Average water usage for horse activities

We are in a drought in the Mountain West and authorities are talking about water restrictions. We want to start a “Slow the Flow” campaign at our barn. I can easily find stats for how much horses drink daily. I’m looking for the amount of water used for a soap bath vs a quick spray off vs. a sponge bath. The sponge bath is pretty easy to figure out. We have a few boarders who want to spray off their horse daily and give them full baths more often than needed. We know that sprinkling the arenas consumes the most water but every little bit helps.

Thanks for any insight you can give.

This would largely depend on your water flow rate, I don’t know if you’d find a stat online for equine activities. There are averages for human showers and stuff.

For example, my barn water comes out at a rate of six gallons per minute (I calculated this when I first bought the farm by timing the filling of five-gallon buckets). Therefore, if for a full soap bath I’m running the water a total of, say six minutes, I’d use 36 gallons of water. For a rinse off after a ride, let’s say two minutes of running water, so 12 gallons of water. For a quick squirt of just the sweaty saddle area, I’d say maybe 30 seconds, so three gallons of water.
Of course, in reality it may be less than this for me, because I timed the water bucket filling without a nozzle, so just freely from the hose. If the nozzle restricts the rate, those numbers would of course be lower.

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A low flow shower head delivers 1.5-2.5 gallons per minute and is easily attached to a hose. A quick spray down can be done in about a minute, maybe two if you are slow. Even a soap bath can be accomplished using minimal water.

Focusing on the bath is missed opportunity. Your biggest water use is the arena. Look into products like Whoa Dust that require very, very little water. Cost for an average to large ring is likely to be less than 1K. Bonus is that ring is always riding ready.


You must have much better luck getting soap off than I do.

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Lol, guess I am cheap with the soap!

Several years ago this topic came up in regards to the drought in California. That’s a hot arid place where daily hosing off in summer pretty much replaces lengthy grooming.

(My mare in the PNW also prefers a hose bath after a summer ride to being groomed and it keeps her clean day to day so actual brushing is minimal)

Anyhow the California barns banned hose baths. Each boarder was allowed one 5 gallon bucket per day to sponge and scrape their horse. They did just fine with that. I think it was a state wide thing so boarders in one barn couldn’t get away with too much whining.

If things get to the stage of real drought restrictions, I think you could remove the hoses from your wash rack area and make everyone use a 5 gallon bucket. Don’t give in to the few who want to over bathe. And honestly horses don’t need a soap bath except maybe just before a show.

BTW at my barn I can fill a 5 gallon bucket in 2 minutes and I cannot rinse off a horse with a hose in two minutes.

The other water use activity is cold hosing legs. Some folks do it every ride as a preventative and some have diagnosed injuries. If you have a freezer on site you could encourage the use of ice packs.

You could figure out a charge for a pre show soap bath. Charge extra for grey horses! :wink:

You can also encourage people to rinse mash buckets in the drinking water tubs they are dumping and refilling daily or if its barn staff, dumping old drinking water into a barrel to use for watering plants or something.

I don’t have good ideas about arena footing. I’ve been at barns that were a dust storm and barns that were rotting footing from over sprinkling. I would say that decent footing is a communal benefit and should take priority over daily horse baths.

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@mmeqcenter, a very useful analysis. Thank you. As you noted, you have to figure out the gallons per minute for the nozzle you’re using. And in any event, you can then figure out the cost per minute and then the cost per task. I’ve gone down that rabbit hole!

To give shampoo baths that use less water here are some tips: Think Navy shower. My relatives in the Navy taught me that water conservation is key when at sea, so to shower they would wet themselves down, turn off the water, soap up then turn the water back on to rinse.
Make the folks in your barn do that with their horses, rather than let the hose keep running while they soap up.

Dilute the shampoo half and half with water before using it on a horse that’s been wetted down. Try this with your hair washing sometime. You’ll find that it suds better, cleans just as well, rinses out better and leaves less residue (resulting in shinier hair). Shampoo is waaaay concentrated for its job to keep it from running all over the place. If you’re squirting some shampoo on your self or your horse, and then working it into suds (on my horses, I do this with a relatively soft plastic brush) the liquidity works in your favor.

After sudsing up your horse, use a sweat scraper to take off most of the dirty soapy water. Then rinse with much less water than you’d have used otherwise.

We put a large water tank on a cart right next to the barn. As soon as the town announces water restrictions, all buckets get emptied into the tank and we use the “gray” water for new plantings, watering the ring (every little bit helps) and just raising awareness of how much water gets wasted.

Hope there are more tips. I’m in coastal Massachusetts are we’re already in a drought. Spring isn’t even fully here yet. It’s going to be a tough year for sure.


@frugalannie, my first response to your suggestion about turning off the water while you lather your horse was - People leave the water running while they lather? Oh my.
Then I thought about it for a bit, and I bet there are places that do not have a spray nozzle or such to shut off the water while they lather.

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If you are truly in a serious drought situation , the first thing I would do is remove the hoses( or turn off the water) at the wash racks and not allow bathing horses at all if people can’t be responsible with the usage.

Thanks for all of the good tips. I agree the main water use is keeping arenas watered, although our MOs are very frugal with water for that. My hope is to educate people about water at the barn and their homes. It can be illuminating for people when they see how much water our daily activities can consume. Unfortunately we have cheap water and the highest per capita water use in the nation. We also have increasing population to contend with. Why people think they need grass lawns in an arid climate is beyond me.

Thanks again and in the meantime I’m hoping for some April storms.

Years ago I boarded at a barn that didn’t let us use an abundance of water.

I found it was easier to hose off the most sweaty areas heaviest, and then lightly spray the rest of the horse and rinse with a Vetrolin liniment bath to keep them clean. I still do this a lot because it drives me crazy trying to get all the soap off.