It’s no secret that we put serious stress on our performance horses, particularly the soft tissues in their lower legs. Many owners choose to ice the limbs after a strenuous workout to prevent or reduce heat and swelling. Various forms of ice boots are on the market to make the task easier. But there’s been limited research on how effectively these products cool horse legs. Researchers from California Polytechnic State University set out to find answers. The team was led by Matthew A. Burd, DVM, MS, head of the school’s equine reproductive physiology unit.
The team put together a group of six healthy sporthorses, aged 4 to 19 years, for the study. Initially, recordings were taken of each front cannon bone using a thermal imaging camera that incorporated temperature measurement. The horses were then longed at the walk, trot and canter. Additional thermal images were taken before an ice boot was applied to one foreleg of each horse. The other foreleg was left bare, allowing each horse to act as both a test and control. All horses wore the same type of ice boot, which consisted of a neoprene exterior that insulated frozen gel pockets.
The boots were left in place for 20 minutes while the horses stood cross-tied on rubber mats. Once the boots were removed, a third set of thermal images were taken, with images recorded every two minutes until the temperature difference between the test and control legs was zero.
The researchers used analysis software to evaluate the thermal images in order to gauge average surface temperature of the cannon bone at each measurement time for the test and control limbs. On average, the legs wearing ice boots were more than 43 degrees cooler than the non-iced legs immediately following the 20-minute treatment period. The effect lasted for a short time after removal of the boot, with the test leg taking an average of roughly 14 minutes to return to the temperature of the control leg.
The researchers concluded that this style of ice boot is effective in cooling the surface temperature of a horse’s leg and, by extension, the temperature of the underlying soft tissues. Thus, ice boots can be viewed as a useful method for controlling heat and inflammation. The researchers added that additional studies would be useful to compare this style of ice boot to other forms of cold therapy.