A TIME-TESTED TECHNIQUE
In horse racing, a sport known for its embrace of tradition, icing horses’ legs has long been one of the more beneficial customs. “When I was training horses in the1960s and 1970s everyone had horses lined up, standing in ice tubs,” says Bill Casner, who has been involved with racing as a trainer, owner (2010 Derby Winner Super Saver was one of his) and executive his entire life. “One of the first things we did was get them accustomed to standing there with their feet in the tubs. It’s labor intensive to train them to the ice tubs. Those young horses would turn over the tubs, flood the stalls, etc., but once you get them trained to it they jump right in and stay there. It probably feels good,” he says.
Casner says that cold therapy fell out of favor a bit when medications came along. “Everyone thought phenylbutazone was the answer to everything,” he says. “There are times that we do use it as a tool but, like every other drug, it has side effects, and the list of side effects for phenylbutazone is long. Too many horsemen are convinced that drugs are the answer. If those riders would ice their horses before and after they perform, they’d run great and wouldn’t have any of the adverse side effects like they might have with drugs.”
Rather than rely on medications, Casner says he never abandoned cooling therapy. “Cold therapy is a wonderful tool,” he says. “We employ this method on our own horses for reducing swelling and inflammation; we use very little bute, and never use it more than two days in a row. We use cold therapy in training and as therapy after the horses run. There are no detrimental effects, like you’d have with drugs.”
Casner, who also has experience with roping horses, encourages owners of all types of athletic horses to embrace icing and advises applying a bit of ingenuity when necessary to fit it into a busy competition schedule. “A person could probably figure out a way to use ice boots or cold water applications while they were rolling down the road hauling the horse to the next event,” he says.