What do I need to do to my horse’s legs after a work out?
The legs of your horse are critical - and it’s up to us as riders and Grooms to monitor them daily and notice any subtle (or not so subtle) changes. After a ride, you have a minimum of three things to do to your horse’s legs! You may also need to do a little more, depending on many factors. These factors include:
- Does your horse have previous injuries?
- How hot are the legs? Boots on a horse in the heat of summer creates excessively hot tendons! Even without boots there is significant heat in the soft tissues. And don't believe for a second that winter weather prevents heat from forming in the tissues.
- What was the footing like?
- How strenuous was the exercise for your horse? Keep in mind that a casual trail ride can be strenuous - uneven footing and rocks challenges the legs!
- Did your horse knock himself?
- Did your horse zig and zag during a spook or shenanigans outburst?
- Does your horse receive joint supplements as part of his daily meals?
The bare minimum treatment of legs after your horse exercises is easy:
- Pick the feet.
- Check legs for swelling, abnormal or localized heat, lumps, bumps, scrapes, cuts, scratches.
- Make sure the tendons come back to pre-workout condition - temperature and cleanliness. Sweat and dirt and icky legs can often lead to skin infections, especially if there is a tiny nick or cut. A good hosing helps.
This bare minimum treatment is essentially the same as the inspection you would do before your horse exercises. This is appropriate after any exercise that is low impact on nice level ground with great footing, drama-free, and shorter in duration.
Many folks like to ice their horse’s legs after exercise for several reasons:
- Icing your horse's legs cools the tendons, soft tissues, and hooves.
- Reduces inflammation in the tendons, ligaments, and joints (don’t forget about those joints, too!)
- Helps prevent long term wear and tear on your horse's legs.
- Works to prevent soreness after exercise - the same soreness that you get after a workout.
Icing is great on so many levels!
Sites of previous injuries or medical treatments always benefit from ice therapy.
Some horse folks believe that icing a horse’s legs is only needed when there’s an injury, but as my Veterinarian reminds me - PREVENTING damage from heat and exercise is much easier, cheaper, and less heart breaking than TREATING damage from an injury. So ice can be part of your daily routine!!
You can also use a poultice.
Poultice is another way to “cold” treat your horse’s legs. Poultice, typically clay based, acts by drawing out heat from a leg. Most of us also use a standing bandage around the poultice to just prevent a nasty clay-based mess, which increases the warmth to the leg.
Clay! Clay! Clay!
You can also sweat your horse's legs.
There is also an option for a sweat, which is a way of adding heat to a portion of the leg. This is not typically done after exercise, but in some cases (like long term injuries) your Veterinarian may suggest a sweat. Sweats are typically a gel concoction, such as furazone, which is applied to the tendons of the lower leg of the horse and then wrapped with plastic wrap and then a standing wrap. They are messy! Generally speaking, heat works well for older injuries or arthritic conditions. If you are dealing with an injury, your Veterinarian will be able to give you a specific plan of using ice and heat to treat an injury. It’s typical to use cold treatments initially to prevent inflammation from getting out of control, and then add heat treatments like a sweat later to promote circulation. Again, your Veterinarian can prescribe a specific plan for your horse.
Necessary for leg sweats and some baked goods.
Or you can try a liniment.
Your next option is to use a liniment, which is a liquid or gel formula designed to “brace” a horse’s muscles and soft tissues. Liniments can be cooling or warming. Liniments are often also good for antiseptic use, meaning they can help with small cuts or abrasions. Joints may also benefit from the use of a liniment. Application is easy, often with a spray bottle! Some ingredients will test positive at shows, so know you showing rules and the ingredients of your liniment!
Whatever your post exercise routine is for your horse’s legs, it’s important to involve your Veterinarian and your trainer when designing a care plan. Most of this care is preventative in nature, your horse will thank you for it! To learn more about cooling and heating options for horses (and when to use them...) you can read this article here.
What is your post exercise horse leg care routine?