Build an Outdoor Wash Rack

How to Install an Environmentally Friendly and Useful Horse Wash

by Alayne Blickle, Horses for Clean Water


Our guest ranch and horse motel, Sweet Pepper Ranch, has a lot of traffic, especially in the summer months. During the warm season when a lot of people are riding things can get pretty backed up around our single indoor wash rack. As a result, we recently began building a well-draining outdoor wash rack. It’s a great way to hose off a horse while allowing water to recharge the natural system and not create a muddy eyesore. If you’d like to try this at your farm, here are a few key considerations for setting up an outdoor wash rack.

Photo credit Alayne Blickle
  • Soil type: Outdoor wash racks require well-drained soils in order for them not to turn into a quagmire. Chose a spot with well-drained soil otherwise repeated use will quickly turn wet or organic soils into mud.
  • Location: Choose a higher area (versus a low spot which will collect water and turn into a bathtub) away from creeks, ditches, wetlands or other water bodies as well as away from manure storage areas (so that water runoff doesn’t collect in manure storage.)
  • Chore efficiency: Your wash rack should be convenient to your barn or shelter area, as well as close to a faucet/water source.
  • Size: Can vary from that of slightly larger than the footprint of a horse (approximately 10 feet x 4 feet, like a tie stall) to that of a generous box stall (16 feet x 16 feet)–or larger if you plan for bathing multiple horses at once.
  • Footing: Crushed rock footing (no larger than 5/8 inch) 3 to 6 inches deep, improves drainage. Stall mats can be placed on top. You may wish to frame in the wash rack area to hold footing and mats in place. Budget-wise tip: use recycled conveyor belting as mats.
  • Crossties: I prefer having rails on sides so that horses are boxed in. This prevents horses from moving away from me when I spray them plus I don’t want my horses to think they can turn around in the cross ties–a potentially dangerous situation.
  • Materials: Crossties and rails can be made from any strong, sturdy, water-proof material such as railroad ties, treated lumber or welded pipe. Be sure corners are safe and there are no protruding objects where a horse can get hurt like bolt ends, nails, boards or the tops of metal posts. Watch out for sharp corners and bottom edges.
  • Buffer: Surround outdoor wash rack with vegetated areas. Healthy soil and plants break down contaminants and help prevent runoff.
  • Optional: You might consider a shelf or basket along one side to hold shampoos, sweat scrapers or other grooming tools. 

Choose the products that you use in your wash rack carefully. With any wash rack it is important to avoid allowing soapy, dirty water running directly into nearby water bodies such as a ditch, stream or wetlands. Look for organic products or shampoos made from biodegradable ingredients; avoid chemicals, insecticides or anything else that could soak in and potentially contaminate the ground water.

Upcoming Workshops:

MAPLE VALLEY, WA: Shopping for Horse Property. Tuesday, August 27, 6:30 – 8:30 pm. Register and receive directions at 425-282-1949 or signup@kingcd.org.

MONROE, WA: 4-H Ice Cream Social & Eco-friendly Horse-Keeping presentation. Wednesday, August 28, 7 pm, Evergreen State Fair. Register at: icecreamandgreenhorses.eventbrite.com, Snohomish Conservation District contact: 425-335-5634, ext 4

ENUMCLAW, WA: Farm tour, Boise Creek Boer Goats. Thursday, August 29, 6:30 – 8:30 pm.

Register and receive directions at 425-282-1949 or signup@kingcd.org.

STANWOOD, WA: Winter & Emergency Preparedness on Livestock Properties. Saturday, September 28, 10 am – 3 pm.Register at: winteranddisasterprep.eventbrite.com, Snohomish Conservation District contact: 425-335-5634, ext 4

AUBURN, WA: Farm tour, historic Mary Olson Farm. Thursday, September 26, 4 – 6 pm. Register and receive directions for all KCD events at 425-282-1949 or signup@kingcd.org.

SKAGIT COUNTY, WA: Mud and Manure Management. Monday, September 30, evening. Pre-register by June 12 at 360-428-4313 or kristi@skagitcd.org

SAN JUAN ISLAND, WA: Fresh Ideas on Creating Winter Confinement Areas for Horses & Livestock . Tuesday, October 1, 4 to 7 pm. Register at *paradisepaddock.eventbrite.com  or  call 360-378-6621.


*This link was no longer active at the time this article was added to the website in 2018.


Published August 2013 Issue

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