Sure, the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man, but is that shampoo or brace really good for your horse’s coat and skin?
A horse’s skin is its largest organ. When it comes to applying soluble products, do you really know what’s best?
“Rich, glistening coats not only look beautiful, they indicate well-being,” says Ruthann Smith, grooming guru and developer of Lucky Braids Coat Care Products.
BATHS AND BUBBLES
“Less is best,” says Healthy Horse Hints author, Shari Frederick. “Some owners over-bathe, which can lead to dandruff from leftover shampoo and conditioner buildup. If you shampoo, rinse well to eliminate dead skin and hair.” For horses with dry skin, dandruff, or hair loss, try washing with an infusion (basted in hot, not boiling, water) of nettle and rosemary. Or, for a “waterless bath,” sprinkle the coat with baking soda and crushed/powdered lavender, lifting dirt as you brush.
“Commercial shampoos,” warns Smith, “use petroleum for shine and salt for lather. These elements dry hair and irritate the skin. Some horses look less shiny after a bath because natural skin oils have been washed off.”
“Companies think you won’t wash with a product that doesn’t foam,” says
John Collet, vice president of eZall plant-based shampoos. “Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are common and effective cleaning agents. They’ve been an industry standard. However, they can be abrasive and must be buffered.”
Another option is green surfactants (surface active agents). “Combined with water, non-ionic plant-based surfactants ‘lift’ dirt so it can be rinsed away,” says Collet.
Plant-based surfactants reduce lather but not shine, and since petrochemical-free shampoos are gentler on hair, they offer an efficient and economic bonus: requiring little to no follow-up conditioner.
What’s your horse’s pH balance? pH balances measure acidity or alkalinity on a range from 0, very acidic, to 14, very alkaline, with 7 as a neutral midpoint. A low or high pH will irritate skin, i.e., sulfuric acid is a highly acidic pH 1; liquid drain cleaner is a highly alkaline pH 14.
“Over-use of improperly balanced shampoos can harm your horse. What’s put on skin can be absorbed into the system,” says veterinarian and founder of Healing Tree Products, Eric Witherspoon. “A healthy horse’s pH is 7.0 to 7.4. Human pH is 6.7 to 6.9. So most ‘pH-balanced shampoos,’ to rinse more cleanly, need a slightly acidic pH.”
Alkaline products penetrate hair’s cuticle/outer layer and reach the cortex (center), leaving hair dry and prone to breakage. Mildly acidic solutions do the opposite: they flatten the cuticle, making hair shinier and easier to brush. To increase shine and manageability naturally, rinse with vinegar.
“Sweat and dirt raise pH to the alkaline, so a neutral-to-slightly acidic pH is ideal,” says Dr. Witherspoon. “Alkaline products may seem to clean better, but strip natural oils and open cuticles to damage, fungi, and bacteria.”
“If you are going for the bucket of water, scrubbing and sponging method, then our pH-balanced formula cleanses without stripping natural oils,” says Devon B. Katzev, president of Straight Arrow, makers of the Original Mane ‘n Tail Shampoo. Fortified with moisturizers and emollients that enhance coat health and appearance, this 40-year favorite among horsemen has an optimum 6.3 pH. A Pro-Tect Medicated Shampoo is their answer to skin or coat issues: the anti-microbial shampoo helps prevent and heal skin problems associated with bacteria, yeast, mold, fungi and viruses.
The pH of your water is also important, Collet adds. “Soft water creates more suds, hard water creates less.”
When liniment is added to bath water, the result is a brace. Braces are refreshing rinses that help increase circulation and stimulate healing in sore muscles or swollen legs. One ‘homemade recipe’ combines apple cider vinegar with salt, sprayed liberally on affected areas like the back or legs, but to avoid the drying effects of salt, there are commercial herbal options that will not burn, blister, or irritate sensitive skin.
One natural liniment is Equilite™ Sore No-More®, which includes the herbs arnica (for bruises/strains), rosemary (to enhance circulation), lobelia (for muscle cramps), and circulation-enhancing lavender.
Or, you can reward a hard-working horse with all the benefits of a brace and shampoo in one bottle: the unique Sore No More® Massage Shampoo is a gentle, vegetable cleanser combined with the arnica-based liniment to create a light lather while delivering an invigorating massage, and is SLS-free.
Essential oils or herbs can be added to a basic shampoo, or you can reach for all-natural options in lieu of harsher commercial ingredients:
* Tea tree oil (a natural antiseptic) added to a mild oatmeal shampoo
* Eucalyptus soap (a natural antiseptic)
* Chamomile added to bath water (a natural antiseptic and skin toner)
“The best cleaning is the least invasive,” Collet concludes. Keeping what’s good for the outside of a horse gently and safely where it belongs can be best for every body.