Health

Liniments Can Play a Helpful Role in Muscle Care

Improve horse health with these tips on using liniments.

From AQHA Corporate Partner Farnam

Using liniments after riding can ease a horse's sore muscles. Journal photo

A comfy recliner and a good rubdown are just the ticket when your back is aching. Your horse can’t take advantage of the recliner, but he can definitely appreciate the soothing benefits of liniment when his muscles are tired or sore.

Many “old school” horsemen have used liniment to offer relief and relaxation after a workout. The new generation of horse owners may not be as familiar with this versatile, economical product, but it definitely deserves a place in your tack room to provide temporary relief for weary muscles and minor aches and pains.

Help Ease Soreness

“If a horse is body sore or stressed from exercise and competition, using a liniment can help maintain his comfort so he’s ready to perform. Keeping your horse happy and comfortable helps him both mentally and physically, and is an advantage, whatever he’s doing,” says Lana Merrick of Canadian River Quarter Horses, LLC, in Norman, Oklahoma, which she owns with partner Jim Bailey, DVM.

An avid barrel racer for many years, Lana made it to the National Finals Rodeo in 1987 when she was rookie of the year and again in 1989. In 1991, she won the Barrel Futurities of America championship. Lana breeds and sells both barrel horses and running Quarter Horses. She is co-breeder (with Kent Jackson) of Feature Hero, winner of the 2013 All American Derby, which, at $2,809,784, is the richest purse offered in the history of American Quarter Horse racing.

“When I was on the road barrel racing regularly, I liked using liniment on my horses’ legs when traveling. Rubbing down the body with liniment can help a horse cool down and also help him to relax at night if he has been hauling all day or working hard,” Lana says. “I’ve found liniments are good for relieving general aches and body soreness when used on a regular basis, but you can’t expect them to fix a problem that a veterinarian needs to look at.”

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Read Those Labels

Although designed to be therapeutic, all liniments are not the same. Some are stronger than others and have more analgesic properties. Know what you want to accomplish before selecting one. This is where you’ll need to spend a little time reading labels.

Liniments offer temporary relief of minor soreness and stiffness, and may provide both cooling and heating sensations. While certain liniments can be used as a topical antiseptic to help prevent infection of abrasions and superficial cuts, others are too strong for such application. Always read the label carefully before use to determine how the liniment should be used and if you need to dilute it. You can irritate the skin by using a product in the wrong manner or in a sensitive area.

Liniments often contain alcohol, which helps cool due to rapid evaporation. Many horse owners make a “brace” by adding liniment (see label directions for recommended amount) to the final rinse water after a workout. After your ride, hose off the horse as usual and use a scraper to remove excess water. Follow the final rinse with the brace (liniment water), but don’t rinse again. Let the horse dry naturally to allow the soothing effects of the liniment to remain.

Warm-Up Is Crucial

Making sure your horse is ready to work can help prevent sore or injured muscles in the first place.

“I always take the time to stretch my horses and warm them up before any strenuous activity. This helps protect against injury to muscles, tendons and ligaments,” says Chris Cox, three-time winner of the prestigious Road to the Horse colt-starting competition. Chris travels around the world appearing at expos, conducting clinics and horsemanship demonstrations. He also holds horsemanship clinics at his Diamond Double C Ranch in Mineral Wells, Texas, and his “Chris Cox Horsemanship” program airs regularly on RFD-TV.

“Weather and altitude are factors, and it also depends on the horse how much of a warm-up is needed,” Cox adds. “In cold weather, it takes longer for the horse to warm up, so you’ll want to spend a little more time. A long, extended trot is very good for warming up, increasing blood flow to the muscles and getting the horse stretched out.

But don’t overdo it, he cautions. “You want the horse warmed up, but not out of breath and tired, because a horse that is too tired will have a tendency to injure himself.”

With his competition horses, Chris will often apply a poultice to their lower legs and wrap them overnight to keep legs tight and cool. He finds that after bathing the horse, liniment added to the rinse water will soak in and help soothe muscles after a vigorous workout.

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Use Caution When Bandaging

To help prevent filling of the lower legs (slight edema also known as “stocking up”), some horsemen like to apply liniment and then wrap the legs overnight. If you aren’t familiar with wrapping legs, ask your veterinarian or an experienced horse person to teach you because bandages applied too tightly or improperly can cause damage.

Always read label directions to be sure the particular liniment you’re using can be used under a bandage. This is especially important if you use cellophane under the bandage to make a “sweat wrap.” Some liniments can cause a negative reaction if used incorrectly and may blister, burn or “scurf” the skin.