there are over 50 words for “snow,” but where I live, we have about the same number for “mud.” Wet mud, dry mud, sloshy mud, dusty mud, mud that wipes off, mud that sticks, brown mud, green mud, blue mud, red mud. Mud that will never come off your boots … I could go on.

With all this mud where I live, you may be wondering, “Esme, was it really such a great idea to have four gray horses?”

That’s a good question, and it’s something that happened completely by accident—I promise. (You can meet them all in our profile on Esme.) However, all these grays have given me a special skill—you might even say a super power—and that is “how to get ponies clean.”

This Esme riding her pony Casper
Esme has learned tons of things about getting horses clean since all four of hers have gray or white coats.

Almost every day, I have to get photos or film of my horses and ponies looking sparkling clean and beautiful, so almost every day I have to clean them. Here are my top tips for getting your horse clean, tidy and photo shoot ready.


Instead of spending hours cleaning, it’s better if the horses don’t get dirty in the first place!

Clipping: The thing that helps me the most is clipping my horses. A shorter coat gives less for the mud to stick to. The coat dries faster when bathing them, too.

A white pony yawning. He is wearing a rug, which helps keep him clean rather than muddy, in the winter.
During colder weather, Esme finds body clipping and blanketing are a big time saver when grooming her white-coated horses.

Rugs/Blankets: These act as a mud shield. They keep the horse dry in the rain, and if they are tempted to roll, at least the rug gets muddy and not the horse. Rugs can be cleaned in a washing machine—horses can’t.

Baby Oil: I use a small coat of baby oil on their legs and any areas prone to staining. This acts as a barrier to wet mud, and any residual mud brushes off easier.

Tail Bags: These are great for shows and when traveling. My horses love to poop as soon as they get in the trailer!

Cleaning a Muddy or Stained Horse

I find different stains need different techniques to get your pony sparkling.

Dry Mud: I use a curry comb in a circular motion, which removes the dirt and old hair very effectively. If the horse is usually turned out, I use a dandy (stiff) brush to remove any further dust, as it tends to leave the natural oils in the coat, which helps in all weather. A body (soft) brush can be used if they are normally stabled.

Wet Mud: If you can, it’s best to let the mud dry before tackling it, and then treat as above. Unfortunately, the situation I’m normally faced with is literally minutes before I go to a show, or the cameras come out, the horse will roll in the wettest, muddiest patch—this is a Casper trick for sure.

If there’s a lot of mud, you just have to hose the horse down. If there are smaller patches, you can use a bucket of soapy water with a small sponge. Try not to let the muddy water drip onto cleaner areas, or you will just have to do more washing.

Stable Stains: If you have a bay or darker horse, you may not realize that your horse likes using his own poop as a pillow. If you have grays like me, you’ll know exactly where they slept and how—the evidence is usually literally all over their face.

This is the time you need to break out the blue or purple shampoo. This is really effective at cleaning the yellowy orange stain left over no matter how much washing you do. If that’s not working, then you can get white cover-up sprays or talcum powder to help hide the worst bits.

Pink-Skinned Horses: You all know that we call white horses “gray” in the equestrian world, but did you know there is another type of horse that really is white? Mickey, my old pony, is in fact a cremello—he has blue eyes and very bright pink skin, the horse version of an albino.

We have to be very careful with him in the summer, using sunscreen on his nose to prevent it from getting burned. He doesn’t like this, and often snorts all over you once you’re done plastering cream on him! He also can find light very bright, so we use a fly mask as a type of sunglasses for him.

Remember to always use cleaning products made for horses. If I get a new shampoo, I always treat a small area first and make sure the horse isn’t sensitive to it.

I hope that helps get your ponies show and photoshoot ready!

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This article about how to clean a muddy horse appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Esme Higgs


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