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sweat scraping science

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 his skin can heat up and make him 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.


horse sweat scraper removing shampoo bubbles

This is actually shampoo that I’m scraping off.


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.


  • Of course, neither of these guidelines were based on science, only conjecture. Which, to be fair, is sometimes all we have. Until now!


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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.


horse in washrack getting hosed outside

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 temperatures.


  • 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.




  • This revelation can hopefully help dangerously overheated horses recover without long-term damage to their bodies.



sweat scraper

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 his vital signs to make sure they are going down during cool out.


  • This goes for fevers and for overheating. Which, by the way, can happen in winter, too.


  • Prolonged fevers and overheating may lead to laminitis, organ failure, and death. Not all horses can recover.


Read more on heatstroke in horses and how horses thermoregulate in the summer.


Practical applications of this new knowledge


  • This study was small, and like all good research, needs to be explored further. As horse owners and horse lovers, we now have more info 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 continue to be high, check it every five minutes to see if it’s trending towards 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 to have when faced with a dangerously hot horse.


  • Keep taking those temps, and stay cool.


  • NOTE: the research findings were presented at a symposium and have yet to be formally published. I’ll update when that happens.



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