Even though it is coming down to the end of the summer, there is still a little time to get in that last good bath before hunkering down for the long, bath-less winter. Unfortunately, some horses love that winter period when they aren’t asked to go near that awful wash stall.
What can be done for a horse who doesn’t want to get in the wash rack for a bath? Here are a few tips to try. Depending on how stubborn your horse is, be prepared to spend a good amount of time with these to find one (or a combination of several) that works for you and your horse.
- For ANY horse that isnt’ keen on jumping right into the wash stall, be certain to stay relaxed and patient and allow him to take his time.
- Some horses get nervous if the washstall is dark and/or small and confined feeling. Make sure all of the lights are on, so that the wash stall is as bright as possible and clear as much away from walls and off the floor as you can to make it feel like your horse has a ton of space to manuever.
- Be willing to let your horse check out the wash stall. Ask him gently to take a step towards it, then release pressure and let him adjust to the ‘new’ surroundings. Then ask him to take another step with just enough pressure that he knows you are asking him to move. Let him take a few minutes to discover that the wash stall is not a pit of doom and that he will be safe. If you let him investigate, you might be surprised at the willingness to walk into the wash stall that he exhibits when he realizes he won’t be eaten by it.
- The easiest thing that comes to mind for a horse that is merely apprehensive about the washstall is bribery. Get a bucket of oats or treats or grab a handful of rich alfalfa and hold it just out of reach in the wash stall for your horse. Give a small nibble then pull it back a little further, coaxing him further in. Do this until he is standing with all four feet in the washstall, and give him the rest of the snack.
- My horse would not walk into a wash stall head first if his life depended on it. Instead, I turn him around and back him into the wash stall and then he is fine because he does not feel boxed in. If your horse backs fairly well, this is an easy way to eliminate the feeling of confinement which seems to bother many horses. Just line him up and back him in!
- If you and your horse have a relationship built on trust and respect, then he is most likely willing to follow you wherever you lead him. However, even the most loyal, well-trained horse who never acts up may show resistance to following you into a wash stall. You can ‘trick’ him into following you in though by blindfolding him. ***You have to make sure that you are super aware of both you and your horse’s surroundings to make sure that he is not going to trip on a ledge or step, fall in a hole, or run into a wall. Use a towel tucked into the sides of the halter (don’t EVER tie anything over the horse’s eyes) and practice just walking him up and down the aisle and getting him to trust your leadership. If he is smart, he’ll know where the wash stall is in relation to where you put on the blindfold, so take a little walk before heading straight in. Take your time. It is understandable that your horse may move a little slower than normal since you have suddenly taken away one of his senses. Once you end your blind walk in the wash stall, reward him with a treat and a calm rub then take off the blindfold. For one particularly stubborn horse I worked with who would not tolerate being in the wash stall for ANY reason, I actually left the blindfold on when I gave the bath.
- Use a different water source. Some barns have a hose outside that is not in a wash stall. If it is nice outside, find a patch of grass to let your horse munch and just give him a bath out of doors to eliminate the wash stall altogether.
- If you can have someone help you, you can actually annoy your horse into the wash stall. One of you should stand in the wash stall, holding the lead rope. You want to have mild pressure, but not be yanking on the rope. The second person stands behind (and off to the side) of the horse and uses a longe whip behind the horse. Some horses just need to see the whip to go forward. If your horse is not one of those, then take the whip and gently tap the hind legs above the hocks. The key to this is that the whip is meant to annoy, not harm the horse. The whip is acting as a guide saying “MOVE.”
- Some horses might walk into the wash stall, but don’t like turning around. That’s fine! Give your horse his bath backwards. At my barn we have a set of rings at the back of the wash stall in case people don’t want to turn their horse around. Then they can just moved the quick-release cross-ties to the back rings and not have to fuss with trying to get their horse to turn around and face the big open space he could run out into very easily.
Use one or two of these methods and hopefully your horse will be squeaky-clean in no time!
Nothing seems to work? Email me and I can help you form a specific plan for your horse to help get him in the wash stall: firstname.lastname@example.org