The art behind cooling and warming the horse’s legs – and when to do what!

Questions and thoughts often arise regarding when it’s appropriate to cool the horse’s legs and when it’s better to warm up instead. The uncertainty can contribute to treating a possible damage or overload incorrectly and thereafter get an even bigger problem. So, when should you do what?

Cooling

Cooling the horse’s legs after a tough riding session is a well-proven method and the purpose is to prevent small irritations from developing into real injuries. Because what happens when an inflammation or overexertion has occurred, is that it creates heat in the leg and this heat you want to get rid of.

When you cool the horse's legs, the blood vessels constrict, and the blood flow decreases. This leads to reduced inflammation and swelling and is especially beneficial after a tougher exertion as it proactively reduces the risk and prevents the development of any inflammation in the leg. One way that an overload can manifest itself is through an overexertion gall on the joint and this needs cooling to contract more efficiently.

The cooling can also be used when you suspect an injury to e.g., ease a swelling. If the swelling or condition doesn’t disappear, we recommend that you contact your veterinarian for further examination.

The majority of studies that have been done, including in this study shows that the internal temperature of the legs increases by up to 16.5 degrees when using leg protection or wraps, which in turn can aggravate an overload that has occurred during the riding session. Most people use protection on the legs during training and therefore it is even more important to keep track of what the legs and joints look like after the riding session and whether a cooling is relevant.

How do you cool the legs then?

A key rule to keep in mind is that it takes about 15-20 minutes of cooling per leg for the process to be effective. So, how can you cool your legs? There are different options:

  • Cooling gel or cooling clay
  • Cooling with a water hose
  • Boots / Bandage with cooling.
  • No matter what method you use, keep an eye on the horse's skin so that there is no reaction or even an accident. Using water hoses around the legs that cool down is an effective method as new cold is added continuously but can be challenging in practice with horses that have difficulty standing still or who easily experience discomfort and then become anxious.

    Sensitive horses can also react to certain ingredients found in some cooling products (such as clays and gels) and applying ice directly to the leg is also not recommended.

    Using leg protection / stable bandage with cooling effect is a safe and comfortable way to cool the legs. Siccaro’s Sahara Multi-Functional Boots have a fantastic cooling function that can be used after riding sessions or as needed.

    You soak the inner pad and let it absorb the water properly before you put it in the freezer during the riding session. About 1 hour later when you have finished riding, the pad is ready for use and shall be attached to the neoprene layer again and put on the legs. After 15-20 minutes, the cooling is complete, and the boots should be taken off.

    Warming

    Warming works in the opposite way as cooling does because the heat dilates the blood vessels and makes the blood flow more efficient and speeds up healing. The absolute best thing is actually to first cool the leg to reduce the inflammation or swelling, wait, and then warm the leg again to help the blood circulation and transport of waste products. If the legs are healthy, you can warm them relatively quickly after cooling, but an injured leg may need several cooling sessions as heat does not have a positive effect on a leg that is already warm and inflamed.

    For example, many riders choose to bandage or use stable boots on healthy legs without signs of inflammation or swelling during the night to support the circulation of healthy and healthy synovial fluid.

    Horses can get galls in the legs for various reasons. This can be a change of feed, poor blood circulation, overexertion or inflammation in the joints. You often want to increase the circulation in the legs with a reservation for galls that are hot and thereby showing signs of inflammation and exertion. As previously stated, these should be cooled down to treat the swelling and then warmed.

    How do you warm the legs?

    Warming the legs is usually easier than cooling them down. The use of massage liniments or warming gels such as Arnica, is a common method for effectively increasing circulation, but the most common is to use stable boots that can maintain the warming effect evenly e.g., overnight.

    Siccaro's Sahara Multi-Functional Boots are not only suitable for cooling, but also for warming the legs. By removing the inner pad and placing the outer neoprene layer directly onto the leg, the horse's own heat will reflect back to the leg. The neoprene layer is developed with Fir-SkinT + technology, which with the help of the free titanium particles acts much like a mirror for the warmth generated from the legs and thereby increases circulation. The neopren layer can be used for a shorter time, but also for longer periods such as during the night.

    Worth noting

    It is worth mentioning that the absolute best approach to injury prevention is stride. Properly walking your horse warm prior to the riding session, and walking a sufficient time afterwards is a must for good joint health. The circulation that occurs in the legs when the horse walks make the blood flow to increase, and the transport of nutrients keep the protective synovial fluid healthy. At the same time, the waste products are carried away, instead of remaining and creating inflammation in the joint. Aim to walk for at least 15 minutes after the riding session to support the recovery process in an optimal way.