Maybe you don’t rank the choice of a shampoo as a major purchase decision. However, shampooing a horse is at best time-consuming, at worst a hassle, and any product that can make the job easier earns our praise.
We placed 28 shampoos with testers across the country and used them on everything from stall-kept, high-performance horses to rough-and-tumble backyard ponies.
How well the shampoo actually cleans the horse should be the No. 1 priority, but that question is not as straightforward as it seems. Does it get the hair clean but leave dirt at skin level’ Does it remove dirt and stains but leave the coat overly dry, skin irritated or flaky and the mane and tail wild’ We found that to evaluate the shampoos, we needed to put them into categories of frequent use versus really dirty horses.
In addition to cleaning ability, prime considerations are ease of lathering and rinsing. Rapid lathering and easy rinsing cut bath time and help avoid irritating residues on the skin. Some testers also noted differences in container sizes/shapes, fragrances and additives.
Manufacturers have been pretty creative about coming up with attention-catching colors, scents and other additives for equine shampoos. As we all know from human hair products, some of these extras may work well for certain individuals but not for others. Horse products are no different.
Before you buy a shampoo because of its color or scent, realize you may be paying for extras that really don’t work any better than a plain, gentle (but effective) basic shampoo. Even more importantly, there is a chance it may not work as well or may actually be irritating.
Herbal Adds: In general, we found heavy inclusion of herbal ingredients (plus oats and coconut) tended to result in shampoos that were more drying or potentially irritating to the skin, with the notable exceptions of jojoba, neem and aloe. This was not a problem for all horses, but it did show up in some individuals as flaking of the skin on the body and/or on the back of the pasterns. However the drying effect does tend to volumize/puff up skimpy manes and tails. (See sidebar for tea tree oil.)
Fruit And Citrus Ingredients: A wide variety of fruit and citrus ingredients can be found in some shampoos and are often billed for their color-enhancing effects. We did not see any real differences with these products. They do smell great but, like the heavily herbal products, there may be a greater tendency for dry skin with these ingredients.
Flower Scents: Ingredients like lavender and other flower scents do make a pleasant shampoo. While we didn’t see much difference one way or the other on cleaning, we also did not find them to be overly drying or irritating.
Most people assume that if the coat looks clean, so is the skin. This is not necessarily the case. Horses with heavy buildups of dirt, dust, secretions and dead skin cells may be superficially shiny after a shampoo but still be dirty at skin level. Part of this is the fault of the shampooing technique. For example, a deep-massaging scrubber will clean more deeply than just a sponge.
However, we found some shampoos were better at cleaning all the way down to skin than others. We checked for this by parting the hairs over the body and in problem areas like mane, tail and back of the fetlock to examine the skin.
We also know a shampoo can leave the coat looking glossy and soft but have too great a drying effect on the skin. Again, you’ve got to check, paying special attention to the skin over the back of the pasterns. This area is easily irritated by shampoos, especially if you don’t thoroughly rinse through the longer hairs on the back of the fetlock.
First rinse the entire horse until all evidence of suds is gone. Your last squirts with the hose and swipes with your sweat scraper should contain no suds. Then, run your hands down your horse’s leg from knee (or hock) to pastern, as if your hand were a squeegee, and squeeze out any water that has accumulated in the depression at the back of the pastern.
Attacking Stains And Heavy Dirt
Stains on white or gray areas are a challenge for any shampoo, but we got good results most of time by using a general-purpose shampoo full-strength with warm water on stained areas. Scrub these spots well first, allowing the lather to sit in place at least five minutes while you bathe the rest of the horse.
If this doesn’t work, try washing with a hand soap, preferably Castile or Ivory. Ivory Snow flakes also work well as they are a soap, not a detergent. Shampoos and detergents simply don’t have the same cleaning ability as plain ol’ soap. (The same tricks work beautifully for faded, gray or stained leg cottons, saddle pads, girth covers, etc.)
For really filthy horses, our testers noted one shampoo that seemed to work best: Xtreme Design Showhite Shampoo. Part of this success, however, may be because the directions specifically instruct you to leave it on the horse for five minutes before rinsing, as we said above. When we tried this five-minute wait with other shampoos, we got equivalent results. Other shampoos receiving consistently high marks from our testers for dealing with really dirty horses included Corona, EQyss, Filthy Animal and Wonder Groom Show Shampoo.
To Dilute Or Not Dilute
Many equine shampoos are called “concentrated” and come with directions to dilute them first before using, usually in a bucket with a specified amount of water. However, many horsemen don’t like the bucket method, preferring instead to wet the horse with a hose, then take a wet sponge and either apply shampoo to the sponge or the horse directly, then work up a lather — pretty much the way you wash your own hair. In most cases, the choice of whether to dilute or apply in appropriate amounts full strength is more a matter of personal preference than a question of what you should or shouldn’t do.
When diluted as directed, most shampoos in our field test cleaned well. Premixing in a bucket does save you a little shampoo compared to direct application. However, we really didn’t see any major difference in how long a bottle would last between the two methods.
Diluting first does avoid problems with concentrated deposits being more difficult to rinse out. Those who didn’t like diluting first generally preferred to avoid the extra time involved and definitely didn’t want to mess around with measuring out a precise amount.
We are, of course, concerned about the skin and coats of horses who must be bathed several times a week. Therefore, we looked for shampoos that stood out as good frequent-bath picks, giving gentle but thorough cleaning with consistent results in shine and manageability of hair.
We had no problems with dulling the coat, irritating the skin or overdrying the hoof wall with Corona and EQyss. Other standouts for frequent baths are: Equiscentials’ Equicoat Body Wash, Uckele’s Country Green, Absorbine’s Frequent Use Shampoo, Animal Legends Silks, and, for tea tree oil fans, Animal Legends’ LeucaLather.
Shampooing And Hooves
If you have to wet and shampoo your horse frequently, because of heavy sweating and/or demands of a rigorous competition schedule, it’s fairly common to run into trouble with overdrying hooves. The outer layers of the hoof wall are normally protected from water by a component of natural fats and oils. These can be stripped away if the feet get wet repeatedly, especially when shampoos are used.
Don’t slather the hooves with hoof dressings/oils (see February 2001) because they are becoming too dry. Instead, use a light coat of hoof dressing — even vegetable oil, baby oil (the new baby oil gels are great for this) or petroleum jelly — before you shampoo. This application will help protect against oils being stripped away while the s hampoo/water runs over the feet.
Also be sure that when you rinse you get all shampoo off the feet and back of the pastern, too. After the horse is scraped and toweled, use the towel to take a quick wipe all the way around the feet to remove any remaining excess oil or dressing. The feet will be protected and maintain a natural light shine without a potentially harmful buildup of dressing or oil.
Our favorite shampoo for any situation was Corona Shampoo Concentrate from Summit Industries.
At about $16 for a big 101.4-ounce/three-liter container, requiring only 1/4 to 1 ounce of shampoo per horse, the price is virtually unbeatable, making it also our Best Buy. Even more importantly, Corona was the only shampoo in the test that got favorable bath reports from every tester.
Corona lathers easily, yet rinsing is a snap. The horse’s coat has a high shine, and the skin is “squeaky clean.” We found manes and tails behave thanks to the added lanolin and protein but without any obvious buildup. Because there are no other additives, we found no evidence of skin irritation, even with sensitive-skinned animals.
The only complaint we got didn’t involve the shampoo at all. It was that the test container was unwieldy and too big to take on the road or fit in a boarding-stable locker. If you have this problem with any shampoo container, we suggest you leave the big jar in storage and fill up a flip-top, well-rinsed, empty shampoo bottle from your own bathroom for regular use.
A close runner-up for best shampoo was EQyss Premier Natural Botanical Shampoo. Again, we had no evidence of drying or irritation with this shampoo, and it left the coat, mane and tail in excellent condition. It rinses easily and is pleasant to use with a nice scent. However, at $13.50 for 32 ounces, EQyss Premier is considerably more expensive and requires 1 to 2 oz. of shampoo per gallon of water.
Also With This Article
Click here to view “Sensitive-Skin Horses.”
Click here to view “Shampoo Descriptions And Comments.”
Click here to view “What You Need In Herbals, Botanicals.”
Click here to view “Tea Tree Oil Shampoos.”