We have definite ideas when it comes to most of our grooming tools, and that’s certainly the case with sweat scrapers. These days, they are rarely used for just scraping sweat off horses, but sweat scrapers have become an essential part of the bath routine.
A sweat scraper isn’t a big investment ordinarily, that is, unless you are at a busy barn where scrapers seem to disappear routinely. And even though they’re relatively cheap, we don’t pick sweat scrapers by their price point. We want them to be easy to use and to get the job done quickly.
Big deal, you say, what does quickly have to do with it' As it turns out, quite a lot. Talk with someone who bathes many horses and you’ll find that the efficiency of a scraper and its ease of use has a lot to do with how long it takes a horse to cool out and dry.
When we hose off a horse, heat is transferred from his body to the water. The quicker we remove that warmed water with our scraper, the sooner the horse cools down. If we do a poor job of scraping, water sits on his coat, actually making him hotter than he was when he was just sweaty.
A quick squeegee takes the warmed water away, leaving the moisture to evaporate quickly, further cooling the horse.
With that in mind, we went in search of the ideal sweat scraper. Our first discovery is that there are only a few brands and lots of no-brand scrapers. No two tack shops seemed to carry the same assortment, so we decided to evaluate scrapers by type, instead of brand names as we normally do in our field tests.
Traditionally the short, aluminum scraper has dominated the market, with its fancy price point of under two bucks and the generic name, ”sweat scraper.” It’s just a shaped aluminum bar approximately 15 inches long, with a hole in the handle end.
When it’s not scraping sweat, it’s used for everything from mixing bran mashes to sword fights, and thus most scrapers soon lose their straight edge. While they can be bent back into shape (sort of), once they’ve lost their figure, their scraping ability has been compromised at least somewhat.
The advantage of the aluminum scraper is that it’s cheap, easy to hang, can be used with one hand, and it works well before it gets bent. The disadvantage is that it breaks easily and is not always comfortable in the user’s hand.
If imitation is a form of flattery, then the classic aluminum scraper should feel well-flattered, because bunches of plastic imitators of varying lengths and shapes are now also called ”sweat scrapers.”
The plastic has the advantage of not getting bent out of shape, and some are contoured to make scraping more efficient. Prices vary considerably, from the $1 cheapies to the impressive $6 Oster Sweat Scraper (www.osterpro.com/, 800-830-3678), which has a more defined handle.
We next turned our attention to the traditional shedding blade. This is a piece of metal covered with plastic or leather on each end. One edge is serrated and the other smooth. The toothy edge is used for helping to remove loose hair from the horse after currying (please don’t use it for scraping!), while the smooth side is for removing water quickly.
Traditionally it’s used with one end in each hand, which allows you to have excellent control as you scrape water from contoured areas of the horse’s body. Many shedding blades have a ”keeper” near one handle so that you can bend the blade in order to make a loop so it can be used one-handed.
The advantages of the shedding blade are its sharp edge and flexibility when used in two hands. Its disadvantages are that the edge can be too hard, and once the blade is bent back into the keeper for long, it tends to keep that shape permanently.
We found one plastic scraper blade that looks like the old brass sweat scrapers (if anyone remember them). It’s like a shedding blade with two smooth sides, rather than one toothed edge, and a shaped handle on each end. We thought it maneuvered quite well, but alas, we were unable to find its source. Keep an eye out in your local tack shops, though, if you prefer the shedding-blade type. It’s probably there.
Next we looked at the curved, one-handed scraper — a rubber squeegee riveted to a curved plastic holder, with a plastic handle. We found quite a variety, with some having good-quality rubber and others thin rubber that folds or bends too easily. The handle length varied from about 5 inches to about 8.
Next came the squeegee types. The Equiblade (www.tail-tamer.com/, 651-439-7875, $10-$11) looks like something you’d find in an upscale bath-department-store shower doors. The Equiblade is designed to be held with one hand, and it is certainly easy to remove water quickly. It’s particularly good for doing legs or getting around think-skinned bony areas without risk of hurting the horse.
Its smaller cousin looks more like something you keep in the glovebox of your car in case your windshield gets iced up. But we find it handy for scraping sweat when you only have a small area to cover, or for packing in a saddle bag for scraping sweat on long trail rides.
Our testers were divided about their style preferences. Those who had used the shedding-blade type of scraper, weren’t keen on the straight scraper, no matter whether it was made of aluminum or plastic. Old habits just die hard.
The folks who’d used the aluminum scrapers for years found they liked the plastic scrapers as well — or sometimes better — than the aluminum. The first thing we learned when putting them to use is that scrapers that look alike aren’t necessarily all finished alike. Some plastic scrapers had sharp, unfinished edges, while others were smoothed off and more ergonomically shaped.
Since most don’t carry brand names, we can’t tell you which is which. But we can suggest that you scrape the tool along your arm to see how the edge might feel to your horse. When you have to decide between a scraper that looks or feels like a little better quality than another, spend the extra few cents for the better item. You’ll find it worth the extra cash.
In general, we thought that the molded handle was a significant improvement, but our testers varied in their opinions regarding which handle they most preferred, and even whether they liked the shorter or longer lengths of blades.
They could get more water off with one swipe with the longer blades, but our testers found that the increased maneuverability of the shorter scrapers allowed them to get the overall job done faster and with fewer ”oops” as they hit the horse’s hips with the scraper, making them preferable.
The one-handled scrapers took a little getting used to, but as with the squeegee types, the testers liked that the soft edge of the rubber was easy on the horse’s bony areas, like legs.
Try a few different types. If you don’t like one, you haven’t spent much and you’ll probably find other uses for it. See if you don’t end up having one of each — a straight version or shedding blade for zipping through the big body areas and a squeegee type for the legs, chest and belly. And while you’re at it, get them in matching colors. That way, you’ll know the purple ones are yours.