Water on legs an effective way to cool horses after moderate exercise – study

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Study in Poland employed 19 warmblood leisure horses, exercising in temperatures around 24 degrees Celsius.
The study in Poland employed 19 warmblood leisure horses, exercising in temperatures around 24 degrees Celsius. File image by A_Different_Perspective

Repeated applications of cold water to the legs of horses after medium-intensity exercise appears sufficient to cool the animals, according to a fresh study.

Iwona Janczarek and her fellow researchers said horses are susceptible to overheating from exercise because of their ratio of surface area to weight.

Heat-related stress can trigger a range of problems, including general weakness, an accelerated pulse, breathing difficulties, muscles problems and, in extreme cases, even death.

Overheating is generally initiated by both high external temperatures coupled with physical effort, which in turn generates internal heat.

Water cooling is well-recognised in the horse industry and has been the subject of research. However, nowadays, a large proportion of riders are amateurs who use horses for recreational riding only.

“Therefore, it is worth considering whether water cooling should be applied after a low or medium-intensity effort for leisure horses and, if so, to what extent,” they wrote in the journal Animals.

The study team, with the University of Life Sciences in Lublin, Poland, hypothesized that water cooling in leisure horses after medium-intensity exercise can be achieved through wetting certain body parts only with water over certain time periods.

They used 19 warmblood horses, analyzing changes in their rectal and surface temperatures after various water cooling treatments following medium-intensity exercise in temperatures of around 24 degrees Celsius.

Each horse completed the standardized exercise session four times, being cooled under each of the experimental conditions after each session.

Three water-cooling treatments were investigated, with the regions cooled shown in the nearby illustration. The water temperature was about 17 degrees Celsius. In each case, the water cooling treatment was applied three times, 10 minutes apart.

In the control scenario, the horses were walked to cool down and did not receive any water treatments.

 

The three water-cooling treatments: (A): lower body parts only, (B): upper body parts only, (C): lower and upper body parts. Image: Janczarek et al. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12040525
The three water-cooling treatments: (A): lower body parts only, (B): upper body parts only, (C): lower and upper body parts. Image: Janczarek et al. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12040525

Each cooling session lasted 30 seconds, with the water sponged on the upper body parts or, in the case of the legs, hosed on.

Their temperatures were taken five times: Before exercise immediately after, and 10, 20, and 30 minutes after effort.

The study team found that water cooling under the studied conditions did not influence the post-exercise decrease in the rectal temperature.

The decrease in body surface temperature depended on the method used to cool the horse. Cooling the limbs by using water several times was most effective at lowering the surface body temperature – and actually proved more efficient than the repeated application of cool water on both the upper and lower body parts.

“Thus, the application of cold water on the limbs only is sufficient for cooling the horse after medium-intensity exercise under moderate air temperature.

“To sum up,” they continued, “the body of the horse does not respond with surface temperature changes to a single post-effort water cooling.

“Although a single cooling session such as that performed in the experiment can be recognized as typically hygienic or relaxing, it cannot be suggested that it will affect thermoregulation.

“Thus, if both rider and horse are accustomed to washing the horse after riding, such treatment can be used, although it is unrelated to the cooling of the horse.

“To efficiently cool the horse after exercise, it is enough to pour cold water several times on the lower body parts only.

“For recreational horses, the application of cool water on the horse’s limbs three times after moderate effort seems to be sufficient to cool the horse down.”

Since the repeated use of water on the upper and lower body after moderate exercise appears less effective than water on the limbs only, repeated water cooling sessions applied to both the upper and lower body is not recommended after medium or low-intensity effort for leisure horses, they said.

The study team comprised Janczarek, Anna Wiśniewska, Ewelina Tkaczyk, Elżbieta Wnuk-Pawlak, Beata Kaczmarek, Marta Liss-Szczepanek and Witold Kędzierski.

Janczarek, I.; Wiśniewska, A.; Tkaczyk, E.; Wnuk-Pawlak, E.; Kaczmarek, B.; Liss-Szczepanek, M.; Kędzierski, W. Effect of Different Water Cooling Treatments on Changes in Rectal and Surface Body Temperature in Leisure Horses after Medium-Intensity Effort. Animals 2022, 12, 525. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12040525

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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