Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hot And Cold

Without a doubt, the most time consuming part of my day is not riding horses, oh no...The riding thing is pretty easy these days. No, the time consuming part is the pre- and after- care. And, for performance (or physical rehabilitation) CARE is of the utmost importance.

The two biggest concerns are circulation and inflammation. The two methods used to encourage or discourage is hot and cold.

Heat encourages circulation. Cold discourages inflammation. Easy right?

It is easy, but what is important to understand is when to apply the correct application to achieve the greatest results. 

Good race horse trainers/grooms are fanatical about their horse's legs...And good barrel racers are no exception. Leg care is/should be of vital importance and knowing when to apply heat and when to apply cold goes a long way toward keeping a horse in peak form.

This last fall I bought 2 of the Back On Track sheets for my horses and after just a couple of weeks of use, I cannot believe I didn't invest in these things years earlier. CdnCowirl told me how good they were, as did a couple of other's, but I put off buying any until I went whole hog on the injection thing and my vet insisted that the sheets would relieve residual topline muscle tightness. 

Everyone who suggested them was right. These sheets are amazing. They have made a tremendous difference in Moon, Frosty and Jet's toplines and while Shooter doesn't have a topline problem, he was popping in his left hip. It's compensation from hitching that leg for so long while he was healing.  When I use the sheet on him for a couple of nights in a row, the popping stops. I need more sheets. LOL. Right now I am having to alternate use.

These products are essentially like a heating pad...although the heat is self-generated and low-level. But man oh man, do they free a horse up. I am now investing in hock boots and quick wraps for the lower legs. I think the quick wraps are going to help Jet's hind legs tremendously. As kestrel noted on another post, this horse has some seriously remodeling to do in his hind tendons. They are very excessively tight and affect his movement. The BOT sheet has helped his topline so much, now I need to focus on his legs. 

For the most part, the Back On Track products have become my heat therapy and the nice thing is, I just put them on at night and take them off in the morning. If it's not too warm out or I'm running late (a common theme in my world), I'll put everything on the horse(s) I am planning on running before I leave the house and they are practically warmed up by the time I get where I need to be. 

But heat therapy is only one aspect. Yes, the BOT products are the best I think many of us have found for increasing circulation, which prevents muscles from getting tight and/or sore or releases tightness/soreness...Oh, there are other products out there, but MY GOD!! the cost of them is so prohibitive. The BOT stuff isn't cheap, but it's definitely less expensive than anything else I have looked at and so easy to use. Throw it on overnight or for a couple hours before and ta-da, relaxed muscles and improved joint motion.

I do still want to invest in one of those little handheld massagers though, like what the chiro uses on you to loosen you up before an adjustment. The low grade vibration does wonders to release the muscles and stimulate circulation right before you ride. The girls that have them, use them on each other as well and all I can say is 'Aaahhhh'.

The other end of the spectrum is cold therapy. Cold therapy is used to take the heat out of muscles and inflammation out of joints. Cold hosing legs and body is effective for reducing overall temperature and helps prevent muscles from becoming sore (and you thought you was just washing the sweat off ;-)). But to really help reduce inflammation, ice therapy is needed. The only specialized ice boots that I bought were hock boots. I am on the look-out for a set of stifle ice boots as well. The stifle...such an incredibly important joint for a performance horse and often the one that is most often neglected. For icing the legs, I just went and bought some of the extra ice-cell packs and simply place them on the leg and use a regular protective boot to hold them on. I also loaded up on those reusable hot/cold therapy packs you can buy pretty much anywhere. I found mine at the dollar store, so I bought 4 of them in varying sizes. And I need to go back for more! The smaller ones I can place over the knee and wrap with a polo wrap, the larger ones I use on the poll area (again strapped down with a polo wrap) and over the loin (polo wrap or just lay it on. I also bought a package of the thin, white kitchen towels and another package of cheap washcloths. These I wet down with cold water, wrap or drape over the area I am going to be applying cold therapy to, place the ice on and then cover. I don't like holding a bag of ice to my skin without a piece of cloth between my skin and the ice, so I figure the horses appreciate the same comfort and the wet towels help disperse the cold therapy throughout the leg better too.

The thing to remember about ice therapy is, it is most effective when used in the 20 on/20 off method. At home, I wasn't icing before I ride, but my vet said that I should definitely be icing before and after at competitions, so I adopted icing before riding at home too. I simply brush the legs first, apply the ice packs and then do my normal grooming and saddling while the cold does it's thing. It's almost perfect timing in fact. When I'm ready, I just removed my ice packs, throw them back in the freezer and go ride. Repeating it all over again afterward. I'm not super religious about the pre-ride icing thing at home, it depends on what I think my plan is that day. A nice, stretching walk in the desert doesn't require pre and post icing. Post is always good though. You want that horse's legs cold and tight when you put them away.

Over the last couple of years I have used a multitude of liniments, but I have settled on a few that I like in particular, plus my mud poultices. I use a lot less liniment now that I have the BOT products than I used to use before, but I still use some and each liniment is specific to a certain desired result.

Absorbine Veterinary Liniment I use diluted with water as a body wash. After hosing horses down, I just wipe them down with the diluted Absorbine. Nothing seems to beat Absorbine for giving a cool tingly, refreshed feeling. Interestingly enough, I have noticed that the flies don't seem to care for horses that I have used Absorbine on and for the most part, them alone.  Full force Absorbine is great on knees, hocks and lower legs or particularly sore spots. It's good for horses with arthritis too because full force Absorbine causes a mild inflammatory response, in a good way, it gets the circulation going and helps reduce soreness in those affected joints.

I keep an Arnica Rub around for acute body soreness (not that I've had any since I've started using the BOT products) and joint soreness.

Under my boots and polo wraps I use the spray Sore-No-More. I tried the gelotin and didn't like it as much as the liquid and the spray bottles are handy.

And under my mud packs I use either the Sore-No-More or Green Jelly. Both are effective, but mild so no scurfing or burning under wraps or the mud.

Sore-No-More can also be used under the BOT products, although I have never bothered with it.

Most of the time I only mud the hind legs; stifles and then from the hocks down. I do mud LJ's knees when I do him because he seems to have puffier knees than any of my other horses and while that bubble on his knee is almost completely gone again, I keep after it to see if I can get it completely sealed down. I think with time and continued attention it will completely disappear, forever. I don't have a favorite mud. I have used several and not noticed any difference in effectiveness, particularly since I hose or wet legs first, apply a good coating of liniment and then mud over the top.

I keep Mineral Ice on hand, just in case I run out of cold ice packs. It's fairly effective for cooling and tightening the legs. Not as good as actual icing of course, but it helps. It works the best if you cold hose or wipe the legs with ice water first and then apply liberally and stroke in.

Grooming is one of my big things. Grooming is more than just about getting your horse clean, a thorough grooming before a ride helps get the circulation going and allows you to assess for sore/hot spots. When the weather is too cool for all over body hosing, a thorough grooming after your ride helps keep the blood flowing through the muscles long enough to help dissipate heat and helps prevent inflammation from setting in (sore muscles). Of course, if it is very cold, it's more beneficial to cover your horse with a cooling sheet and let them cool out for 30 minutes or so before proceeding to the grooming phase.

My regiment has greatly increased this last year, with all of the icing and application of BOT products, but it seems silly not to follow in the footsteps of ladies who are qualifying for the NFR. These ladies put a tremendous amount of effort into keeping their horses as happy and healthy as they can and this is the level of care it takes to minimize the impact of the rigorous job we ask our horses to do for us over and over again.

I have been thinking about the soft-ride boots, having a couple pair would be handy. I bed my trailer with multiple bags of shavings to absorb shock and prevent road heat from affecting my horse's feet, but there are times when they have to stand for hours at a time on hard and/or rocky ground and I don't suppose it would hurt to give them some cushioning.

The one thing I don't do (yet) is standing wraps. I am comfortable wrapping hind legs for competition, but I have not mastered the standing wrap yet and I don't want to take any chances with that. I have had no instances of stocked up horses though, so perhaps that is not a huge necessity with all of the other steps I take.

I also don't do shipping boots. I don't have any horses that are kickers or scramblers and have only had one instance of a horse getting a leg dinged in the trailer. I will haul with the BOT quick wraps on, but plain old shipping boots are a waste of time and money for me.


Laura said...

Great post - thanks for all of the info - and the gentle reminder to take some time with your horse and look after their legs, etc.

I had the chiro out recently and my horse was really tight in the back/hips - she said she sees that a lot with horses that stand around in our cold crappy winters. I have to massage him a bit - but I'm thinking that a BOT sheet would really help him a lot. Yet another thing to buy! lol

Do you think you could leave the BOT sheet on all the time under a winter turnout blanket?

We are just getting started with riding, so I'm going to keep your tips in mind - my horse is 13, so I'm wary of his hocks/stifles as he ages.

SquirrelGurl said...

I'm a BOT convert! I wish I had known about them before my mare passed, I think she would have really benefitted from them as she aged. Right now, I use BOT on my dog and it works wonders! If he looks stiff, on goes the blanket for a few hours. He really seems to like it. He won't wear the leg wraps though :)

I always enjoy your horse care posts, there are so many things I've learned later that I wish I knew when I had my own horse. I just file them away for when I become a horse owner again!

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Laura-They do have a regular BOT blanket, that is heavier, but yes the sheet can be used under a blanket. Personally, I wouldn't leave it on ALL the time. I believe the recommendation is no longer than 12 hours on.

Cindy D. said...

This is a great post. I should probably print it out.

fernvalley01 said...

that is quite the regime but with all you have invested in your horses I can see why you do it . I use the BOT stuff for me , I have gloves and an elbow brace and can tell you they work a treat! I can only imagine how great they feel for the horses