The Sweat Scraper for Horses – New Science About Cooling Horses
When you think of sweat scraping a horse, do you automatically remember that you MUST remove excess water after hosing your horse? Because the water that remains on their skin can heat up and make them hotter? Boy howdy, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that “sweat scraper cautionary tale of doom and certain explosion of your horse into a ball of flames,” I would have tons of dollars!
But now we have SCIENCE that clarifies things about sweat scraping.
This is actually shampoo that I’m scraping off, not sweat.
Previous guidelines about sweat scrapers
- Of course, these contradict each other. In 2018, the Racing NSW, a governing body for Thoroughbred racing in Australia, suggested that excess water should be scraped away from a horse. As we all have likely heard, this is thought to encourage evaporation and cooling.
- A year later, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) recommended that scraping water off a horse wastes time that could be used applying more water. And by water, they mean really cold water.
More about the FEI research
The Olympics provide an extraordinary opportunity to study horses in excessively hot and humid climates. This is especially true for eventing horses, who are asked to perform at the highest levels of sport for an extended time. The past Olympics have provided researchers with amazing data about horses and heat. Here are a few highlights:
The best ways to acclimate your horse to hot weather:
- Train longer and harder at home to increase a horse’s body temperature
- Travel to hotter environments to train.
- Add blankets when you ride to increase body temperature.
- Use indoor equipment, like treadmills, in heated rooms.
- Do most of us non-Olympians need to worry about doing these things? Likely not. But the take-home message is clear – horses need days, weeks, months to acclimate to hot and humid weather.
How to identify if your horse is too hot
- For the love of all things horses, take their temperature. And then monitor for any of these signs of overheating in horses:
- Excessive sweating
- Sweating has stopped – this may happen during heat stroke.
- Hot to the touch. This is a bit subjective, but it’s part of the big picture.
- Wobbling and unsteadiness.
- Deep and difficult breathing or shallow and rapid breathing.
- Apparent unawareness of the surroundings.
How to help your horse
- First – you must call your vet. Get specific instructions from them, and follow them as your vet is on the way to you. And, these are some things you can do and how effective they are for cooling your horse:
- Fans and shade give your horse a more comfortable environment but don’t really help cooling.
- Cooling blankets can help in dry weather. As humidity ramps up, their effectiveness wanes.
- Ice packs over large blood vessels and wet towels don’t do much. Wet towels may worsen the situation by warming up to match your horse’s temperature.
- COLD WATER is the clear winner here. This comes directly from the FEI publication:
“Applying large volumes of cold water all over the horse’s body is the most effective way of cooling a horse (other than placing the horse in a pool of cold water). On a scale of 1 to 10, if cold water application is 10 then all other methods of cooling are in the range 1-3. Water should be applied all over the body using buckets/containers or where available, cold water sprays. Cold water sprays have the advantage of using less water and ice. There is no advantage to concentrating on applying cold water to specific areas (e.g. large blood vessels on the neck or between the legs, the large muscle groups, etc). The effectiveness of cooling is dependent on covering as much of the horse in cold water as possible, preferably ice water. There is no advantage to stopping to scrape off cold water that has been applied when cooling horses that are very hot and potentially at risk of collapse or distressed. This simply wastes time that could be used to apply more cold water.”
The new research findings of cooling off horses
- An enterprising group of researchers lead by Hyungsuk Kang, PhD, MS, of the University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences in Gatton decided to research this topic.
- Horses were regularly exercised on treadmills for 10 minutes, then cooled off using one of two techniques. One group was showered with about 8 gallons of cold water every minute for six minutes, then walked for 4 minutes. The second group was showered with the same volume of water and sweat scraped every minute for six minutes, then walked for 4 minutes.
- Each horse had a central venous temperature (TCV) and rectal temperature (TR) measured every minute during showering and every five minutes afterward while standing.
You may not want to sweat scrape your horse after a shower.
- Well – the results are amazing, to say the least!
- Cold water application without sweat scraping had a stronger cooling effect on the horse’s body temperature.
- There was no cooling effect of the water when it was scraped away, which suggests that the conduction of heat through water is more effective than evaporative cooling after sweat scraping.
- When the horses were not sweat scraped, their body temperatures dropped 10 seconds after water application.
- With sweat scraping, their body temperatures increased.
- WHAT THE ACTUAL? This revelation can hopefully help dangerously overheated horses recover without long-term damage to their bodies.
You can use some baling twine as a sweat scraper if you like.
Why is cooling off important?
- A horse’s natural resting temperature is somewhere around 99º F to 101º F. Anything above 101.5º F should set off alarm bells.
- And let’s discuss those alarm bells. Is it 95 degrees outside and humid, and you just did gallop sets? Clearly, this body temperature is different than a horse with a fever.
- Either way, it’s advised to bring that body temperature down.
- Heatstroke in horses can happen at about 103º F. It can be fatal, and you need to call your vet ASAP if the temp, heart rate, and respiration rates are not returning to normal. You must monitor their vital signs to make sure they are going down during cool out.
- This goes for fevers and overheating. Which, by the way, can happen in winter, too.
- Prolonged fevers and overheating may lead to laminitis, organ failure, seizures, and death. Not all horses can recover.
Practical applications of this new knowledge
- This study was small, and like all good research, needs to be explored further. As horse owners and lovers, we now have more information to digest.
- Here are my suggestions, many of which you have heard me talk about before:
- Take your horse’s temperature. Take your horse’s vital signs when you get to the barn to look for abnormalities. Also, check after exercise. If your horse’s vital signs remain high, check it every five minutes to see if it’s trending toward normal.
- Of course, call your vet for fevers. Call if your horse has higher temps after exercise that is not going back down.
- If you even suspect that your horse is overheating, call your vet. If your vet advises a cold water bath, I might not scrape. Your horse’s temp will tell your vet the best course of action.
- If your horse’s body temperature is safe, you could scrape the water off to avoid a drippy muddy mess if your horse rolls. Or you could leave it.
We still need more information. This study is just the beginning of the research – hopefully! Only time will tell if this study can be replicated or have a larger group of horses. Until then, it’s helpful information when faced with a dangerously hot horse.
Keep taking those temps, and stay cool.
Take your horse’s temperature first.
Sweat scraper science
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