Should you ice your horse’s legs? Icing a horse’s leg is common practice in the event of an injury. However, some horse owners may not know if and when icing a horse’s legs is appropriate. This blog article discusses the theory behind icing and why it may be beneficial to ice your horse’s legs after exercise or injury.
The Science Behind Icing in Humans and Horses
Many professionals will likely be aware of the anti-RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) movement that has been gaining publicity for the past 15-20 years. Despite this, the most widely used method in human medicine and sports medicine for the treatment of acute soft tissue injury is still RICE.
In the equestrian world, ice is still widely used. Also, there does not appear to be as much in the way of campaigning against its use as there is in human medicine. But why is this? Is it because we know something that those dealing exclusively with human patients don’t know? Or is it just that we don’t yet have the studies to show that icing horse’s legs is at best ineffective or at worst harmful and actually slowing recovery from injury?
Why We Ice Horses’ Legs
Perhaps the first thing to examine is the way in which ice (i.e. cryotherapy) could be used with horses. The first and most obvious is in the event of an acute injury. Here, the use of cold has the effect of reducing the inflammatory response and reducing pain. There have been suggestions that reducing inflammation in the event of an acute injury is detrimental because the inflammatory response is part of the repair process. The jury still seems to be out on this. However, this is certainly a core argument against the RICE protocol; that inflammation is good and should not be controlled. In this context, these two quotes are pertinent:
“Acute inflammation is an important part of the healing process after musculoskeletal injury, but unless it is controlled early, it can significantly hamper rehabilitation.” (Baumert, 1995).
“The objective of RICE is to stop the injury-induced bleeding into the muscle tissue and thereby minimise the extent of the injury.” Jarvinen et al. (2007).
So the key aspects of using icing or RICE are about limiting, but not abolishing, inflammation and reducing the extent of the effect of an injury into surrounding (uninjured) tissue. The second and equally important aspect of cryotherapy in acute injury is the analgesic benefit. In cases of moderate to severe injury, it may be some time before a vet can see a horse and administer anti-inflammatory medication. Furthermore, these drugs take time to produce a significant effect. Therefore, icing can provide a degree of analgesia during that period.
We believe the ideal is actually somewhere in between. This may be where the arguments have become polarised and extreme. From the equestrian’s perspective, it’s not an argument about whether to ice our horses’ legs or not. Rather, it should be a discussion about how much cryotherapy is useful and in what situations.
Cryochaps: Ice Boots for Horses’ Legs UK
Our ice boots for horses are designed to be used after exercise or after injury. Icing your horse’s legs after exercise may aid recovery. Icing your horse’s legs after injury or when your horse has a swollen leg can reduce the inflammatory response and reduce pain. We are a UK-based company and we continually develop and improve our equine ice boot products. Our ice boots for horses are quick-freezing, versatile and can be transported in our Cryochaps cool bag. Purchase Cryochaps ice boots for horses via our online shop.