by Marilyn Munzert
While blanketing your horse for turnout and using a neck cover; grooming regularly with clean brushes; keeping saddle pads, blankets, sheets and wraps laundered will help keep your horse clean in the winter, those of us who suffer winter riding in snow and months of below freezing temperatures become very familiar with “eau de winter horse.” After months without a bath, and with long, thick winter coats, horses need a good application of water and soap, especially if we are planning to ride in clinics when it’s still cold. For those anxious to have a clean horse there is a solution: a bath by hot toweling.
A somewhat forgotten technique, hot toweling a horse to clean him in the winter can be done either on a full-body scale or just in areas most in need of attention. Overall, hot toweling gets a horse clean, but it is labor intensive and requires large amounts of hot water and dry towels.
An appropriate and safe method of bathing horses in the winter, hot toweling can be done in temperatures down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Any winter bathing must be done in a covered, draft-free area.
Before you begin hot toweling the horse, gather all of your supplies. You will need one or more buckets of hot water; rubbing alcohol; rags; 10 or more large towels; and more than one wool and fleece cooler or anti-sweat sheet. Coolers draw moisture from the horse to the fabric, anti-sweat sheets add warmth while allowing air to circulate.
Start the bath by adding an ounce or two of rubbing alcohol to a bucket of hot water. This will help the water evaporate faster, and your horse will dry more quickly.
Next, grab a rag, submerge it in the bucket and wring it out. It is important to get as much of the water out of the rag as possible. Apply the rag to the horse and begin rubbing. Don’t soak him with the water; just use the heat and dampness to lift the dirt from his skin and onto the rag. Work on one small area at a time, and concentrate on rubbing through the hair to the skin.
Once your rag is dirty on both sides, rinse the rag in clean water and repeat. When the rag is no longer rinsing clean, switch to a clean rag because, if you continue to use a dirty rag, you stop removing dirt. Change the water when it cools or becomes dirty.
After you have cleaned a section of your horse, such as his neck or haunch, grab a large, dry towel and rub the wet area thoroughly. Cover the clean area with a cooler or blanket. As you move on to other areas of your horse, continue to go back to the parts that are already cleaned and rub with a dry towel to hasten drying. If you hot towel large areas of your horse, turn your cooler inside out or switch it with another when it becomes damp. Walk your horse periodically to keep him warm and to aid air circulation under the cooler.
Because everyone likes to be prepared, here are signs that your horse could be getting too cold while bathing: shivering, low body temperature (normal body temperature is between 97 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything below 97 degrees is considered hypothermia). If the horse becomes lethargic, disorientated, starts to stumble, has pale mucous membranes or a decreased heart and respiratory rates, he is suffering from hypothermia.
Discontinue bathing, add several warm, dry blankets, walk the horse, and dry his coat with a hair dryer.
Once you have completed hot toweling, continue to walk your horse, stopping occasionally to rub him with a dry towel. As he dries fold back the cooler to cover only the wet areas. After he is completely dry, give him several treats for being so patient. After all that work, you are left with a clean horse and a pile of dirty towels to launder.