There actually is sort of an "art to sponging."
On the Fly!
I absolutely cannot...cannot do this! But I've seen it beautifully executed and I smile each time. Visualize horse and rider team trotting or cantering through a water crossing, the sponge is gracefully released...like casting a fishing line, only to be reeled back in, rider squeezing the water onto the horse, and they don't miss a beat. It is so coordinated. I simply CANNOT. But I sure respect all of you who can.
Drenching the horse with copious amounts of water scooped up in a cut off capped bleach bottle, a collapsible bucket, or other bucket-like devise. I see this on FEI rides...water, water, everywhere.
This is my own personal favorite. From the gardening section a new pump up sprayer as big as you can comfortably handle, filled with water, and some ice to allow to melt and bring the temp in the sprayer down while you are out churning up trail. When the horse comes in set on mist and watch the relief as you spray the neck, chest, jugular, and throat latch.
I bet you thought I'd never get to actual sponging? Cool water in a bucket, sponges that have been left to soak in there to get them heavy with water. Two sponges are better than one so you can be loading one while you are using the other.
The ART of it
No matter what method is used the art of sponging involves applying tepid-cool water to the horse's neck, chest, and the insides of the back legs where those blood vessels really stand out. Once the water is on, give it a few seconds to absorb the horse's body heat. It will heat right up, then using a scraper or the side of your hand, scrape (squeegee) off the warmed water. Grab up your cooling method of choice again, and reapply more tepid-cool water, scrape off again, and repeat until the water no longer comes off heated. This is how you know you've brought down your horse's temperature. The look of relief on your horse's face is also a good indicator...
- Do not put cold water on the horse's big rump muscles. It may cause cramping.
- If you fail to squeegee the warmed water off, you are actually insulating the heat in, thus raising your horse's body temperature. Don't do that!
- Failure to practice at home. Not all horses appreciate this at first, it may take some practice to master the art of sponging.
Scoop- a plastic bleach bottle that has been cleaned, the bottom cut off, and the lid tightened on makes a wonderful scoop to put in your five gallon or larger water bucket. Scoops can also be purchased that are a fabric-like stuff that collapse and can be carried on your horse (also for drinking).
Sponge- used to collect water from the bucket and to apply water where it will do the most good. Sea sponges tend to hold more water, but are inclined to falling apart more easily. While the type which are synthetic and can be found in the automotive department are large, inexpensive, and hold up well to abuse.
Leash- a long thin strap with clips that holds your sponge to the saddle, and extend when unclipped to reach the water when mounted.
Scraper- a plastic object resembling a big shoe horn, used to scrape heated water off the horse.