Your horse’s legs take a lot of abuse. Here’s how to use cold therapy to treat new injuries, manage old ones, and help prevent future ones from developing.
Treat a New Injury
Inflammation is common in injuries, especially those involving soft tissues. It’s caused by an increased blood flow to the damaged area, plus the release of inflammatory enzymes that can further damage tissues.
Cold therapy applied to such an injury in its early stages will help decrease blood flow, minimizing damaging effects. It also reduces pain—as anyone who’s used an ice pack on a back or ankle injury knows.
Icing helps most during the first 24 to 48 hours following your horse’s injury. Apply the cold two to three times a day; your goal is to lower the temperature of the tissue in question from its existing level to 59 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit, although any temperature decrease at all will be helpful.
Manage an Old Injury
During rehabilitation from a serious injury, cold therapy can expedite the healing process. Ice is also a good maintenance tool for horses with recurring problems. For example, if your horse has a weakened tendon from an old injury, or a suspensory ligament that’s easily strained during exercise, he’ll benefit from a routine icing following every session of hard work.
For this type of icing, one 20-minute session directly after exercise is typically enough.
Prevent a Future Injury
Cold therapy can also become part of a horse’s ongoing wellness regimen. Routine icing or cold-hosing of your horse’s legs after strenuous exercise can help minimize the slight inflammation that naturally occurs following hard work. This helps to keep new problem areas from developing.
In fact, routine cold therapy is a time-honored practice strongly advocated by horsemen such as H&R contributor Bob Avila. “It’s a management concept that hasn’t changed in my lifetime,” he says. “I remember my father icing horses’ legs when I was a little kid.”
Regular cold therapy is particularly useful if your horse is a weekend warrior; icing can help prevent the inflammation that occurs from intermittent use. (For more on applying cold therapy, review “Ode to Icing” at HorseandRider.com.)