Saturday, 18 August 2012

To bath or not to bath?

I am english. In England we don't give our horses baths/showers to keep them clean because it is always so bloody cold we expect them to catch pneumonia. My old copy of "The manual of horsemanship" makes it quite clear that bathing or hosing a horse all over is a very dangerous activity which should only be attempted on a hot day, which they say is over 25 degrees. Well, according to my memories of the UK, that is about four times a decade. And that is in addition to the horror stories associated with using the wrong shampoo, not rinsing enough and the strong advice to wrap your horse in blankets immediately afterwards to make sure he doesn't die shortly after the cold, wet misery of the bath.

What a shock, then, to come to France and see the french riders' liberal use of the hose (with adjustable shower head, for fine spray, massage etc etc) sometimes DAILY on their horses. Admittedly there is a lot less showering going on in the winter but even then there are some tough types who get bathed even in the "winter" (quote marks just to point out that usually winter here in the Herault is mild autumn in the UK).

Every yard has a bathing area for the horses, with hose, place for shampoo and bath accessories, conditioner (yes, really) etc and it is perfectly usual practice to get off the horse, unsaddle, give the recompense (usually dry bread - another no no in the UK, but that is for another day) and then take the horse to the shower and liberally hose off all the sweat before tying them up again - no pre-warmed blankets, no fleeces (yes, horses have them too now), no woolly hats or mittens. The horses just dry off naturally. 

It took me two years of regular riding in the Herault to get me into the habit of using the hosepipe other than on a horse's lower legs, and I felt hugely panicky and guilty every time I did it, even in temperatures of 30 degrees plus.  Even now I usually stick to giving a quick rinse off around the saddle area rather than the full monty of head to tail wetting, shampooing, rinsing and sweat-scraping to get the drips off, and even then only on a particularly hot day if she has sweated a lot. Happily, my lovely mare May agrees with me that showers, particularly all-over ones, are not appropriate for horses. She has compromised though, and has let me know that in order to cooperate she expects a good double handful of pony nuts or there is no way she is going in there, and that she will be leaving, taking the fencing with her if necessary, immediately after the last mouthful has gone, regardless of how far along the showering process we are. 

But on to the next issue - let the horse roll afterwards in the sandy school to help dry off, or make them hang around tied up until they are dry so they stay clean? Or just turn them out into their field? May and I go with the rolling option, May thinks that a good roll in the sand is necessary at least once a day unless it is dinner time in which case it can wait, but most importantly it is necessary after a shower. I find this is fine, the sand is clean and I can brush it out of her coat before I ride the next time. My daughter, with her first horse, went for the "turn straight out" option today, after finding it hard going brushing all the sand out of Gump's coat after he had rolled in the school.

Gump's owner (see previous posts) is coming to pay her first visit to him since he moved in with us, so J gave him a lovely big bath, all over, including washing the rather grubby white blaze on his face with a new, clean flannel. She scraped off the excess water with the sweat scraper and then turned him out into his field with May.

Within 30 seconds Gump had given us his view on all-over showers - he rolled vigorously and repeatedly in the lovely soft dust of his field and since he was still pretty damp, he got up looking like a hippo straight out of its wallow, absolutely plastered in dark brown mud.

I think I have got the message on baths, guys...

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