“Cold today and hot tamale” is a simple reminder of how to approach managing inflammation. Cold “today” might mean as many as several days to a couple of weeks of cryotherapy (icing) depending on the injury. Icing addresses some of the physical signs of inflammation, but it doesn’t entirely curtail the inflammatory process (which does assist in healing). Icing is not recommended for injuries involving an open wound because of the possibility of contamination. Here are some tips for applying ice effectively:

  • Do not put ice directly on a horse’s skin. Wrap ice in a thin, damp cloth to avoid skin “burn.” Then it is safe to apply to your horse.
  • If you plan to ice your horse’s legs, wet the hair thoroughly, down to the skin, before placing a limb in ice boots. That eliminates the insulating effects of hair and enables transmission of cold to underlying tissues.
  • Ice for no more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time, then remove the ice to restore circulation. It is best to ice for short periods frequently and allow intervals with no ice in between rather than just leaving ice in place for extended periods. Depending on the injury, you might want to ice two to four times a day.
  • When using frozen vegetables for icing, you’ll need to constantly exchange them out for freshly frozen bags or they will warm up too quickly to supply sufficient cold to the area.
  • Ice boots are an excellent investment, especially if you purchase the kind with removable ice packs so you can freshen the cold application as the ice thaws in the initial pack.
  • If you don’t have ice boots, you can rig up something similar using an inner tube that extends from knee to pastern. Secure the tube at the pastern using a track bandage. Pour crushed ice into the inside of the tube, and secure the top with another track bandage. It is smart to stay with and monitor your horse while he is wearing this contraption.
  • Another alternative for icing is the use of a commercial ice gel pack that can be thawed just enough to conform to the area you wish to ice. Some locations, such as the legs, are amenable to securing the gel pack with tape or a track bandage so you don’t need to sit and hold it in place. You will still want to stay with and monitor your horse.
  • Cold water soaking is helpful for foot inflammation, especially if you add ice to the water and use a tall bucket that extends well up the horse’s cannon bone.