A horse’s legs are the most important part of its body in terms of performance. Here’s how to care for them.
There are two extensor tendons (which extend a joint such as the fetlock) and two flexor tendons (flex or close a joint), as well as important ligaments that are just below the surface under the knee. After any type of work out, these tendons and ligaments are strained and must rest. Competition horses, who are typically in work for at least five days a week and, depending on their discipline, jumping or galloping at least one day a week, undergo the most strain. Horses that jump or gallop sustain a level of concussion that demands the soothing and swelling-reduction qualities of poultice. Horses that do both, such as three-day eventers, must be particularly vigilant.
Effects of Poultice
Essentially, poultice is mud. It comes in tubs of various sizes and is a wet, clay-like consistency. It is applied wet and, as it dries, it draws out swelling and heat from the tendons. If properly applied, tendons will be tight vertically as well as horizontally so the spaces between them will be clearly defined. Increasingly, menthol and oils of peppermint or eucalyptus are added into the poultice for additional soothing effects. Another use for poultice is to pack hooves to draw out an abscess, although there are other poultice-like products that are more specifically intended for the purpose.
As mentioned earlier, poultice is sold in tubs with tightly fitting lids. It is important to choose a tub size that fits your needs because poultice kept too long will dry out even in the tub. The best poultices are made with natural ingredients, spring water, and will have some sort of menthol or other cooling agent. You will also need a stable bandage. This type of bandage has two parts: a pillow wrap, a puffy cotton wrap that should cover the leg from knee to ankle, and a standing bandage, a stretchy four-inch wide bandage with Velcro on the end. The stable bandage is wrapped around the pillow wrap and Velcroed in place. The third tool is brown paper, usually a grocery bag that is cut to size and put between the wrap and the poultice. Some people also use latex gloves for easier clean-up.
Application of Poultice
Poultice should be applied after a horse is cooled-out post work out. The leg does not need to be completely dry, but should be toweled so that the poultice will stick. Before beginning, tie the tail in a knot so that it will be out of the way. Apply poultice from knee to ankle thick enough that no hair shows through. Poultice can be applied more thinly on the shin, or the cannon bone, because the bone will not be as effected as a joint or tendon. The most attention should be paid to the sides of the leg where the spaces between the tendons can be seen and on the back of the leg where the tendons run down. After the poultice is on, wet the brown paper and wrap it around the leg between the knee and ankle. Wetting it will make the poultice dry slower and extend the benefits. After the bag, wrap the horse’s leg with first the pillow wrap and then the bandage. Be careful; the tendons and ligaments can be further damaged with too much or inconsistent pressure. Leave the poultice on for twenty-four hours and then remove with running water.