Editor's note: Summer is fast approaching, and horse people are using their horses more. This month we are focusing an article each week on inflammation to help you understand what it is and how to manage it. Also check out 'What is Inflammation in Your Horses, and Is it All Bad?'
With inflammation comes an increase in blood vessel permeability, and that brings more tissue “fluid” to the area to cause swelling. The use of cryotherapy (icing), particularly in the initial days of injury, is instrumental in slowing down the circulation and thereby helping to reduce the swelling and pain. Cold therapy also decreases metabolic needs of the tissue as well as providing a local anesthetic effect. All of these benefits mean more comfort for your horse.
“Cold today and hot tamale” is a simple reminder of how to approach managing inflammation. Cold “today” might mean as many as several days to a couple of weeks of cryotherapy depending on the injury. Icing addresses some of the physical signs of inflammation, but it doesn’t entirely curtail the inflammatory process (which does assist in healing). If there is an open wound, icing is not a recommended treatment in order to limit wound contamination.
- Do not put ice directly on a horse’s skin. Wrap ice in a thin, damp cloth to avoid skin “burn.” Then it is safe to apply to your horse.
- If you plan to ice your horse’s legs, wet the hair thoroughly, down to the skin, before placing a limb in ice boots. That eliminates the insulating effects of hair and enables transmission of cold to underlying tissues.
- Ice for no more than 20-30 minutes at a time, then remove the ice to restore circulation. It is best to ice for short periods frequently and allow intervals with no ice in between rather than just leaving ice in place for extended periods. Depending on the injury, you might want to ice 2-4 times a day.
- When using frozen vegetables for icing, you’ll need to constantly exchange them out for freshly frozen bags otherwise they warm up too quickly to supply sufficient cold to the area.
- Ice boots are an excellent investment, especially if you purchase the kind with removable ice packs so you can freshen the cold application as the ice thaws in the initial pack.
- If you don’t have ice boots, you can rig up something similar using an inner tube that extends from knee to pastern. Secure the tube at the pastern using a track bandage. Pour crushed ice into the inside of the tube, and secure the top with another track bandage. It is smart to stay with and monitor your horse while he is wearing this contraption.
- Another alternative for icing is the use of a commercial ice gel pack that can be thawed just enough to conform to the area you wish to ice. Some locations, such as the legs, are amenable to securing the gel pack with tape or a track bandage so you don’t need to sit and hold it in place. You will still want to stay with and monitor your horse.
- Cold water soaking is helpful for foot inflammation, especially if you add ice to the water and use a tall bucket that extends well up the horse’s cannon bone.
There are many ways to apply cryotherapy to injury areas on your horses. For limbs, having commercial ice boots can make the job easier. However, you can create a homemade device to keep ice near an injury. Monitor the horse and don't ice any area too long.