Our horses are not only our teammates, but our partners and friends. We want to make our horses comfortable as well as preserve their longevity so they can continue to be our teammates for years to come. As I hosed-off my horse after a hard ride, it got me thinking about what is the best way to take care of my horse after a ride?
All the poultices, liniments, other concoctions, and products I’ve used had been sworn to me as the “best” product on the market to take care of my horse. But it had me wondering, do any of these actually work? If they do work, which product cools the most?
When doing further research about these products, I couldn’t find tangible, scientific evidence to prove that any of these products cooled down or preserved my horse’s legs any better than just an air dry would. So, when I had to pick a research project for my senior agricultural research and development capstone class, I knew exactly what I would do.
First, I had to find tangible evidence proving that excessive heat is detrimental to horse’s leg structures and that cooling is beneficial. I found that cell death begins to occur above 40℃ and increases exponentially the longer exposed. (Walter & Carraretto, 2016)
Horses’ legs can reach temperatures of 46°C during exercise (VetPro, 2017). Ice baths are regularly used on humans to promote healing, reduce inflammation, and decrease soreness. (Groth, 2022) Theoretically, this concept can be applied to horses as well.
Now that I was well informed about the detriments of heat to horses legs, I selected my testing methods and materials. I decided to use the Coolpack Green Jelly Liniment from Farnam, Icetight Poultice from Farnam, Ice Boot from Harrison Howard, and a plain and simple cold hosing.
I got permission from owners at the boarding farm here I ride to use 6 horses of varying age/workload/breed/gender to test 4 times each. To record temperature, I used a dual probe digital thermometer, as I would test the Right Front (RF) leg and leave the Left Front (LF) as a control without any treatment added to it. I did this so I could compare the results of using a cooling treatment versus just allowing the leg to cool without any additional external product.
A test would take about 80 minutes each, with recording (RF) temperature at rest, riding for 30 minutes, then immediately recording the temperatures of both legs for 5 minutes then applying the treatment to the RF leg at 5 minutes, and recording the temperatures at the 10 minute, 20 minute, and 30 minute mark, then removing the product form the RF leg and recording the final temperature at 40 minutes.
After 24 tests, a total of 32 hours in the barn researching, and relentless analysis, the results were astonishing. Each treatment was successful to some degree, however some had a greater degree of success than others.
Cold hosing was the most effective method, with an average of 33.8% decrease in temperature at 40 min (30 min with treatment, 10 minutes without, compared to the 0 min after exercise temperature). The next most successful was liniment with a 19% decrease. The poultice with an 11.2% decrease, Finally, the least successful was ice boot with a 7.9% decrease.
Compared to the before exercise “baseline” temperature, all treatments except cold hosing resulted in a limb hotter than the baseline after 40 min. Ice boot was a whopping 61.1% hotter on average than the baseline, while poultice was 17.3% hotter, liniment was only 3.8% hotter, and cold hosing was 10.7% cooler than the baseline.
Overall, it’s clear that cold hosing, the tried and true method, is proven to cool equine limbs the most. My recommendation for horse owners would be to cold hose the limb to cool, then apply a liniment or a poultice afterward to continue the cooling process and amplify their healing benefits.
It was disappointing to see the ice boot successfully cool in some horses, but not others, as well as on average cooling then heating right back up once removed. It is suspected that the ice boot cooling temperature did not penetrate beneath the skin before being warmed by the horses’ temperature.
There were a few limitations I encountered during this experiment where changes would be recommended if this experiment is repeated. More time, funding, and resources would be greatly beneficial to produce this experiment on a larger and more professional scale, however as a high school student, this scale of experiment was just not possible.
Further analysis of the secondary qualitative data and its possible correlation to the temperature results would provide interesting insight on temperature trends in horses. Testing more types of these poultices and liniments could provide varying results.
Since this experiment took place during the winter due to the time constraints of a school year, it would be interesting to see if the results varied if the test was conducted during the summer.
Overall, there are some clear areas of improvement, but considering the resources given and challenges faced during this research, the results are sound and the data proves a clear superior coolant.
As an avid equestrian of over 10 years, I am constantly trying to improve my caretaking methods for my horse so that he can live his best and healthiest life. My horse Abel has been battling a suspensory injury this past year, and the focus on his recovery really got me thinking about how much I really don’t know about the products I use on him. How do I know that the label’s claims are true?
As a high school senior, I performed this research through my Research and Development Class through the Curriculum of Agriculture Science Education (CASE), where I earned college credit.
I also competed in the Future Farmers of America Agriscience Fair in the Animals Sciences Division, where I placed First in the state of Maryland, and Bronze Nationally. This project not only produced quantitative results, but allowed me to dive into research head first and explore my future career as I graduate High School and begin studying Biology in college.
I hope that my research is able to provide horse owners with as much information as possible so they can make an informed decision on how to best care for their equine partners. There are so many unknowns in our horse world, but hopefully this research can check just one off your list.
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