We’ve all marvelled at the iconic whiteness of Desert Orchid, very much in awe of the groom Janet Cole’s hard work. The dream is to have all greys that pristine and pale – as silvery as unicorns or akin to the troop of snowy Lipizzaners performing for the Spanish Riding School of Vienna… but the reality is very different.
It’s every groom’s nightmare to look after a light grey horse. In a stable, they’ll roll in poo and create greenish patches as if they’re a blank canvas for abstract artwork. Out in the field, mud and dust stain a white coat brown. Manes and tails hang heavy in clumps of mud, not free flowing like silver spun silk and coats aren’t highlighted with dapples like a traditional rocking horse but lowlighted with brown patches.
It takes a lot of shampoo and bubbles to get the mud and dirt out of a grey runner. I remember taking the beautiful Dream Berry to the Cheltenham Festival in 2021. He was trained from the field and I literally spent ages shampooing his pure white, flea-bitten coat. The brown and frothy suds disappearing down the drain resembled litres of cappuccino, but the aftermath, much to my satisfaction, was a gleaming, Persil-white horse. After an initial shampooing, I always apply Vanish stain remover to blanch the stringy browned tail of Arrivederci, another mud lark in the field.
If an all-over shampoo is not necessary, I still always wash a horse’s legs, scrubbing and lathering up any white socks and finishing them off with a dusting with talcum powder. White bits will still appear yellowy until dry – then they will gleam... hopefully!
Below are hints and tips on turning out grey horses and for whitening leg markings based on a wealth of experience from grooms, riding instructors and horse professionals. Whether it’s washing up liquid, a certain type of shampoo or something a lot more voodoo, there’s a lot of personal preference behind these varying methods!
Purple shampoo. Leave in for 5-10 minutes, rinse and wash again.
Blue Fairy Liquid
Baking soda and white vinegar. Shampoo tail, then make a paste.
I always used a Vanish bar.
Blue bags – especially Reckitt’s Blue (Bluing Tablet).
Washing up liquid and baking powder.
Washing powder or Blue bags.
Biological washing liquid, Blue Bags or if anyone’s brave enough, the traditional method was ash from the fire made into a paste.
Chalk powder – just brush it in, like when they use it on the feathers of Shire horses.
Purple rinse shampoo.
Blue Fairy Liquid.
Wash daily or ketchup on the day.
Fairy Liquid works well or NAF sell a cool whitener.
Ketchup is best – the cheapest brand will do!