Does your gray horse look dingy and stained thanks to your local soil? Liv Gude of Pro Equine Grooms  has the answers!
"How can I keep my horse clean? I live in red clay country."
This is a gray horse owner’s worst situation! Forget manure and dirt on a gray horse—living in red clay country can create a perma-orange horse. This is a daily battle, and we need to think “marathon, not sprint." A healthy dose of barn and stable management will help, too, as you may need to consider rearranging some things to minimize the red clay mess. Let’s attack the red clay mess from a few angles—the inside of your horse, the outside of your horse, and your horse’s environment. This three-pronged approach targets the basic enemy of red clay, which is a healthy horse, whose skin and hair coat have tons of natural oils to repel the red clay.
The inside of your horse:
Healthy horses are fed high quality and balanced diets that support their skin and hair coat. Fatty acids, trace minerals and amino acids found in high quality proteins are key here, in the correct balances. Working with an equine nutritionist or your veterinarian is essential to creating a healthy diet for your horse, as they can take into consideration access to pasture, local hay quality and type, level of exercise, metabolic issues, age, etc., to create the best balance of nutrients to achieve the ultimate hair coat. The goal with a nutritional plan is to create a horse whose skin and coat are full of natural oils so stains and water roll off the hair. Imagine sprinkling your horse with a hose and seeing the water bead up!
Your horse will also need to be up-to-date with a worming program appropriate for your location, so check with your veterinarian for his suggestions. What works in Idaho can be quite different from Georgia, due to the life cycles of parasites and climate differences. Your horse will also need adequate dental care to ensure your healthy diet is well digested and absorbed!
The outside of your horse:
It’s very tempting to use blueing shampoos to remove the stains. They do work but can be harsh and leave your horse and your fingers a bit purple. I would suggest using these only in a pinch, as they can remove a lot of your horse’s natural oils. You can try using a castile soap, which is an olive-oil based soap and wonderful for cleaning boots, leather goods and horses. It’s not as harsh as other products and has lots of uses around the barn. For manes and tails, and even as a rinse for the whole body, use distilled white vinegar. Follow all shampooing and treatments with a conditioner so that the hairs are protected from future stains. A good detangler will work well on the mane and tail; be cautious as to using too much on a mane—sometimes the reins can become quite slick from a detangler.
You will also want to curry, curry, curry until your arms fall off. The more you can curry and stimulate his skin, the better. A homemade hay wisp is also a great way to rub him out and stimulate those oils in the hair coat.
Now let’s create a physical barrier. In cooler months, consider a light blanket or cotton sheet with a neck-piece and belly-guarding piece. In the warmer months, use a full-body fly sheet with a neck-piece and belly-guarding piece. You can find fly sheets in many fabrics—look for a tight knit, which is better for keeping mud and dirt away from the coat. Go for a light color in the warm months to reflect the sun. Tail bags are an option too, if your horse will tolerate them. Take them off daily to check the condition of the tail, and be sure to secure them below the dock. Fly masks worn year-round can protect his ears and cheeks from the sun, flies and red clay. I typically have two sets of everything so that I can rotate while one set is in the laundry.
Your horse’s environment:
Horses can be creatures of habit. Many have favorite rolling spots, and others seem to roll only after a ride or first thing when turned out. Whatever your routine is, you can try and change things just a smidge so the rolling is done in bedding of your choice. If he rolls after a ride, put him in a stall, round pen or paddock with any bedding other than clay so he can roll before you unleash him into the clay pits. Or, put bedding where his favorite rolling spots are. I find that pelleted wood bedding is inexpensive and goes a long way. A few bags placed in your horse’s rolling spots may do the trick.
You also have the option of covering up the red clay with something else, like a pasture. (This is the real marathon portion of this whole process.) Many barns are composting their manure and bedding these days, and what better way to dilute the clay and even one day seed for pasture. I also know of several barns that toss the manure into compost, and the dirty shavings are used to line bridle trails around the property. Do you have a small paddock that can be used to dispose of dirty shavings? In a short time, the clay will be covered, and I’m sure your horse would love to roll there!
Do you have any grooming questions or mysteries you'd like answered? Email them to us  and Liv will address them next month!
Also, the upcoming March 25 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine is the Spring Horse Care issue, with articles about new boot technologies, respiratory/allergy issues, a profile of equine massage therapist Jo-Ann Wilson, and more. Don't miss it !