Winter grooming challenge – groom the muddy horse with muddy legs


There may be some tears and throwing of things and perhaps bad language.  As with all things horse grooming, work on the mud you have, and prevent more from happening.  Read on for some tips to best groom the muddy horse: 


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Why should we clean a muddy horse?


  • The main reason to remove mud from your horse is actually what’s in the mud. Moisture, bacteria, and mystery poop remnants use mud as a home, and now that home is on your horse. Skin funks like equine pastern dermatitis (EPD) love the dirt and are just waiting for the chance to take hold!


  • A muddy horse is a gritty horse! There’s no reason tack up or boot up when your horse is gritty. It’s like grit in your skivvies. And then going for a run.


  • There are some advantages to mud, though. Bug repelling and cooling are lovely side effects in the summer! You know, when it’s easy to spray your horse clean.


  • In the winter, it’s a whole different ball game. While it’s rare that a horse develops hypothermia, it’s more likely if they are wet to the skin.


  • And why does mud seem to multiply out of control in the winter?



gray horse with large mud patches in stall

UGH times a million.


How to groom the muddy horse.


  • Unless you want to turn your muddy horse into a work of art by smearing everything around, he needs to dry.  You can wipe off superficial wet mud with cloths, then there is less to dry.


When your horse is dry, get to grooming


  • If there are big chunks to remove, do so with the stiffest curry device you have. It’s oddly satisfying to chip off the clods and listen to them thump as they land.


  • Now it’s time for the deep clean. Curry, brush, vacuum, repeat. The critical areas to concentrate on are under any tack.


  • No-rinse shampoos can help here also. After your arms re-attach from the brushing exercise, do it again with stain remover or dry shampoo on your brushes. The moisture and cleansers help lift any grit and dirt that remains.


  • Using a no-rinse shampoo before you have done the lion’s share of brushing will end with dirty foam frustrations.


  • You will essentially be doing a hot toweling with no-rinse horse shampoo. Soak some cloths in hot water mixed with your fave stain remover. Wring the snot out of the fabric, and use it to curry and back-brush your horse’s hair.


  • Your horse should not get wet from the hot-toweling process! Use coolers to cover damp spots as you work. Moisture helps lift all of the dirt, but it’s a time investment to buff your horse and dry your horse.


  • If there was ever a time to rethink horses in your life, it’s when you are trying to convince clay and mud to leave your horse.


Can you bathe the muddy horse in winter?


  • The easiest thing to do for muddy horse legs is to hose them off. Cold weather can make this nearly impossible! But, sometimes not.


  • It all boils down to drying time. Can your horse and his muddy legs dry comfortably and safely without shivering or icicles?



Coolers are great to use when bathing your horse in cooler temps.  Or just leave them muddy.


Things to consider about washing the muddy horse in winter:


  • Your first condition is the weather and your facilities. Indoor shower stall, shielded from all wind, with unlimited hot water and heat lamps? Go for it.


  • How hairy is your horse? Freshly clipped or recently clipped horses dry quickly. Full winter coats take forever!


  • Is there warm water available? And is there enough of it? Smaller water heaters may not give you enough water for wetting and rinsing – especially if your horse has long hair.


  • Does your horse has a place to dry that’s out of the wind? You may get lucky and have a 70º day, in which case a warm breeze might help him dry. Otherwise, keep him out of drafts.


  • Do you have towels and a hairdryer, perhaps, to help with the drying process? What about coolers? Wool coolers are best for a soaked horse. Fleece coolers work for soaked horses if you can layer them and remove the inner layers as needed.


  • How’s the air temperature? While this is a subjective measure, ask yourself if you would want to shampoo your hair outside at the same time.


  • As a general guideline, I wouldn’t bathe a horse with warm water if the weather was below 60º. Even then, he better be clipped, with sunshine galore, and I had plenty of coolers on hand.


What’s the difference is between a bath at 60º and a horse standing in the rain at 30º?


  • It’s his choice to stand in the elements. Horses do seem to enjoy standing outside, pouring rain or otherwise! A healthy horse’s coat has enough sebum and natural oils to create waterproofing. This keeps the rain off the skin, and the coat can still have warm air pockets to keep your horse comfortable.


  • BUT – A bath disrupts this. Working the shampoo into the hair removes some sebum and disrupts air pockets, soaking your horse to the skin.



horse walking through muddy water

Side note – please don’t use wraps on your horse’s legs if they could get wet. Water weighs them down and unraveling is likely. Opt for neoprene sport boots instead.


Grooming the muddy horse’s legs


  • While a muddly horse’s body is one thing, mud on horse legs is another. Muddy legs are the perfect storm for bacterial infections to set in. You have hair, dirt, moisture, and delicate skin. Notwithstanding, of course, any nicks and scratches that your horse has given himself by just existing.  As they do.


  • I’m also more inclined to wash and shampoo filthy legs when I wouldn’t bathe the whole horse. I still want to keep drafts away and help dry as much as possible.


  • Shivering and icicles are two nopes for me here, too, but the weather can be much cooler for lower-legs only bathing.


  • Coolers are not super convenient for legs alone, so take their place and towel dry your horse. Larger bath towels seem to bounce off the earth when I use them. Instead, washcloths and dish towels may be easier to manage. Your call!


  • It’s not uncommon to blow dry heavily feathered breeds. You can try this on your horse! Three suggestions for this – constantly move the hair dryer around so skin won’t burn, don’t use the hottest setting, and try this before your horse’s legs are wet. Test the dryer on your skin to know how long it takes before your skin starts to scream “hot potato.”


sox for horses whinny wellie to keep legs dry

YES, these are mud boots for your horse – for real! These are the Whinny Wellies from Sox for Horses.


How to help your horse be less muddy


  • And while no one has a magic wand to get rid of mud in the winter, you can help your horse out a bit.


  • Keeping leg hair trimmed gives mud less surface area to reside. You don’t have to clip the legs to the skin! A little off the top is just fine. You can use clipper combs or rake your clipper blades in the hair growth direction. 


Go shopping for some fancy mud boots


  • Older sets of fly boots about to be tossed into the trash, but they are perfect for muddy turnout. Hosing them off is a piece of cake. Using them helps a little.


  • I recently discovered the Shoo Fly boots, which are thick and durable, keeping more mud out. Hose these guys off, too!


  • There are also some mud-specific boots called Whinny Wellies. And they are just that – Wellies for your horse. Waterproof and durable with easy on and off closures.


  • Silver Bells are similar to the Wellies, but for pasterns and hooves.



sox for horses bell boot

Silver Bells boots for mud protection, also from Sox for Horses.


Blankets and sheets are an option for the rest of your horse’s body.


  • They must be waterproof! Decide how much fill in the sheet is needed to compensate for a winter coat’s squishing down. An unfilled waterproof sheet is just fine for super hairy horses on milder winter days.


  • A horse’s blanketing needs also vary wildly between horses. It’s a big experiment, anyway!


  • As with your horse’s body, mud needs eviction before using boots, wraps, tack, or blankets on your horse.


Winter mud management and muddy horse grooming boil down to preventing mud and cleaning off what does get through. It’s such a joy!




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