Like most horse owners, I dread when my horses come out of the paddock covered in mud, dust, and other debris. A dirty horse is…well, it’s a dirty horse, and nobody wants that (especially not me). So it’s time to grab the shampoo, buckets, and sponges and head to the wash bay to give my filthy four-legged equine kids a good makeover.
As a riding instructor, it’s important that my students learn how to wash a horse, care for their coats, and no student wants to ride a muddy mare or go bouncing off on a dusty dun. So, shampoo is a constant in my grooming kit, and I have become quite adept at cleaning up muddy legs or a whole body wash when required.
There’s nothing worse than having a shampoo that won’t rinse out, or spending all the time scrubbing and not getting a shiny stud. I’ve become very picky about the shampoo I prefer.
Not all horse shampoos were created equal, and if you want the best for your horse (and I know you do), then you’ve come to the right place. I loaded up on as many different horse shampoos as I could find, roped in my riding students, and called a wash day for my little herd to find the best horse shampoo out there.
We soaped up my chestnut mare, a bulky gray, my dainty bay, and my rascal dun mare. Here are our shining results for today–I’m sure my kids will play in the mud again tomorrow. Luckily, shampoo bottles have several washes in them!
Bottom Line Up Front
While we tried many different horse shampoos, the overall winner is an oldie but a goodie—Mane ‘n Tail and Body Shampoo 1 Gallon.
Mane’ n Tail is a staple in my grooming kit, and with the wide range of different products in their range, you can’t go wrong with a Mane ‘n Tail shampoo for your equine partner. At a great price, it’s a deal for any serious horse owner.
My Top Horse Shampoo Picks Up Front
- Best Overall General Use Horse Shampoo: Mane’ n Tail and Body Shampoo 1 Gallon
- Best Show Quality Horse Shampoo: Cowboy Magic Shampoo
- Best UV Protective Horse Shampoo: Farnam Vetrolin Bath Ultra-Hydrating Conditioning Shampoo
- Most Affordable Horse Shampoo for Daily Use: Horse Health 2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner
- Best Horse Shampoo for Sensitive Skin: E3® Elite Equine Evolution Tea Tree Shampoo
- Best Medicated Horse Shampoo: E3 Antibacterial/Antifungal Shampoo
- Best Color Enhancing Horse Shampoo: Quic Silver Shampoo
- Best Horse Shampoo for People: Mane ‘N Tail Combo Deal Shampoo and Conditioner
Best Horse Shampoo Tips for Use
With so many horse shampoo brands on the market, it can be challenging to know which brand to choose. Some horse shampoos can be pretty pricey too, and I know I stretch my dollars to buy hay and pay for vet bills and expensive supplements (Yeah, only the best for my horse babies). So I don’t want to waste money on fake foam.
Considering the size of some shampoo bottles and the size of your horse, it may seem a no-win situation. Yet, I’ve learned to stretch a good bottle of shampoo to cover several washes. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your horse shampoo and choose the best shampoo for your horse.
How to Choose the Best Shampoo for Your Horse
Try to choose a mild shampoo for your horse. Avoid shampoo with excess conditioners built-in, as this can lead to skin allergies. Choose a thinner shampoo liquid when examining the shampoo, as this will rinse off easier than a thicker shampoo (or dilute a thicker shampoo before use).
Apply the shampoo with a soft sponge, and work it to a lather on the horse’s coat. Less is more, so use only a small amount of shampoo to avoid over-soaping.
- Choose an Aloe Vera or tea tree oil shampoo for horses with sensitive coats. A “regular use” shampoo will work great for a seasonal wash where soaping twice may be needed.
- Shampoos with extra “shine” are best used before shows, but it may be necessary to rewash your horse after the show with “normal” shampoo to rid them of sweat and any remaining silicone that is often added to a shine-boosting shampoo.
- Tinted shampoos can be used to liven up a dull coat, but don’t skip the sensitivity test to check your horse doesn’t have an allergic reaction to the shampoo.
- Choose a medicated shampoo if your horse has allergy-prone skin or treat specific medical conditions such as mange, mud fever, mites, worms, etc.
- Avoid those costly spills when your horse knocks over the open bottle by decanting your shampoo into a pump action bottle like the ones you buy shower gel in.
Horse Shampoo Selection Criteria
To find the best shampoo for achieving that show-day shine every time, you need to choose a shampoo that meets all your needs while also considering a few other selection criteria. Here are a few of these criteria and how these influence your choice of shampoo. Trust me, with so many shampoos on the market, it’s good to know what to look for.
When your horse needs to get their shine on, you need to look for a shampoo that helps boost a glossy finish of the coat. Shine-enhancing shampoos are designed to smooth the hair shaft and cover the coat hair with a silicone-based layer that enhances the light-reflecting properties of the horse’s coat.
My chestnut shines like a penny when I use a show shampoo like Cowboy Magic Shampoo. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I love a shiny horse.
Nothing is worse than washing your horse and finding that their shampoo takes forever to wash out! You scrub and scrub, rinse and rinse, but you simply can’t get the last suds out. Not only will this cause dandruff and skin allergies, but it will also make for a dull coat.
My bulky gray tends to hoard suds, so I have to be careful that I don’t use a high foam shampoo on him or I’m going to end up with a problem. When selecting a shampoo, you want to balance good foaming properties and overall conditioning with the ease of how fast the soapiness rinses out.
Not all horses are blessed with great coats, and sometimes, you need to help your equine partner develop or maintain theirs by having a good conditioning shampoo to use when washing your horse. One of the rescue horses at the yard came in with a dreadful skin condition.
He’s got almost no hair and bald and patchy skin! With a good medicated shampoo we were able to treat his skin conditions, but it also required a conditioning shampoo to care for the bit of hair he did have.
Medicated Treatment Properties
People would use a medicated shampoo if they have a skin problem, so your horse would also benefit from using a medical shampoo if they are struggling with a skin condition such as dry skin or mange. I always keep some medicated shampoo on hand for mud fever, bald spots, and other skin ailments. My go-to (if I’m not using a medicated scrub as doctors use) is E3 Antibacterial/Antifungal Shampoo.
Cost of Shampoo
Horses are big, resulting in quite a bit of shampoo being needed if you frequently wash your horse. Or, if you own a thick coated soap-soaker like my gray, you may need half a bottle for a good and thoroughly clean. If you use an expensive shampoo, it will become a costly charge to buy more shampoo.
Therefore, a cost-effective shampoo is an excellent option for daily use. The more expensive shampoo you may want to use for that special show-day shine can be kept on the shelf until the week before show day. I’m definitely not going to use my show shampoo to get poo stains out of that gray coat because I like a clean horse when a cheaper shampoo will do the job just fine.
Special Features of Shampoo
Okay, so you probably know that shampoo can be medicated or that it can treat dry skin, but did you know other unique features of some shampoos would make these great choices too? Special features such as insect repellent shampoo and color-enhancing shampoo can give you the edge in your horse’s coat care. It may even be worth spending a bit more on these special features.
I’ve also found that adding a few drops of eucalyptus or citronella essential oil to a basic shampoo makes for a great natural insect repelling shampoo, and it doesn’t repel the dollars out of my wallet like some “special” shampoos do.
Tools and Equipment Needed to Wash a Horse
When washing a horse for the first time, it helps when you have the right tools for the job. My toolkit includes the following items listed with their respective functions.
Choose a shampoo that suits your horse. If your horse has a thick coat, it’s best to choose a low-foaming shampoo or dilute the shampoo you choose. Show-shine shampoos are more expensive and better suited to competition horses that have been clipped.
If you are located in a colder region, you may want to warm up some water for washing your horse. Placing several buckets with water in the sun for a few hours will give you warmer water to rinse lather off. A bucket is also handy if you need to sponge the shampoo over your horse or need to dilute it.
Any sponge will do, but a super-absorbent sponge is best left for drying your horse, while a soft sponge is ideal for applying the shampoo.
Most tack shops sell an animal grooming mitten with scrubbing bristles, but you can also opt for some silicone kitchen gloves with rubber dots or bristles to scrub at legs and muddy bellies. With a good scrubbing, your horse will be super clean and enjoy a nice massage session simultaneously. My horses love getting rubbed all over when it’s bath time, so yours may enjoy it just as much.
Stiff bristled brush for scrubbing
In addition to a scrubbing glove, you may find that a stiff brush such as a dandy brush can help you get rid of hardened mud on the legs and along the horse’s hooves.
Drying your horse’s mane and tail can help them dry quicker, and you can also use a towel and absorbent sponge to rub the excess water from their body.
It may seem like a dumb point, but having a good-quality halter that can handle the water is a great idea. A synthetic or nylon web halter is best, as these can get wet without any hassles. Leather halters would need conditioning after being used when washing your horse. I don’t like to use a rope halter while washing as the water can rot the core over time.
A sweat scraper
Sweat scrapers are specifically designed to help you dry a wet horse quickly. Use your sweat scraper to scrape excess water from your horse’s flanks, neck, back, hindquarters, and even legs.
The sweat scraper can also help you check if you did a good job rinsing the shampoo off, as any bubbles in the water indicate there is still soapiness on your horse’s coat, and you should rinse more. It’s also fun to scrape the water off (que song: working at the car wash, yeah!).
Best Horse Shampoo Recommendations
Best Overall General Use Horse Shampoo
I simply love Mane’ n Tail and Body Shampoo 1 Gallon. It’s excellent value for money and a good quality all-round horse shampoo. I’ve been using it in my yard for years, and I love the great fragrance too. I’ve even used some on my own mane for lush locks.
- Deep cleansing shampoo
- Emollients help moisturize the skin without removing skin oils
- Protein formula helps boost shine and hair health
- Easy to rinse out
- Shipping a gallon-size bottle can create issues with the bottle seal and spillage while in transit.
- Not all horses will appreciate the fragrance, so thin down for a sensitive horse
With Mane’ n Tail, it’s a good idea to dilute the shampoo by first adding a healthy dollop in a bucket with water and using a sponge to apply the lather to the horse’s coat. I love the clean feeling when the foam squeezes between my fingers.
Best Show Quality Horse Shampoo
If you’ve ever tried Cowboy Magic Shampoo, you’ll know it really is magic. For a great shine, natural shampoo is best as there are fewer harmful chemicals that can dull the coat in these. Cowboy Magic shampoo mainly contains natural ingredients suitable for a high-shine wash.
- Natural ingredients like herbs, silk panthenol (just like in human shampoo), vitamin E, and honey
- Work to a lather to gently loosen dirt and lift the coat hair back into place
- It can be diluted up to 20 times
- It can be used by people too
- While the scent is sweet, it doesn’t smell like roses or honey
- When using the Cowboy Magic conditioner with the shampoo on your horse, it may be a little too softening
Cowboy Magic is an excellent buy for soft and silky hair, but I prefer to use a different shampoo for the mane and tail as I need a little more grippiness and less softness to help with braids before a show.
Best UV Protective Horse Shampoo
Where white horses tend to suffer mud attacks, darker colored horses like bays and blacks are often susceptible to fade and dandruff from dry skin. This is where Farnam Vetrolin Bath Ultra-Hydrating Conditioning Shampoo is a great choice. I used some for the rescue horse to get some life back into his skin.
- Foams up to a protein-enriched lather that gently cleans away dandruff, dander, and loose hair for a smooth finish
- Vitamin E and UV-proofing agent PABA
- Protects skin and hair from fadi*ng and UV damage
- It can be used on dogs too
- Argan oil helps increase shine
- Additional conditioner may be required for mane and tail if you want soft locks
- Only available in two sizes: 64 ounces and 32 ounces
I enjoyed the soft feeling on my horse’s coat, and the idea that they get a little sun protection with it is a great comfort. I wish they indicated what the protection factor of the PABA agents is as a way to compare it with other sun protection shampoos.
Most Affordable Horse Shampoo for Daily Use
When you have a lot of horses to wash, you need a lot of shampoo, preferably at a great price too. Horse Health 2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner is a great budget-friendly option. At less than $20 per gallon, you are sure to get loads of horses clean and soft in no time. For me, this is a great deal as I wash my horses almost weekly in the summer, and when it comes to muddy legs, we wash daily.
- It contains no harmful chemicals; fully biodegradable
- Achieve a deep cleanse
- Moisturize coats with a coconut conditioning agent
- pH balanced
- Easily rinsed off without leaving any buildup (yay when dealing with several muddy horses to wash)
- No pump action for the gallon-size bottle, making decanting a challenge
- Very low fragrance
I found this shampoo very economical, and it’s also great for all coat types and even sensitive skin. If you really want a bit more fragrance, you can add a little orange essential oil to the mix. I add five drops on a gallon, and it really freshens things up.
Best Horse Shampoo for Sensitive Skin
When dealing with sensitive skin, there are many different shampoos that will work. I enjoyed the fragrance and cleaning power of E3® Elite Equine Evolution Tea Tree Shampoo.
This shampoo is enriched with tea tree essential oil, making for a great disinfectant and antifungal. Sensitive skin is frequently plagued by dermal issues, which is why this shampoo works so well. I’ve even tried it for a bad dandruff attack I got from a low-budget color wash I tried on my hair, and it really helped clear things up.
- Maintains healthy skin with antibacterial properties of tea tree essential oil
- Nano multivitamins E, A, C, and F, are encapsulated in the shampoo, making it ideal for a slow release and absorption on the skin site.
- Ideal for a deep clean
- Lathers well and rinses easily.
- Not whitening, so you may need to use a whitening shampoo for gray and white horses (like my gray-bay)
- Slightly more expensive for the size container than other brands
I love the great fragrance and high foam of this shampoo. It makes cleaning up your horse so much fun. With healthy multivitamins being absorbed straight into the skin, you can achieve a natural shine instead of an artificial one.
Best Medicated Horse Shampoo
Summertime brings several horrid skin conditions that every horse owner dreads – rain rot, mange, fungal infections, mud fever. E3 Antibacterial/Antifungal Shampoo is a great medicated shampoo to deal with these issues.
- Prevents and treats fungal infections and other skin conditions
- Great for the relief of itchy skin, dry skin, and infected skin
- Enriched with nano-encapsulated vitamins and minerals for slow absorption into the skin to nourish and heal skin
- Contains 0.2% Triclosan and 0.25% Ketoconazole
- Slightly more expensive than other shampoos at over $18 per 32 ounces
If you need something for that itchy horse, this is a winner. However, for a quick wash, I still prefer my other daily shampoos. In summer, I find E3 antibacterial shampoo is a good treatment protocol for muddy legs that are prone to mud fever.
Best Color Enhancing Horse Shampoo
Those with white horses know the drama of cleaning that “never gonna listen to you and stay clean” coat. Luckily, with Quic Silver Shampoo you can easily and effortlessly clean, lighten, and shine up white, light gray, palomino, and cream-colored coats.
- Shine up light coat colors
- Add highlights to silver-gray, palomino, cremello, and white
- Removes grass stains, manure stains, and other dirt
- Bleach and “blue” agent-free
- Repeat use is necessary for tough stains
- It requires more shampoo per wash than other brands, making it a bit more pricey
I found the best application of this shampoo is as a shine-up for my light-colored horses before a show. I wash them a week before with a stain-removing shampoo to remove any stains, then follow with a pre-show wash to lighten their highlights for that pristine show shine for silver grays and platinum whites.
Best Horse Shampoo for People
If you like long and lush locks for your own mane, then try Mane’ N Tail Combo Deal Shampoo and Conditioner for that Jennifer Anniston look.
- Great scent of apple blossoms
- For repair of the scalp, thickened hair, and extra softness
- Conditioners can be used as a leave-in treatment
- Coconut and vitamin E boosts hair moisture content for healthy, shiny hair
- Value pack with shampoo and conditioner
- Budget price at $21.45
- May cause an allergic reaction to sensitive scalps
- Sulfate content can dry out the scalp and hair
- Conditioner can cause some residue that has a waxy feel
While using only Mane ‘n Tail isn’t a good idea, it can be a great in-between shampoo to boost your hair’s condition. I always have a bottle in the bathroom for showy shine hair days.
Answer: If your horse is a show horse or participates in equestrian competitions, it is a requirement they are clean before each event. This may mean washing the horse frequently, perhaps even weekly.
Should your horse only be used for hacking, you can get away with only bathing the horse when they need it, such as when they have rolled in mud or have become dirty.
Answer: When horses come into contact with water, it removes the natural oils from their skin and hair follicles. In winter, this process worsens with the cold, stripping natural oils from their skin and coat.
When you wash your horse too many times per week, you may find their hair quality decreases substantially. A horse that is bathed too often may develop brittle hair, dry skin, and look dull.
Answer: There are a few alternatives to washing your horse with horse shampoo. You can use regular dawn dish soap bars to clean a white horse’s tail and mane. On the horse’s body, it is best to go for the mildest human shampoo possible if you can’t find a good horse shampoo.
When in doubt, use a baby shampoo as you know this will be free of harmful toxins and will rinse easily.
Answer: Use as little shampoo as is needed to clean the horse. Thinning your shampoo to a 50% solution with warm water can help save shampoo costs. You will use less shampoo, and you will also find the shampoo much easier to rinse once it’s been diluted.
Answer: You can use some horse shampoos for humans. Carefully check whether the manufacturer recommends the shampoo as being safe for human use. Mane’ n Tail is a safe brand to use.
The benefits of horse shampoo for humans include:
• Increased hair thickness
• Brilliant shine
• Fewer split ends
• Hair growth for thinning hair
• Better moisturized hair
The Final Rinse
Each owner wants a horse shampoo that rinses out easily, cleans thoroughly, conditions their horse’s coat, and as a bonus, leaves manes and tails nice and soft. With these different shampoos, you can choose a horse shampoo that meets your particular pony’s needs. I’ve shared the choices I prefer for different wash-day conditions.
Choose a shampoo to soften coats, protect your light-colored horses from UV damage, and deal with skin issues with a good-quality medicated shampoo. Read my horse ownership guide if you’d like to learn more about caring for your horse.
Happy soaping and enjoy a happy horse with a bright and shiny coat.