White horses are lovely to look at, with their gleaming coats and snowy manes and tails. The reality is, white horses, whether they are greys that are becoming whiter as they age, or actually white, are rarely as picturesque as we see at the movies, at shows and in photographs. Grooming a white horse takes a bit more effort than grooming a bay, chestnut or brown horse.
Dirt, grass stains and manure stains can stain the coats of white, or almost white horses. This staining can leave them looking yellowed or dingey all over, and sometimes, if a horse has laid in mud or manure, there may be very stained patches that are hard to remove. Another problem is that it's very hard to see the shine on a white horse. However, there are some tricks that can help your white colored horse get clean and stay cleaner between groomings.
Even the white manes and tails of greys and palominos can become quite stained. There are a number of products available in tack shops that can help you. If you can shampoo your horse regularly, this will help prevent the stain build-up. Regular livestock or horse shampoo will get rid of most of the dirt and staining. There are products specifically for white manes and tails containing brighteners and whiteners, usually in the form of blue dye. You can also use laundry bluing. The downside of bluing however, is that if you don't get the yellow stains out of the hair, the bluing can make your horse's tail look greenish, or depending on the product, purple-ish.
Often when washing a tail, we lather the soap through and then rinse it out. However, if your horse's tail or mane is badly stained, it might help to let the lather sit for a while and let the soap work. Then rinse and repeat. Rinsing a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, the kind that can be bought off the shelf at pharmacies, through the ends of the tail hairs might help remove more staining. Using chlorine bleach can remove some stains, but will also dry the hair out badly. You don't want to get bleach on your horse's skin. Vinegar is also an inexpensive stain remover. Baby shampoo may work on some types of stains.
Laundry bluing is a long-time whitener/brightener that works well. If you use bluing, either on the mane and tail, or the whole horse, be sure to rinse it quickly. If it sits too long, it will stain the hairs blue. You only want it to brighten the hairs, not dye them blue.
When the weather isn't warm enough for a full bath, there are several products that are useful for stain removal. Some people swear by spot washing with human shampoo such as Suave or Head and Shoulders. Baking soda added into the lather can help remove some of the dirt. Sprays made especially for the purpose are probably the easiest, especially during cold weather when you don't want to wet your horse too much. Miracle Groom and Cowboy Magic grooming sprays are favorites of many white horse owners.
White horses aren't as likely to shine in the same way darker colored horses do. A a spray-on shine enhancer can help, although good nutrition is by far the best way to make a coat healthy. White coats get sun-bleached like any other color, so a sun sheet or stabling during the peak sun hours will help the coat stay glossy. Be careful when using grooming sprays and products that add shine to the coat. These also make the horse slippery, which may be a hazard when you saddle up.
To prevent stains before a show, a close-fitting sheet, or Lycra® stretchy covers may help keep surface dirt off of your horse. If your horse lays in manure though, and white and light colored horses seem to seek it out to lay in, the manure can soak through the blanket.
To keep your white horse white, and not yellow or greenish takes maintenance. Spraying with a grooming spray regularly can help repel stain causing dirt. An overall grooming every day, rather than just once in a while will help keep your horse cleaner, and makes it easier to give your horse a final finish when it counts.