Photographs of snowy horses with long white feathers on their feet and fleecy white manes and tails attract many ‘likes’ on Facebook. Experienced horse owners look at them in awe, realising just how much work is needed to keep them looking so grand.
Pale horses include grey Arabians and Percherons, Cremellos, Paints, Gypsey Vanners and Appaloosas. All have a lightly coloured coat that shows dirt all too clearly. In addition, all pale horses frequently roll in mud, presumably in an attempt to camouflage themselves as horses of a darker hue.
As an everyday activity, washing pale horses is a thankless task. Unless you have infrared lamps and a washbay in which you can cross-tie the animals, it takes an hour of walking to get them dry – only to have them roll in something dirty as soon as they are turned loose.
For shows, however, washing is essential. Special shampoos are available to remove stains and dirt and make the white parts of the horse brighter. To disguise ugly stains, dampen the area and sprinkle it liberally with talcum powder. Wait for the area to dry, then gently brush out the powder.
This method works on tails too. If, after washing, the tail remains reddish at the edges, dampen it, sprinkle it liberally with talc, plait it, double it on itself and bandage it securely for about an hour.
Once the horse is sparkling clean, bandage its legs, cover it with a fleecy rug, and replace all its bedding with clean straw while you wait for your class.
Cleaning takes effort!
Elbow grease is needed to keep a pale horse clean. If solid mud has crusted over the flanks and hindquarters, the best implements to use are a metal curry comb and a stiff brush. Move the metal curry in a circular motion to loosen the mud, then remove it with the brush.
Next, run a rubber curry comb in a circular motion over the whole horse. Use a body brush in the other hand to sweep away the hair and dust loosened by the rubber curry.
If there’s no longer a dust trail left when you draw your fingers across the horse’s body, it will already look far cleaner. A pumice ‘bot block’ (usually employed to remove the pale yellowish eggs of the botfly that cling to your horse) can then be rubbed vigorously on stained hair to thin it out.
The mane and tail
Before brushing manes and tails, untangle them completely with your fingers. Then spray them gently with mane and tail detangler and brush them with a soft body brush.
To keep them clean, shampoo and condition them, then plait them with pieces of cloth. The plaits should be loosened and redone weekly.
White fluffy feathers around the fetlocks can be plaited, then covered with stable bandages that reach from the coronets to just below the knees and hocks.
Pale horses with short coats are far easier to keep clean, and it is therefore worth clipping them before shows.
Finally, use deep, clean bedding and replace it twice daily.
Dr Mac is an academic, a practising equine veterinarian and a stud owner.