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Can You Put Tack On a Wet Horse?

Have you bathed your horse, then your stable yard friends ask you to go for a ride? Or you bathed for a show but it is cold and overcast, your horse didn’t dry properly, but it’s time for your class? Horses that live out are regularly caught in rainy weather, and sometimes your work/school schedule does not allow enough time for your horse to dry completely before you can ride your lesson.

Yes, you can put tack on a wet horse; however, it is not recommended on a regular basis. A horse’s skin is protected by a coat of hair, and therefore, not much damage will be done if you tack up and ride your horse for short periods while they are wet. However, riding a wet horse for longer periods may cause damage to the horse’s skin. But, considering that your horse is cleaned and not muddy AND wet, using a numnah or towel can be sufficient.

We will now look further into the anatomy of the horse’s skin, how the skin reacts to water, and how to dry a wet horse more effectively.

The horse’s skin

The skin is the largest organ, and healthy skin equals a healthy horse. On average, the skin of the horse contributes to 12%-24% of its total body weight. The skin provides important functions for the horse, such as regulating body temperature, acting as a barrier, producing Vitamin D, and many others. The skin has two layers: The epidermis and the Dermis.

  • The outermost layer of skin – Epidermis
    • The epidermis is a toughened outside layer of cells of your horse’s skin. It is acidic in nature, which is designed to ward off parasites.
    • The epidermis contains the protein keratin that makes the epidermis water-resistant.
    • The epidermis is a mechanical barrier to outside pathogens.
    • Sweat and oil glands, as well as the hair follicles, pass through the Epidermis
  • The second layer – Dermis
    • The dermis is thicker than the epidermis
    • It is where hair follicles and other glands start
    • It contains many blood vessels, nerves, and fat cells
  • Sweat and sebum production
    • Sweat is used to regulate a horse’s body temperature. When a horse gets hot, the sweat glands produce sweat that sits on the epidermis of a horse, which will result in evaporation of the sweat in the sun and serves to cool down the body
    • The process of sweating to cool down constitutes 70% of dissipation of body heat or your horse
    • Sebum is an oil produced in the sebaceous glands. This oil keeps the skin soft and pliable, as well as keeps the hair shiny and strong.

What tack does to horses’ skin

Ill-fitting tack, dirty and wet numnahs can cause saddle sores on a horse’s body. This can mainly be seen on the wither, shoulders, or girth area. The hair and epidermis can be irritated or chafed by the tack or numnah and can cause lesions to the skin. The affected areas become hot, swollen, and painful, and can deteriorate into a pus producing sore.

Tack, in general, can become quite hot when the horse is working. This will cause sweating under the tack and numnah. A clean and groomed horse should not present many problems when the proper-fitting tack is used while riding.

Continuously having wet legs (hosing down, muddy environment) paired with boots on the horses can cause Greasy Heel/ Mud fever. Greasy Heel is a painful, inflamed condition and often times causes hair loss and scaling.

It normally affects the ‘heels’ or back of the hind limbs in horses, but in more severe cases, it can spread to the front limbs and up to the chest of the horse. This disease is easy to treat and to prevent. It is hard to notice in the early stages as this happens on the epidermis, and it is covered by the hair of the horse.

Numnahs and pads need to be breathable, soft, moisture-wicking, and clean. This will lessen the likelihood of causing any problems/damage to the skin.

As you can see, should you have proper-fitting clean tack, a good numnah, and proper care of the horse, putting tack on a wet horse is unlikely to result in any problems.

Putting tack on a wet horse

When hosing a horse down, the cold water being sprayed directly onto their large muscles can cause the muscles to spasm. If you provide enough time for the horse to warm up again, putting tack onto a damp horse will not result in any injury to the horse. Ensuring that the area where the saddle and girth go is toweled off and not sopping wet, is also very important.

When horses have been wet for a while, the skin becomes softer. This increases the risk of rubbing or chafing as well as the chances of bacteria entering the skin. This is increased on an ungroomed horse with ill-fitting tack.

A dirty numnah and girth on top of a damp horse, however, can cause irritation. The dust and debris stick to the wet hair and skin of the horse and rubs the horse while working. Thus one must ensure that the tack is at least clean.

Considering that your horse is clean, with proper-fitting tack, it should not be a problem to tack up and ride a damp horse as a horse does become wet while they sweat under the saddle, and one would be able to pick up any problems after a ride on a sweaty horse.

How to dry a wet horse

Drying a wet horse in the middle of summer is relatively easy, as the heat does the most work for you. In the heat, the water will evaporate off the skin quite quickly, especially in horses with short coats.

However, in winter, or horses with longer hair, drying a wet horse can become quite time-consuming. Your horse can be wet due to many reasons – riding (sweat), standing in the rain, or being bathed.

After an exercise session, giving your horse a proper cooling down walk will help to dry most of the sweat. It is also essential because the horse’s body temperature increases through exercise, and the cooling down session will bring his temperature back down to normal quicker.

Here are some ways that you can dry your horse:

  • Use a sweat scraper or any other stiff brush to remove most of the water and spread it out over the coat for quicker drying.
  • Using towels to soak up most of the moisture.
  • Grooming the hair in many directions – especially upwards – lifts the hair off the skin and allows for quicker drying.
  • Using a sweat sheet/cooling rug wicks the water/sweat off of the skin and can soak up a lot of the moisture as well. It is important to note that when the rug is damp/wet, it is best to remove it then.
  • If it is cold outside, rather leave your horse in the stable with forage – this produces heat within the body – and dry him/her off as much as possible.
  • Using a fan/dryer where possible.
  • An old method is stuffing the horse’s sheet/cooler with hay/straw. The straw soaks up moisture.


In conclusion, you can put tack on a wet horse. You just need to ensure that the horse’s body temperature is normal (as a wet horse in cold weather is not a good scenario), you have dried the part where the saddle and girth go as best as you can, and that you have proper-fitting tack. Doing this will reduce the chances of injuring or causing harm to your horse.

Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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