Today as I was writing a scene where my new character, Whit Casey, in “Hold Me Forever” is washing down her very promising Quarter Horse racer, I found myself chuckling over the first time I gave a horse a bath.
My parents raised four kids on my dad’s salary of about $5,000 a year in 1965, so I didn’t grow up around a fancy barn, taking lessons and going to weekend horse shows. My lessons came from rude ponies that we caught out of the pasture where my friend’s father, who was an auctioneer among other things, kept the stock he bought and sold to turn a buck.
So, when I moved to North Carolina in 1990 and purchased my first horse at the age of 35, I knew little about owning one. If I had been smarter, I would have rented a house in town and boarded Cody, a beautiful Arabian, so I could learn the basics from others more experienced in horse care. But I instead rented a farm house and brought Cody home to share the adjacent barn and pasture with my landlord’s donkey, Asset.
So, after a hot summer ride around the 200-acre farm, I tied Cody under the barn breezeway and opened the new bottle of Mane and Tail shampoo. I’d had plenty of large dogs, right, so how difficult could this be?
I sprayed Cody down, then turned the bottle over to dribble shampoo up and down his back. Then I used handfuls to soap down his legs, mane, tail and underbelly. Two-thirds of the bottle was gone and he was one huge clump of suds from ears to tail before I started rinsing.
I turned the hose on him and rinsed. And rinsed. And rinsed. Two days later when it rained cats and dogs, I was chagrined to see Cody standing under the barn overhang, soaked to the skin and still making suds on his rump. It had to be the shampoo I used.
Fortunately, one of my old high school friends was an equine veterinarian and only a phone call away for critical questions. Who knew that I should have asked about something as simple as a bath?
I dialed up my friend and inquired, “What shampoo should I use to give Cody a bath?”
“Shampoo? I don’t know,” she said. “Most of the time, I just use a mild dish detergent as long as the horse doesn’t have any special skin problems. Why do you ask?”
I explained the rain and the suds.
“How much shampoo did you use?”
“Well, by the time I got him soaped all over, it took over half the bottle.”
There was a long silence on the other end of the phone, then muffled chuckling. “Tell me exactly what you did.”
By the time I finished recounting my bath procedure, I was frowning because the chuckling had turned to racous laughter.
“You don’t bathe a horse like you do a dog, silly. You wash them like a car. Pour the shampoo in a bucket and use a big sponge to apply it.”
Well, damn. It was 1990. It wasn’t like I could Google “how to wash a horse.”