Whether your horse just finished an intense workout or has achy, arthritic joints, you might have considered adding liniment to their maintenance routine. Just like us, horses can experience sore muscles and joints, especially as they age, so it is important that we provide a full spectrum of care to help alleviate some of their pain. There are multiple types of liniment, depending on your horse’s needs or preferences, as well as several uses. That’s why we broke down everything you might need to know about liniment, so you can find the best option for your horse.

Understanding Horse Liniment

Understanding Horse Liniment

What is horse liniment?

Horse liniment is a topical pain reliever that reduces swelling, stiffness, and soreness by increasing circulation and blood flow to the applied muscle or joint. Some liniments can also be used as antiseptics, like for small cuts and scrapes, or to treat certain skin or hoof conditions. Bonus: most liniments have a nice, memorable smell! Veterinary-quality liniments are typically offered as gels, sprays, after-bath rinses, and shampoos. Depending on what you are applying liniment for, ensure you still check the labels and directions to prevent accidental burning or irritation for your horse.

Liniment Gels

Absorbine Liniment Gel

Gels are one of the most common forms of liniment as they allow you to easily squeeze the product onto your hands or directly onto your horse’s body. The Absorbine Liniment Gel is a staple in many riders’ tack boxes or first aid kits since it is a topical analgesic (pain reliever) with a soothing blend of natural herbs and oils.

Liniment Sprays

Farnam Vetrolin Liniment Equiveil 360 Sprayer

Sprays are another effective way to relieve soreness but offer even more coverage with less waste. The Farnam® Vetrolin® Liniment Equiveil™ 360° Sprayer is a barn favorite to cover large muscles while eliminating the need to get solution on your hands.

Liniment After-Bath Rinses

Vetrolin Liniment and Body Wash

If you are looking to provide cooling relief across your horse’s entire body, you can add an after-bath liniment rinse, like the revitalizing Vetrolin Liniment and Body Wash, to your post-ride agenda. By diluting this type of liniment, it can help cover every sore part of your horse, from their ankles and knees to their back and neck, perfect for a soothing effect after hard workouts.

Liniment Shampoos

Ultra Conditioning Liniment Shampoo

Similar to rinses, liniment shampoos are a convenient way to relax and soothe sore muscles during bath time. The Ultra® Conditioning Liniment Shampoo even removes stubborn stains and offers low-sudsing actions, which allow for an easy rinse out that doesn’t build up residue.

What are the active ingredients in horse liniment?

Equine liniments usually contain a variety of safe ingredients known for their soothing, warming, or cooling properties that promote circulation and muscle relaxation. Common ingredients found in liniments include:

  • Menthol: Provides a cooling sensation and helps relieve both muscle soreness and stiffness.

  • Camphor: Grants a warming effect, which can increase blood flow to treated areas.

  • Essential Oils: Such as eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint, are often incorporated for their aromatic properties and potential therapeutic benefits. They can also emit a pleasant scent and contribute to the overall soothing effect of liniments.

  • Alcohol: Generally used as a carrier for other ingredients, it helps to evaporate the liniment quickly on your horse’s skin, creating a cooling sensation.

  • Aloe Vera: Prevents liniment from drying out your horse’s skin due to its soothing and moisturizing properties.

  • Arnica: Is a natural anti-inflammatory ingredient that helps reduce swelling and bruising.

  • Witch Hazel: This possesses astringent properties and is frequently used to tone and refresh the skin.

  • Chamomile: Also helps make liniment soothing since it has calming and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Capsaicin: Is derived from chili peppers and is used in some liniments for its warming effect and ability to relieve pain. Be careful, though, if you plan to compete in certain shows. Capsaicin is a banned substance by the FEI/ USEF.

  • MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane): Is a naturally occurring sulfur compound, often featured in supplements, that supports joint health and reduces inflammation.

  • Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate): Can be added for its muscle-relaxing properties.

  • Glycerin: Retains moisture and can prevent liniment from drying out too quickly on your horse's skin.

  • Clove Oil: Might be added for its analgesic properties.

Keep in mind that the unique formulation of horse liniment can vary widely between products. Some liniments may contain additional or proprietary ingredients. When selecting the right one for your horse, consider their needs and any specific issues or sensitivities.

Likewise, you can patch-test each liniment product to ensure your horse does not experience an allergic reaction. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for application, and consult your veterinarian if you have concerns about ingredients or using a particular liniment on your horse.

When to Use Horse Liniment

When to Use Horse Liniment

Pre-Exercise Application

Some liniment gels and sprays can be applied before exercise. However, most products should not be used more than a few times a week, so double-check the directions to ensure you are not administering it incorrectly. If boots are placed on your horse’s legs directly after the liniment is rubbed or sprayed on, the liniment can heat up their legs rather than keep them cool. When applied appropriately, liniment can prevent muscle strains while improving blood circulation, acting as a preventative measure against soreness and injury.

Post-Exercise Recovery

Liniment is most often used as a post-ride treatment to alleviate joint and muscle soreness. If your horse endured a strenuous workout at home, a show, or a long trail ride, liniment is essential to draw heat out, reducing swelling, muscle aches, and stiffness.

Injury Management

Some liniments can offer pain relief if your horse has a minor injury, like a light sprain or bruise. The key to many small injuries is increasing blood flow. In turn, heat and inflammation can then subside, which minimizes pain in the process. Similarly, minor fungal and bacterial conditions on your horse’s skin or hooves can be treated with liniment. If you are unsure about a certain product’s directions or usage, verify with your veterinarian whether liniment is a good choice to treat your horse’s injury. For serious injuries, always discuss with your vet an optimal treatment plan.

How to Apply Liniment to Your Horse

How to Apply Liniment to Your Horse

Choosing the right product

Every horse has different needs when it comes to their regular care. If your horse’s joints are older and arthritic, a gel or spray would soothe them, especially after a strenuous workout or even a long day out in the pasture. If your horse just finished a stressful ride on an extra hot day, a liniment rinse or shampoo would be the perfect option to cool them down and decrease overall muscle soreness.

Remember that warming formulas are suitable for alleviating sore muscles and stiff joints, while cooling formulas are better for relieving pain during acute flare-ups of heat and swelling, which is most helpful after hard workouts, especially on hot days.

Proper application techniques

If you apply a gel liniment, simply squeeze some of the product directly onto the affected area of your horse or your hands. You won’t need to apply the product onto your hands for sprays to get started. Gently massage the gel or spray into your horse’s skin, paying attention to their expressions and ensuring they enjoy the treatment. If you administer liniment to your horse’s legs, rub up and down and side-to-side, massaging past the hair. Depending on the product, you can place breathable wraps around your horse’s legs to make the most of your liniment.

For liniment rinses and shampoos, dilute the solution with water according to the product label during bath time. You can give your horse another full-body massage using your hands or a sponge to work the liniment fully into your horse’s skin. Simply hose your horse off when done, and they are ready to go.

Safety precations

It is always safest to apply liniment wearing gloves, preventing your skin from growing irritated. Some products are safe on human skin, but check the label to ensure that not every liniment is identical. Also, avoid contact with sensitive areas of your horse when massaging liniment into their skin, such as open wounds or their eyes, nose, or mucous membranes.

Why Use Horse Liniment

Why Use Horse Liniment

Improved Circulation and Muscle Relaxation

Liniment promotes blood flow and muscle relaxation by penetrating the soft tissues of your horse’s skin. It opens up pores and capillaries, which allows blood to flow more freely to the muscle as basic nutrients are delivered. At the same time, fatigue acids aiding muscle soreness are eliminated. As a result of increased blood flow, natural healing can occur, and your horse’s muscles can finally relax.

For some horses, sore, achy muscles that are left untreated can lead to long-term pain and even lameness. The small act of administering liniment several times a week can work wonders to help your horse feel and perform their best.

Pain Relief and Comfort

Since liniment ultimately helps to boost blood flow, which allows your horse to use their own healing abilities, pain from minor aches and stiffness is relieved in the process. The more blood flow that can occur in your horse’s muscles = the more comfortable your horse will feel.

Many riders notice a positive change in their horse’s demeanor as well. Like humans, most horses will feel happier when their level of pain and discomfort is reduced. From swollen knees to arthritic legs to sensitive backs, various forms of liniment are known for a soothing effect.

Holistic Care and Bonding

Furthermore, administering liniment can be a true bonding experience between you and your horse. After all, healthy horses are often happy horses, and your horse will appreciate the extra time you take to care for them. Massaging liniment onto your horse’s muscles grants you the opportunity to discover their pain points and how to relieve that discomfort. Some horses will quickly learn to look forward to their liniment sessions, which also helps strengthen the partnership with their caring rider.

Remember to always read the label and directions of liniment products to ensure you are not misusing the treatment. Quality liniment is a fantastic method to alleviate your horse’s joint and muscle aches, especially after major workouts. Not only will liniment help manage your horse’s pain, but your horse will appreciate the extra mile in ensuring they feel their absolute best. As a result, your horse will surely thank you, and they’ll be ready to hit the trails or head to the next show in no time!