Do you ever stare in awe at the sleek shiny horses, the glistening brass, perfect braids, and dazzling white marks at a CCI trot up? Do you ever wonder how they get that way? (LOTS of hard work is the correct answer!) Each Sunday morning we will bring you a little insider info on how the big-time grooms manage an upper level event horse. Feel free to email or comment with specific grooming questions if you have a topic in mind!
Previous entries: All Wrapped Up: Polos
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Playing with mud: How to poultice your horse
Poultice is essentially wet clay used to draw heat and inflammation from a horse’s legs. It may be used alone, or (most often) under a standing bandage. Some people may say that “mud” doesn’t do very much…but having used it on myself for a severe bone bruise, I can assure you that it does work! It feels like a soothing ice pack for about three hours, absorbing heat and swelling as it dries.
Frequently, poultice is used after a strenuous workout (like a gallop or cross-country), or as part of a treatment regimen for an acute injury (bowed tendon, etc). It should be applied about an eighth- to a quarter-inch thick around the desired area. It can be irritating to broken skin; check your horse’s legs thoroughly after cross-country, and do not cover any cuts or scrapes with poultice (or you may have a hugely-swollen leg the next morning!). Use a wound ointment, like triple antibiotic, to protect the wound from any accidental poultice coverage.
When used under a standing bandage, wrap the leg with wet paper on top of the poultice. This keeps it moist a little longer so it won’t dry out too quickly; and it keeps your wraps clean. Brown paper (often cut from a feed bag) is the traditional material, but it can be stiff and wrinkly when dried. Instead, I prefer to use disposable blue shop towels— they conform to the leg nicely, are pre-cut in a good size, and come off in one piece for easy removal. In a pinch, any paper product will work…normal paper towels (the Quilted Quicker Picker Upper rocks), and even ripped pages from your event program can be used (though the newstype may rub off on white legs).
To remove the poultice, it can often be brushed off with a soft curry when dry. If it is still wet, just hose it off. For Sunday jogs, shampoo the legs thoroughly to remove any leftover white poultice dust… very tacky on dark legs! If your horse has white legs, though, poultice dust leaves them extra bright and sharp. (Thank goodness for small favors!)
Poultice comes in many different brands and varieties; some have additives like alcohol or menthol to induce an extra “cooling” sensation. Some of these extra ingredients, however, may show up in a drug test (there was a scandal about this several years ago). Your best bet is to use a plain, simple white clay poultice. Uptite and FinishLine (blue lid, non-medicated) are my favorites. They go on creamy smooth, and are pretty easy to remove the next morning.
Other poulticing hints:
–Wet your hands before grabbing a glob of mud. This keeps it from sticking to your skin, and so is more likely to stick to the horse’s hair, and not glop on the ground. Dunk your hands often into a bucket of water to keep them moist, and dripping a bit of water into the poultice tub is a good thing, keeps it “slippy” and from getting too dry.
-For less mess, use latex gloves. This will avoid the “crusty white leftover-nail-polish” look on the cuticles of your fingernails.
-Scrape excess poultice off your hand (or glove) onto the rim of the poultice bucket; it cleans your hands and you can re-use it without wastage.
–Tie up the horse’s tail BEFORE you start! Inevitably, you will forget this step when you begin to poultice the horse’s hind legs. And the tail will swish right into the poultice, becoming covered in sticky white mud. Knot it well!
-I usually apply the poultice in pairs and cover with paper, then wrap both. I’ve found this the easiest way to avoid a big mess. I hate when shavings sticks to the poultice leg, so I try to finish it quickly.
-Speaking of shavings…another big pet peeve is shavings/hay in the poultice bucket! Keep the lid on it as much as possible, to prevent irritating debris from contaminating your clay. Horses will stomp at flies, sending footing flying like a magnet to your tub of poultice.