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Horse Liniment: How Equine Liniments Can Benefit Your Horse

By Jeffrey Rolo

It can be easy to place horse liniment into the same category as the infamous snake oil of centuries past, but the reality is modern horse liniments, while not cure-alls, can be very effective in lessening inflammation, aiding in the cool-down of an overheated horse, or providing pain relief. Before we explore some of the popular brands, let's talk about the various types of horse liniments and how each should be used.

How They Work

Horse liniments are very effective at combating pain and swelling because they improve the blood flow to the area in which it is applied. When a horse overexerts itself, toxic wastes in the form of lactic acid builds up in an area, causing muscle soreness and stiffness. Blood carries these wastes away, which is why over time our soreness eases after a hearty workout. Since horse liniment accelerates this flow, you can dramatically cut down the soreness duration, if not prevent soreness from imbedding itself entirely.

This same blood flow also combats swelling by promoting the repair of tissue.

When used to suppress pain and soreness, or to combat swelling, there are two ways you can go about the process:

  1. You can apply the liniment to the horse's back, legs or other problematic regions and then give those areas a thorough rubdown. Rub the liniment deeply into the skin and let it work its magic.

  2. For more serious cases, you can apply horse liniment to the problem areas and then wrap the areas tightly. The liniment in those areas will cause warmth and increased blood flow, providing relief to your horse.

Liniment also has another use: a post-exercise cool down. Dilute the liniment with water and use it as a bath. Since most horse liniments contain quick-evaporating ingredients such as alcohol, this evaporation aids in the cooling process, similarly to how the evaporation of sweat or watery mist cools us down. In addition to the evaporation process, the oils in liniments that promote blood flow will also assist in cooling a horse down, because when our skin becomes heated our capillaries begin to dilate in an effort to cool us down. (This is why skin can redden when overheated.)

If using horse liniment solely as a cooling agent, don't rub it in deeply or wrap the liniment. Just wash the horse down in the diluted bath mixture, let it stand for a bit, then rinse. If you believe the exertion was significant enough to cause future soreness, consider a quick bath first and then perform a non-diluted wrap.

Horse liniment is also very effective as a pre-exercise warm-up agent. You're probably aware of the fact that before we perform a strenuous exercise or action we should first warm up by walking or stretching basically get the blood flowing and your muscles prepared for what's to come. The same holds true for horses, of course.

A healthy horse really doesn't need equine liniment to warm them up a gentle walk for a while before kicking things into high gear is typically enough. But if your horse is arthritic, sore or swollen and you must exercise him, performing a liniment wrap before the exercise can greatly improve their comfort during the session ahead.

I don't recommend working unfit horses to the point of significant muscle soreness, stiffness or pain, but if a rigorous exercise session does occur, you'll find horse liniment to be a horse's best friend (whether they realize it or not!). If you own an elderly horse that is suffering from equine arthritis, I also strongly recommend you give liniment a try it may increase their quality of life significantly.

But before running off to the store and picking up the first horse liniment you see, be sure to read our follow-up article that explains the types of horse liniments available, and which are ideal for your horse's situation.

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