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In lots of wanted adverts you’ll see “no greys” and to be honest, I think that a lot of buyers could miss out on their perfect partner by excluding greys. Being a grey owner myself (and this applies to palominos, coloureds and appaloosas too), I honestly don’t think it’s nearly as bad as so many people make out.
Prevention is definitely the best option and I think if you can develop a weekly or fortnightly maintenance routine, it makes life much easier for the days you really need them to be clean.
Prevention can have a lot to do with your daily routine and some of it is really simple and obvious. For example, mucking out properly every day and skipping out droppings when they appear, or using a rug with a neck cover more often than you might do with any other colour of horse, can go a long way to helping prevent stable stains. Good grooming brushes can really help too, and a decent groom each day – rather than just doing the essential bits – can make a big difference.
If you show a grey, that’s a whole different ball game, but for every day riding, lessons, dressage, SJ and XC it really doesn’t need to be an all-consuming effort.
When stable or grass stains do inevitably appear, the best option is to clean that localised area as soon as possible. Leaving the stain to “set”, so to speak, makes it so much more difficult to remove as it will become ingrained and can yellow the hair. Little and often is the name of the game in this respect.
Obviously, at this time of year bathing isn’t really practical at all, but even in the spring and summer, I don’t really bath particularly often and instead just remove stains as and when they appear. Bathing too often removes their natural skin and coat oils, leaving dry and flakey skin which can in turn be more prone to skin infections.
Rock is a super hairy native who doesn’t cope well with his work load unless he’s clipped, so I clip almost all year round. This makes a quick sponge of a stable stain really easy as there is less coat to contend with and it dries really quickly (I’m not suggesting everyone clips as often but for me, him being easier to clean is just a happy side effect of making him more comfortable).
Most of us have our preferred brand of shampoo but I’m sure the majority will agree that blue or purple shampoos are the best. My go-tos are NAF Show Off Shampoo for general baths and full body coverage, and Smart Grooming Super Blue Whitening Rinse which can be used as a final full body rinse or just on the tail as it really gets rid of any yellow at the bottom of the tail. For winter stains, I’m a big fan of Shapley’s Easy-Out No Rinse Shampoo which can be sprayed directly onto a cloth or towel and rubbed against the direction of the coat – no water required. Diluted washing up liquid is a good, cost effective alternative for tails, but you shouldn’t wash the main body of your horse/pony with washing up liquid as it will remove the natural oils.
In the winter, I wash Rock’s tail once a fortnight with warm water, show sheen it and for the few days immediately after, I loose plait it. Every other day, I fully brush it out and even with the worst of the winter mud this keeps it looking white. Maybe not show sparkling white but white enough with no hint of yellow (or brown). I completely bath him approximately once every 3 months, either the morning of or the day before clipping. In between, I either dampen the localised stain, shampoo it and then rinse it with a small micro pore cloth, or I squirt it with a stain remover. If you catch the stable stain quickly enough, sometimes warm water is enough on its own.
There’s no doubt other grey horse owners reading this might be thinking “absolutely no way can you get way with bathing that infrequently” but I honestly do throughout the autumn and winter. In summer, he is sponged down much more often, mainly from a sweat perspective after working hard, but he also goes out rugless.
Stain removers can be a great, quick option; I’ve never found they fully remove a stable stain or grass stain, but they can and do lift the worse of it. They are really handy to have about for the morning of a show or lesson and also to keep in your trailer kit or lorry, just for those last minute touch ups.
Hocks, elbows, flanks/stifle area and tails are the generally the worse affected areas. Although I’m sure most grey owners would also mention the cheeks and the side of the face as a popular stable stain area too!
Hot clothing can be a great option for when you can’t bath, either due to facilities, weather or time restrictions. There are lots of variations on hot clothing but I like to have 2 buckets and use an old hand towel. As the name suggests the water needs to be hot rather than warm (not boiling and comfortable to put your hand in). In the first bucket you add just a drop of either baby oil, baby shampoo, Dettol or Shapley’s No.1 light oil to the hot water. Dunk the towel in this bucket, wring it out as much as possible (so the horse doesn’t really get wet) and run it over the horse firmly, in the same direction as the coat, in big sweeping motions. Then rinse the towel in the other bucket to clean off the dirt and grease and repeat using the first bucket.
Lycra hoods and body rugs are a sound investment for early morning lessons or show days. You can also get turnout hoods which go underneath the turnout rug and cover the head and neck which offer extra stain prevention and are a tougher material for winter turnout. Rock has 2 lycra hoods and while they do save a huge amount of time on show days, they don’t completely prevent against stable stains if he chooses to use a poo as a pillow. They do, however, make it much quicker and easier to sort out as the stain is nowhere near as bad.
I’m not a huge fan of hosing legs when they come in from the field – the only winter we tried this, Rock got mud rash – so instead I cover his legs in pig oil and Sulphur twice a week when they are dry and brushed clean. The oil will act as a barrier to stop the mud sticking to the skin and the Sulphur will help fight any bacteria. The mud won’t be completely prevented from sticking but it will be minimised and slide off overnight. It is important you do a test patch before using it as some finer skinned horse can be sensitive to it. You can also spray pig oil and sulphur down the ends of the tail, again to prevent mud sticking quite so badly.
For more information on using pig and sulphur as a defence against mud and mud fever, please see ‘My Winter Top Tip – Pig Oil’ by fellow contributor, Rachael Skinner of Eventful Eventing.
In particularly bad weather, I pop on some Premier Equine turnout boots. They’re made from breathable neoprene and cover the leg snuggly from the coronet band right up to the just under the knee or hock joint; they’re great at keeping the mud out if you want to ride after turnout without hosing. The newer style Premier Equine turnout boots also come down over the coronet band and the top of the hoof for extra coverage.
Leg boots/wraps are a staple for show days and away lessons when he’s stabled through winter. This just helps to keep pasterns and knees stain-free, which Rock is horrendous for as he gets up from lying down by going onto his knees. I prefer boots or wraps to traditional bandaging to help minimise pressure points or the risk of wrapping them too tight.
With all the other horses I’ve had (all previously bay) I just used a tail bandage pre show and for travelling. But when I travel with Rock, I put on a traditional tail bandage with a padded tail bag over this, which helps keep the bottom of the tail clean, with the addition of a quarter guard for extra protection.
Now, the quarter guard; I discovered this little gem of a product a few years ago after travelling Rock to dressage. He was spotless when we left the yard, was wearing a rug and a padded tail bandage and when we arrived, his back end was filthy… arghhh! I thought “no way, there has to be a way to prevent this”, went home and after a few minutes of Googling, I found this handy little bit of kit. It genuinely seems to be a secret weapon, as over the past few years I’ve had so many people ask me about it at shows and lessons, and when I posted a picture on Rock’s Instagram story I had so many direct messages asking what it was and where I got it.
Basically, you just tie it onto the tail bandage or tail bag and it’s ideal for travelling – especially in a trailer if your grey likes to lean on the breech bar – to prevent a horrible brown/grey line across their bottom. There used to be an English company who made them but now the only place I can find them is on eBay by searching “horse quarter guard”. It’s now an essential bit of my travelling kit.
I’m not precious about Rock’s colour and his rug comes off much earlier in the spring than a lot of other coloured horses’ rugs do, as I love him just being a horse and being able to roll. But when he goes out and about, I do always like to try and make him presentable, as I hate seeing grey and coloured horses out with big stable stains. A well turned out grey is one of the smartest things you'll see out (in my opinion), so with a maintenance plan in place and some key bits of kit, owning a grey really doesn’t need to be as hard work as some would have you believe.
Caroline and her over-height grey Connemara, Rock, compete in most unaffiliated disciplines and are working their way up to tackling a BE event. You can keep up to date with all their adventures by following them on Facebook or Instagram @grey_connieadventures.
For more advice on how to wash a grey horse's tail, please see our video tutorial 'How To Wash A Horse's Tail (Great For White Tails!)'