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In my new book, You and Your Horse, Happily Ever After, (to be released in Spring 2020) I tackle the relationship component of horsemanship. I wrote it in the vein of fun first and pointers interjected in the happily ever section of each short chapter. 

The Horses, Happily Ever After Project is the inspiration for this series — 101 Ways to Die With a Horse or Live Happily Ever After, and Trail Riding, Happily Ever After — and a portion of proceeds is donated to organizations whose goal it is to help horses live better lives. My intention for the books is that they end up in your bathrooms where you read a chapter each day as you spend time on the loo.

Since You and Your Horse, Happily Ever After is due to be released in spring of 2020,  I’m gifting a sample here in celebration of the winter holiday season. I loved writing it as a horse-human relationship book that could almost apply to any human-human relationship, and hope you enjoy it as well. 

This excerpt addresses the basic hygiene we desire in those we spend time with, especially in close proximity.

Deception #32: Looking good is important to both of you.

The Heartbreak: Your horse prefers mud, dirt. dust and brambles to a shiny, clean body.

Happily Ever After: Bank on the fact that all cleaning and grooming efforts will be spoiled as soon as your horse is bathed, dried and deemed clean. You work hard to groom until his coat is shiny and clean, his mane and tail are tangle-free and glistening and his hoofs sparkle in the sun. You finish and he immediately heads to the dirtiest, muddiest spot he can find and has a good roll, being sure to smear manure on both hips and his head. And even though you know he’ll do this, it is exasperating and you wish he would stay clean.

The very meaning of clean is quite different for horses and people. They tend to tolerate our definition of the word for only a short while once we finish grooming. Their interpretation of being clean means a good amount of oil on the skin and in the hair and sufficient dust to keep sun, bugs and other irritants off of them. This difference in opinion is where the problems arise.

Getting ready for a show or trail ride can mean bathing, brushing and scrubbing that leaves you with sore muscles, filthy clothes and black grime under your fingernails, but your horse won’t notice, care or feel obligated to remain dirt-free for more than the time it takes to find a good place to roll. 

He just doesn’t care one bit about any of your hard work.  He does care about replenishing his hair oils, covering his skin in grime and smelling ‘normal’ again following all your diligent labor. Why? He needs to be dirty to be free of bugs feasting on his hide. Doesn’t matter if it’s full-on winter and twenty degrees and no flying insects to be seen for weeks; no, this effects his desire for dirt not one iota. 

When you have planned an event with your equine partner that you need to look good for,  maybe bathe him the day before, but be sure and blanket him to help keep the majority of his body clean and expect his legs—especially if he has any white markings—will be covered in manure, dirt and or shavings by morning. Leave enough time to repeat most of your cleaning efforts the day of the event, because you will need it! Remember though, he’s not getting dirty for any other reason than to keep himself comfortable.

There are many reasons horses seek the cover of dirt and mud and rolling in sand, grass, water, snow or mud is natural for them. They roll to feel better, to groom themselves and scratch those itchy places. They roll for comfort and to self-soothe if they are feeling out of sorts—like following a stressful situation of any kind, or when their stomach is upset. They may roll to cover their own equine-odor since they are a prey animal. If a predator is looking for dinner, he may not be able to smell the animal dinner under the layer of dirt. So being filthy could be a hard-wired DNA-induced protocol to keep the species alive. 

In summer, the horse may seek mud to roll in as a way to provide a physical barrier between him and the biting insects wanting to feast on his hide. Mud may also provide a way for him to keep cool and to regulate his internal temperature. Both light and dark colored animals may roll in mud to create a natural sunscreen if they have no shade. 

Following a rainstorm or a hard ride that has left the coat wet, horses roll to dry off. One theory is that the hair needs loft to provide thermoregulation and if wet, it can’t do its job efficiently. Rolling dries the hair and allows the coat to work as it should. In snow areas in winter, a good roll in the snow cleans the thick coat and allows it to better insulate. Besides, it feels good!

What makes horses look good to one another? Who knows if they even care! Stallions and mares rely more on body language and pheromones (chemicals acting like hormones with smells that attract the opposite sex) than on looks. And besides, a clean horse would not look different to another, but he might smell ‘wrong’ so even in the breeding shed, a freshly bathed horse may be a discouragement to the opposite sex. 

His cleanliness is more important to you than to him and understanding why he prefers to be dirty is good to remember. Although it seems he is trying to irritate you, he is not.

Tidbit:  Never turn a freshly washed and groomed horse out with his saddle on or you’ll be repeating both the washing of the horse and the cleaning of the tack.

Real Life: “I had a Paint that was mostly white, and keeping her clean was next to impossible. I swore my next horse would be black, and so he is. Ironically, it’s harder to keep him clean than it was my mare. Goes to show that buying for color is not the best idea, I suppose. The difference really comes down to either having a white horse with green spots or a black horse with dust marks that never go away. Pick your poison?”

May you enjoy your horses, happily ever after!

~Tanya Buck


*** Bonus! Here’s a FREE ORIGINAL ARTWORK Poster of the parts of the horse:

Tanya Buck
Published on 13-12-2019
Tanya Buck is an equine advocate, an author (101 Ways to Die with a Horse or Live Happily Ever After and White Horse, A Novel), horse trainer, coach and riding instructor. And if that list isn't long enough, she is also a member of the Front Range Animal Evacuation Team in Colorado and founder of the Horses Happily Ever After Project. Tanya believes that a holistic approach incorporating the horse's physical, mental and emotional state combined with reciprocal communication is most beneficial in creating the bond of champions. Her ongoing work to better the world for the horse drives her to keep doing what she does!