Grooming Horse Care Stable Skills Young Rider

Washing Your Horse’s Mane and Tail

An equestrian bathing a horse
Photo by ameraCraft/Adobe Stock

A good hair day for horses starts with a gorgeous mane and tail. Clean, tangle-free tails and long, flowing manes take some extra care. Even if your horse has a shortened mane, you’ll want to make sure it’s clean and healthy at the roots with no dust or dandruff.

Here are some tips for washing your horse’s mane and tail.

Bath Supplies

Put together a bath kit for your horse so that you have everything you need when you head to the wash rack. Here’s a list of essential items for washing your horse from head to toe, and mane to tail:

◆ Bucket
◆ Equine shampoo & conditioner
◆ Large sponge
◆ Grooming gloves, bath mitt or curry
◆ Sweat scraper or squeegee
◆ Towel (to dry legs and face)
◆ Detangle and shine spray
◆ Adjustable spray nozzle

Getting Started

Gather up all your bath supplies, including shampoo and conditioner. It’s best to use products made for horses. A good equine shampoo is made to be gentle on your horse’s sensitive skin, and clean without drying or dulling the coat.

Pick out hay, shavings, twigs or other large debris from your horse’s hair before wetting it down. If you spot any burrs and large tangles, work on removing these by hand with a detangling gel or spray before you wash.

Washing the Mane

Follow these steps to wash your horse’s mane:

◆ Wet the mane thoroughly.

◆Work shampoo in and scrub down to the roots.

◆ Be sure to rinse ALL the shampoo out. Any shampoo left on the skin can become itchy and cause your horse to rub his mane. Leftover shampoo can also become sticky and attract dirt. Look to see that the water runs clear and there are no soap bubbles left.

◆ Follow up with a conditioner. These products are made to moisturize, strengthen and smooth the hair, as well as remove tangles. Rinse well.

◆ If your horse has a thick, wild mane, smooth it down so that it all lies on the same side. Add a detangling spray to remove tangles and prevent them from forming.

◆ Wait for the mane to dry before brushing it. Wet hair will stretch and break and is more easily damaged (just like your own).

TIP: If you are bathing in preparation for a show and plan to braid your horse’s mane, skip the detangling and conditioning products. These will make the hair too slippery to braid.

Washing the Tail

For safety, always stand to the side of your horse when washing or grooming his tail.

There are two ways you can wash your horse’s tail:

1. Wet down the entire tail. Apply shampoo, starting at the top. Work it thoroughly into the dock. Use your fingers to get down to the roots along the tail bone. Spread the shampoo all the way down the tail.

2. The other method is to fill a bucket with water and a few glugs of shampoo. Next, dunk the length of your horse’s tail in the bucket and wet it thoroughly with the suds. Use a sponge to apply the soapy water to the top of your horse’s tail, then work it down to the roots with your fingers.

An equestrian washing a pony's tail
One method for tail cleaning is to dunk it into a bucket of diluted shampoo, using a sponge to clean the hair at the the dock. Photo by Elizabeth Moyer

After shampooing the tail, be sure to rinse thoroughly, especially around the tail bone. Rinse from the top down. For an extra spa treatment, follow with conditioner.

Lastly, apply a leave-in conditioner or detangling spray and let the tail dry completely. As a final step, comb the hair out carefully with a wide-tooth comb or brush, working from the bottom up.

Stained Tails

If your horse’s white or light-colored tail is yellowed or sporting green or brown stains, don’t give up hope!

◆ First, clean the hair with a mild shampoo to remove all dirt, using warm water if possible.

◆ Follow up with a good whitening shampoo. The purple formula works to brighten the hair. Lather it up so that it’s nice and sudsy, then let it sit for about 10 minutes, or according to the directions. Be careful not to let it sit too long, or it might turn your horse’s tail a nice shade of lavender!

◆ Rinse well and follow with a conditioner and detangling spray to help prevent future stains.

A clean, well-conditioned mane and tail make your horse look amazing. Use these mane and tail cleaning tips whenever you want to give your horse a spa day makeover, and enjoy the good hair day with some photos. Lather, rinse and repeat!

This article about washing your horse’s mane and tail appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Elizabeth Moyer

Elizabeth Moyer works in marketing and development for the United States Pony Clubs, Inc. She served as a longtime editor of Horse Illustrated and Young Rider. She is also the author of two Horse Illustrated Simple Solutions books on grooming and horse safety (BowTie Press). Moyer is a lifelong equestrian and horse lover. Prior to becoming part of the equine industry, she worked in advertising and is a graduate of the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She lives in the beautiful bluegrass horse country of Kentucky with a pack of adopted Dachshunds.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *