The How, What, Why, When, Where of Sponging.
What: Sponging or scooping water onto the horse. I prefer sponging to scooping. I fell like I can get more water on the horse and really scrub to get the grime and sweat off. It also encourages me to be very hands on the horse, which increases the likely hood of finding an ouchy spot or an area that doesn’t seem quite right.
Why: To cool the horse’s core temperature (and thus aiding cardio and respiratory recovery), to get caked grime and salt off the horse’s coat.
Where: I sponge where a horse is typically trace clipped, including head, neck and shoulders. In general, this means from the point of the stifle down, the girth area, the entire shoulder and quadriceps muscle, the legs, inside of the thighs, the neck, and the head. I avoid the large rump muscles and the back. Even when a horse cools down a bit, I’m still nervous about sponging those areas, especially if only cold water is available. No matter how cool the horse is, pouring water on those areas always makes Farley tighten her back and rump as if sponging there makes her uncomfortable. She seems to prefer to be rubbed down on her back and saddle area, and a good currying on her rump.
How: When a very wet sponge, squeeze and press the sponge into the horses coat, sliding down with the movement of the coat. Use copious amounts of water. I usually start at the shoulder and neck and move my way to the back of the horse. Slick the water out of the coat as you go. Once she is cooled down, then I start using the sponge and my fingers in a circular motion to get sweat and grime off. Monitor the horse closely – even in very warm weather you may need to use a cooler or a rump rug to keep the horse or rump warm – I think it’s the same phenomenon as running a marathon: no matter how hot the weather, once you stop running at the finish you get chilled very easily.
When: In general, I sponge at vet checks and water stops that have specified sponging water. It is RUDE to sponge out of a drinking trough. Please don’t do it! Yes, some horses may prefer the salty water, but not all of them! It’s also a concern if the ride manager has spent a lot of time, money, and effort hauling water to a remote location. Just because there may be plenty of water right now….doesn’t mean there will be when the last turtles ride through, especially if the water spot is at a junction that you will ride past several times. I don’t usually stop at water crossings to sponge. I will if Farley seems to want to take a break, but most of the time she wants to drink and then get on with business. As she doesn’t have a problem with over heating, I just monitor and only stop and sponge on the trail if I think it’s necessary for the weather conditions. I don’t have an exact “cut-off” temp for sponging or not sponging because it depends on wind and humidity. If it’s cool, I will do a bit of judicious sponging on her legs and where grime has built up and monitor her closely for chill. I always carry a rump rug or cooler in my crewbag to help.
Wow – I didn’t know I had so much to say on the subject of sponging!