Cooling Strategies for horse legs: Ice Cubes vs. Horse Ice Boots

As the eventing season will soon be upon us, one of the most commonly asked questions is about cooling horses’ legs after competition. What is best? The DIY ice boot for horses, Ice Cubes, versus Horse Ice Boots? In this blog, we’ll explore two popular methods: the traditional approach of using ice cubes and the alternative of ice boots.

Why ice the horses’ legs after exercise?

There are many reasons why icing horses legs after exercise could have positive effects. The main reasons are below:

  • Reduce the heat build up caused by exercising and the insulating effect of boots
  • Help the horses’ legs recover by reducing inflammation
  • Accelerate the healing process by increasing circulation and oxygen levels

 

Horse Ice boots versus Ice Cubes in a boot

The pros and cons of the DIY ice boot for horses

For decades, horse owners have been using the straightforward method of applying ice cubes directly to a horse’s legs. This method involves placing a bag of ice cubes or crushed ice on the targeted area. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Efficacy – are ice cubes in a boot as efficacious as an ice boot. A study Evaluating the cooling efficacy of different equine leg cooling methods published in 2019 proved that some ice boots were more efficacious than putting ice cubes in a boot. This is most likely due to points 2-4 below.
  2. Coverage – To cover all the major tendons and ligaments of the lower leg. You would have to put two on the leg to get the coverage of a horse ice boot.
  3. Malleability – Ice at 0°C is rock hard therefore it is unlikely to mold to the lower leg and effectively surround the tissues. You would have to crush the ice cubes to get better malleability
  4. Contact – How much contact can you get to the skin with an ice cube as they are hard and shaped in such a way that only a minimal part of the cube makes contact with the leg. Little contact means limited cold transfer. Again, you would either need to crush the ice cubes or bandage tightly to the leg so they melt and mold to the leg but that means you will have to have them on the leg longer. Longer time at low temperatures increases the chance of skin damage.
  5. Slippage – unless the horse is very well trained any little kick out means the ice cubes in a boot/bandage slip down the leg and this can cause aggravation to the horse which creates more kicking out.
  6. Comfort – Hard cubes being forced onto the leg is not particularly comfortable for the horse, plus having to leave them on longer.
  7. Hands-On Approach: It certainly is, you need a fair amount of skill to hold the ice cube bag to the leg, with a cloth underneath to cover the leg to prevent ice burns and then bandage it on or do a boot up around them. Especially if the horse is still pumped and on his toes after your ride.  
  8. Affordability and Accessibility: Ice cubes are readily available and affordable, making this method accessible to horse owners on any budget. However have you ever added up over a season how much you spend on ice bags and the plastic waste it creates. 20 bags on ebay – £3.23 which is 16p a bag. To get the same coverage as a horse ice boot such as Cryochaps you need 8, a total of £1.28. Using 3x a week for training and competition – £3.84. In a year you would have paid for a set of horse ice boots, that are reusable and have a few year life span.

The pros and cons of an ice boot for horses

In recent years, technology has introduced innovative solutions to equine care, and ice boots are a prime example. Some Ice boots for horses such as Cryochaps are specially designed, for rapid cooling. Let’s explore the advantages of using ice boots:

  1. Efficacy – are ice cubes in a boot as efficacious as an ice boot. A study Evaluating the cooling efficacy of different equine leg cooling methods published in 2019 found that whilst not all ice boots are created equal two brands had better cooling than Ice cubes in a boot, Cryochaps being one of them.
  2. Coverage – Ice boots for horses come in all shapes and sizes but look for ones that surround the leg and all major tendons and ligaments. Some horse ice wraps come as pastern ice wraps or hock ice wraps
  3. Malleability – Horse Ice boots tend to be much more malleable at minus temperatures allowing great moldability to the horse leg, so you get fabulous even contact
  4. Contact – no contact means no cold transfer so the more malleable the ice boots for horses are, means the efficacy will be better. A compression ice wrap will force cold deeper into the leg.
  5. Slippage – A compression ice boot will also they will be less likely to slip and aggravate the horse. Those that cannot tolerate ice cubes in a boot are more likely to tolerate Cryochaps ice boots as they are lightweight and are designed to be a compression ice boot
  6. Comfort – with malleability comes less pressure from ice cubes pressing into the skin and due to the fantastic cold transfer with an ice and compression boot like Cryochaps, they do not have to stay on as long.
  7. Convenience: Ice boots for horses offer a convenient and time-saving solution to put on. Cryochaps are quick and simple to apply, just wrap and strap leave for 10 mins and remove.   
  8. Uniform Cooling: Ice boots are designed to provide consistent and uniform cooling to the entire limb, ensuring that all areas receive the therapeutic benefits of cold therapy.

Comparison:

While both ice cubes and ice boots may serve the common goal of reducing leg temperatures, they come with distinct advantages and disadvantages. The choice between the two methods may depend on various factors, including the horse’s temperament, the specific injury or condition, and the owner’s preferences.

Conclusion:

In the realm of equine care, the choice between using ice cubes and ice boots ultimately boils down to personal preferences, convenience, and the specific needs of the horse. Both methods can be effective when used appropriately, and the decision may also depend on the horse owner’s familiarity with and comfort level in using each technique. Whether you opt for the simplicity of ice cubes or the modern efficiency of ice boots, the key is to prioritize the well-being of your equine companion by incorporating these cooling strategies into a comprehensive care routine.