KBR Horse Training Information

Exercising Body AND Mind

Teaching your Horse to Accept a Bath

Bathing a horse who doesn't want to cooperate can be a traumatic experience that can often lead to the human becoming wetter than the horse and the horse more firmly convinced than ever that bath time is tantamount to a torture session. So how do you break the anti-bath cycle?

We use a number of approaches. First of all, we don't attack the horse with the hose and we try to make the bath as pleasant as possible.

Generally a sweaty horse on a hot day likes to be cooled off. We may approach the horse with a bucket and sponge, starting by sponging the horse down, then by wringing water out of the sponge onto the horse, then by running the hose gently through the sponge while sponging the horse. Only after the horse is comfortable with what we have offered so far will we start to pour water directly from the hose over the horse.

Some horses are very oral and we will let them drink from the end of the hose, then play the water on their faces. By returning to some occasional oral play, they will often allow you to move the water around on them.

With others we find using water bottles for the first introduction to running water poured onto them.

Still others can be pretty darn obstinate about having water applied on them. One such subject was Zodiac, which attenders of the Antioch Wild Horse Workshop will remember as the gray Arabian gelding who could give Aerial the Burro a run for her money when it came to stubbornness.

Zodie was horrible to bathe. He hated being touched by water, would pull back at the wash stand and bathing was always a traumatic experience. This behavior pattern had gone on for years. Sharon suggested trying some clicker work with Zodie to see how he would respond. The results were most favorable.

For the training Sharon used a relatively flexible garden hose, one of those stationary lawn sprinklers that has lots of little holes drilled in it, and a clicker target.

Sharon played "Touch it!" a couple of times with a familiar target, then bunched up the hose, held it and had Zodie target the hose. Once he was unafraid of the hose, she put it on the ground, turned the sprinkler on low and had him touch his familiar target while moving closer to the sprinkler. In a short while he had the water running on his legs, then he was standing over the sprinkler.

If Zodie got anxious about the water touching him, Sharon or Mary would simply refocus him on a handheld target. After a few minutes we could increase the water pressure and Zodie still stood calm. Eventually Sharon and Mary could actually pick up the sprinkler and wet Zodie down all over while he stood quietly on a loose line.

Key Points When Teaching
a Horse to Accept Water

  1. The horse needs to be solid on his targeting skills before introducing stressful situations.

  2. Dripping water may at first feel like flies to a horse. Be prepared for him to stomp his feet or cow kick at what he perceives is a fly assault.

  3. Don't approach the horse where he is tied fast, can panic and fall, and that will only reinforce his fear of water.

  4. Get the horse completely desensitized to the hose and its movement before attempting to get him to accept the water.

  5. Organize the scenario so that the horse is investigating the hose and water, rather than be pursued by it.

  6. Your horse has probably been taught to yield or move away from pressure. Don't blow your objectives by advancing the water on him in a way that he perceives that you are asking him to move off. Apply the water in a non-forceful, non-directional manner.

  7. If you find a portion of the bath that he likes, go back to that part occasionally as a reward for good behavior.

  8. Don't wear out your welcome or the horse's attention span. Accomplish something then rub him down and make him feel good. Continue the lesson and build upon what you've gained on the following day. Don't take baby steps, but stay within the horse's curiosity and attention span.

  9. Remember, the ground may be slippery when wet so think about your movements, where the hose is located, and don't provoke the horse to sudden reactions and movements.
Checking out the water hose
Not much problem with
water on her face
Applying water from a bottle
rather than chasing with the hose
Introduction to the hose
using "Touch it!"
Zodie obviously doesn't
like the water but stays
focused on his target
Becoming OK with the
feel of the water
Close up of the sprinkler
(It's on pretty strong)
In less than 30 minutes,
Mary washing Zodie on a loose
lead, using the sprinkler
... even back in the
scary places (unrestrained)

Important Note: If you take on the project of developing an untrained horse, everybody will want to give you advice. Don't act on any advice, including the ideas offered in this site, unless it makes sense to you and fits your individual situation. Your abilities and the sensitivities of your horse(s) may differ from the examples given. Be alert and rational with your actions so neither you nor your horse will get hurt. This information is offered as illustrations of what we do and the reader must apply common sense since he or she is solely responsible for his or her actions.

Happy trails!

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KBR Horse Training Information, 1997 Lamm's Kickin' Back Ranch and Willis & Sharon Lamm. All rights reserved. Duplication of any of this material for commercial use is prohibited without express written permission. This prohibition is not intended to extend to personal non-commercial use, including sharing with others for safety and learning purposes, provided this copyright notice is attached.
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