How to care for your horse after a cross country round
18 March 2017
There is no better feeling than finally passing through those finish flags at the end of your cross country round. There is also no better feeling than knowing you’ve done everything possible to keep your horse healthy, happy and sound! Heat in the tendons, ligaments, and joints creates cellular damage, which creates tendon damage, ligament damage and arthritis in the joints. These conditions will ultimately affect your horse’s soundness.
Once you’ve passed the vet check, made it back to your float and all the adrenaline has passed, your your first thought is generally ICE BOOTS! But there is so much more you can do to ensure your horse has plenty of miles left in his legs and is as sound and happy as he can be.
1 – Rinse and Repeat
Have you ever watched Badminton Horse Trials and wondered why they bucket down the horse, scrape the water off then go ahead and toss more water over him? Well turns out, this is the most efficient and effective way to cool down your horse post cross country. The water cools down the veins, the blood within those veins gets cooled and travels to the organs, effectively cooling down these vital parts of the horse. We scrape off the water to take the heat with it and repeat this process until the water we scrape off the horse is cool and the horse doesn’t ‘steam’ while he is wet. As the water heats up on the horse, it’s important that it is scraped off as soon as possible before it warms up the horse instead of cooling him off.
2 – Breathe
It’s important to let your horse’s respiratory rate return to normal before you go off doing anything else. The five minutes you spend walking around vet check isn’t enough time for the respiratory rate to drop to an optimal range. We generally walk the horses for a further 10 minutes (15 minutes in total) to let the horse’s body calm down. Locking him up in his yard or stable straight away will create a more tense horse who takes twice as long to recover both mentally and physically. Take the extra time to let your horse cool down properly. During the course, the maximum heart rate can reach up to 240BPM compared to the resting heart rate which sits around 25-40BPM. The vets will be looking for the horse’s heart rate to be below 80BPM before allowing you to leave vet check. After 15 minutes, the heart rate should return to normal range.
3 – Know Your Horse
It’s always a scare to discover a new bump on your horse’s leg and wonder where it came from; if it will cause soundness issues or if it will ever go away. Quite often a horse will come back with a cut or graze and after galloping through mud, dirty water and who knows what else, it’s ideal to hose (to prevent inflammation), clean and cover any wounds. But whatever the case, it’s important that you know your horse’s body so that you can identify when things aren’t quite right. This also means heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature, not just physical appearances. It’s important to treat any of these issues first before preventing any others which leads us to the next point.
4 – Ice Therapy
This is by far the most common practice and for many reasons. Heat is directly associated with swelling and in horses, swelling is usually bad. To help endure the concussion on joints, the body produces a joint fluid or lubrication. The more concussion the joints face, the more joint fluid is produced to cope. This is why you may find some swelling or heat in your horse’s legs, especially the morning after a competition. 30 minutes post cross country (roughly the time it takes to vet check, untack, sponge down, walk and check over) the horses get ice boots put on for about 20 minutes. The boots come off for 20 minutes, back on for 20 minutes then we go for a 15 minute walk. After that we leave the horses alone so they can eat and rest. After a couple of hours they go for another 20 minute walk, have 20 minutes in ice boots then they get trotted up. The trotting effort is more so we can better identify any stiffness or unevenness that we couldn’t see in the walk. If they look good they get wrapped with either stable bandages or a poultice and go out for a nice long walk and graze before getting put away for the night. In the morning they get unwrapped and go for another nice long walk (some even go for a short morning hack to stretch at all gaits depending on class times).
5 – Replenishing What We’ve Lost
Galloping over 6km in under 5 minutes causes sweat loss in horses and this needs to be replenished. Sweating allows horses to cool themselves. The salts lost in this sweat are vital for many processes within the body including pumping the heart, filtering waste through the kidneys and regulating the movement of water between cells. Electrolyte replacers are a very common and effective way of restoring the salts back to the horse. We use a liquid replacer which gets syringed over the tongue about 30 minutes after cross country (generally when we put the ice boots on for the first time) and we add a scoop of powdered replacer in their evening feed so the horses are ready for the events the next day.
6 -Flat Batteries
Although most horses pull up fine the next morning, some horses take a little longer in recovering. Particularly in more senior horses, it can be hard finding the energy to get through the showjumping and although we want a relaxed and responsive horse, it’s always nice having that reserve fuel in the tank to get you through that long spot or to tuck those legs just a little higher. I give my horses a tablespoon of corn oil in their morning feed (pre-xc) and in their evening feed (post-xc) to help them get through the cross country and showjumping. We use it more for the showjumping phase where a more agile and sharp horse is required, however it’s never hurt having a little more energy cross country, especially when time is tight.
Our horses do an amazing job of looking after us (most of the time!) and I’m sure they’d appreciate a few extra carrots in their dinner. They definitely aren’t thanking us for making them stand with their legs covered in ice or having things squirted down their mouth after all their efforts, but a sound horse means a happy rider and a happy rider means a happy horse.