Eventing Nation: Post cross-country care in the modern day
Advanced-level eventer Kate Samuels guides us through bathing, icing, wrapping, poulticing and beyond.
The classic ice boot, post cross country
These days, post cross-country care can be a little overwhelming. It isn’t your grandpa’s wash-n-wrap deal that it used to be. Modern developments along with increased scientific knowledge of how to properly protect your horses’ inner and outer structures from damage or strain sustained during intense workouts has changed the way we think about caring for him after cross country.
So where do you start? What methods do the best job of protecting your horse? Of course, just as with everything else, there is no “right” answer here. Many people achieve success all sorts of different ways, but I do think it is interesting to get a sneak peak into the behind the scenes of different barns. I’ve been slowly collecting information and opinions from different riders and grooms, and here are my findings of different and intriguing ways to properly pamper your horse after cross country.
I spoke with Kim Severson’s groom, Liz Storandt, this past weekend at Millbrook about her secret to success with Kim’s string of talented horses. She says that an integral part of their recovery is the bathing. “Kim likes us to give the horses a clean water bath followed by a Sore No More bath every time. We feel that it really helps their muscles relax and recover from the strenuous activity of cross country, and then they feel great for the competition the following day,” Liz said. Liniment is a really excellent way to help soothe and heal sore muscles after intense exercise, and it’s something that I think is a wonderful addition to the bathing process.
Cross-Country Scrapes & Bangs:
It’s pretty rare that a horse returns from cross country without a little rub, a bang from something or a scratch somewhere on their body. The jumps are solid, they are wearing studs most of the time and they are going fast. This leads to accidental minor physical damage. Apart from actual injuries incurred, there are a few different ways to deal with these little scrapes and bangs so that they don’t get inflamed and come back to haunt you the next morning.
The first step is to go over your horse inch by inch during their post cross-country bath. I am obsessive about feeling each leg from top to bottom, and any little bump or irregularity of the hair or skin is immediately noticed. Due to the fact that they also gallop through gross water, mud and generally expose any injury to bacteria, it’s important to thoroughly clean their legs. There are lots of antibacterial soaps and washes out there that can help you with this, or you can go really simple and use a non-fragranced antibacterial dish soap like Ivory.
*Not the official way to bathe your horse*
If there’s one thing you can’t miss on cross country day, it’s all the working students lugging heavy bags of ice from the secretary’s stand to the stalls. Other horses in different disciplines don’t understand the joys of standing in tubs or boots of icy water for 30 minutes at a time, but event horses know all about it. There are the classic fireman boots (also known as Jack’s Whirlpool Boots), which are popular for covering everything from the hoof to the knee, but require that you sit there and stare at your horse the whole time to make sure he keeps his legs still.
Some riders prefer to keep their horses’ hooves out of water, and then you have options there with different types of tendon wraps with ice packs and even things like a Gameready system or the newer gel compression boots that are small and portable. The point of all this is that we want to ensure that our horses’ tendons and ligaments get cooled down efficiently, we pull out inflammation in the legs and we take some of the sting out of sore feet that just galloped a few miles. Icing just can’t be replaced!
To Poultice, or Not to Poultice?
There are many different ways to care for your horse’s legs overnight after you leave, but the most popular is the old standby poultice. Clay-based poultice works by creating a “heat sink” and acting as a cooling force on the legs for hours at a time. By the time you allow for evaporation in the poultice, it has drawn out any heat on the leg, and you have a tighter, happier leg in the morning. Other poultices also include ingredients like arnica that have anti-inflammatory effects. They create the feeling of cold or heat on the legs, which stiff or sore horses enjoy.
However, you can’t use poultice if your horse has open cuts or sores, and it’s also messy and a pain to wash off in the morning when you have to ride early. I recently discovered a new product called STAYONS Poultice Wraps from Hamilton Biovet. They come in packs of four, and it looks like a quilt of poultice packets. You dip it in cold water and then simply wrap it around the leg and put your pillow wraps over top. My horse gets rubs no matter what boot he has on during cross country, so I struggle with regular poultice all the time. However, these wraps went right on and stayed overnight. When I unwrapped him in the morning, there was no mess, no scrubbing for 30 minutes and his legs had enjoyed the same benefits of regular poultice. Pretty cool!
Using my STAYONS poultice wraps from Hamilton Biovet.
Ceramic & Laser Therapy:
If you’ve never tried something from Back On Track or another ceramic therapy company, you’re missing out. The therapeutic benefits of these products cannot be denied. If you think you’re achy after cross country, imagine what your horse feels like! There’s nothing like a nice magnetic blanket to help heal their sore muscles while they nap in the stall. This can be used on the day of cross country and also the morning after when you’re trying to warm and relax their muscles prior to show jumping.
Not to be ignored is also the option of using ceramic wraps instead of poultice and pillow wraps. Jan Byyny’s head groom Kendyl Tracy let me in on a little secret: “We use a mixture of baby powder and liniment under Back On Track wraps because I find that it really keeps the swelling down, and it also fights fungus that can develop on their legs.” Ceramic horse leg wraps are designed to reflect the horse’s own body warmth, creating a soothing infrared thermal heat that can help alleviate pain associated with inflamed muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints.
If you’re worried about a specific area that perhaps has an old injury, there is always the option of using a laser to help increase circulation and alleviate pain. While lasers may sound expensive and bulky, there are lots of options in this realm, and it’s not as complicated as it may seem! Lasers stimulate healing for all sorts of injuries and can increase the speed and strength of tissue repair.
A happy, healthy horse, of course! With any strenuous exercise, there are sore muscles, feet and stressed structures inside of the athlete’s body, and cross country is the ultimate test of fitness for a horse. All of these procedures combine to create a horse that has minimal achy feelings for the next day’s competition schedule and will help your horses perform to the best of their ability, as well as protect them for years to come.
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