Horses are notoriously adept at finding trouble, and many riders have found their once-sound horse to have a limp and swelling. While your first thought is always a call to the vet, what should you do before your horse can be seen? The first line of defense for swelling is generally ice.

Should You Ice Your Horse’s Legs and Hooves

The short answer to this all-important question is yes, you should ice your horse’s legs and hooves! Veterinarians agree that within the first 24 to 48 hours of an injury, ice is the best treatment to reduce swelling and inflammation. The faster you can reduce swelling, the better the chance is of minimizing tissue damage and speed healing. We, humans, can attest to that, too: whenever there’s a bump or bruise, ice is best.

What are the benefits of icing your horse’s legs and hooves?

There are many benefits to icing your horse’s legs and hooves. In addition to stopping or slowing inflammation and swelling, it allows for medications to take effect and continue the work the ice is doing. In addition, other benefits include:

  • Decreasing blood flow to the affected area to potentially eliminate damage to the injured area;
  • Helps pain subside, which can also calm your horse;
  • Reduces heat
  • Slows bleeding

Icing is also a wonderful preventative method. Using ice boots regularly after riding can help to ease wear and tear on joints and ligaments.

How to Ice Horse's Legs

How to Ice Your Horse's Legs

The best method for icing your horse’s legs or hooves depends on the type of injury, as well as its location. Some areas work best with a rigid ice pack; others need icing that can curve around an injury. It also depends on what you have to ice your horse’s injury, whether you have buckets and bags for ice or equine icing products.

You can make an ice pack with a plastic baggie and ice and either hold the bag to the injury site or use some type of polo wrap or vet tape to hold it in place. This method really only works for injuries that don’t require long use, and you will need to remain with your horse to keep them calm and supervise them.

We recommend keeping ice bandages, wraps, or boots in your stable for icing. These items keep ice in place and the cooling centralized to the injury. Your horse is most likely used to seeing bandages and wraps so that they won’t be scary, and your horse will remain calm while you are treating them. Most of these types of icing boots and wraps have cooling agents that can be put in the freezer until ready for use, making them a convenient choice for icing.

How long should you ice your horse’s leg?

You should ice your horse’s legs for 5 to 15 minutes. Apply ice for about 5 minutes at a time for no more than ten to 15 minutes. Do this until the heat and swelling are visibly reduced.

How often should you ice your horse’s leg?

As a general rule, repeat icing your horse’s leg every four to six hours within the first day of the injury. Always check with your vet as well for their recommendation on how long to ice.

How to Ice Horse's Hooves

How to Ice Your Horse's Hooves

Icing your horse's hooves provides the same benefits as icing a leg, but how and how long are different. If you don’t have hoof wraps or boots, using a feed bucket with ice and water can be effective. However, this method is not as easy and requires complete supervision of your horse the entire time you are icing, and buckets are often not ideal for long periods of icing. The same goes for bags of ice: while it technically works, you still must keep your horse calm and supervised. We recommend adding icing hoof wraps or boots to your shopping list because these items effectively ice while keeping your horse comfortable.

How long should you ice your horse's hooves?

Your horse's hooves can be iced anywhere from 24 to 72 hours long. However, 15 minutes at a time throughout the day seems to do the trick. According to most vets, this amount of time helps with pain relief and reduces inflammation that can lead to bones rotating.

How often should you ice your horse's hooves?

While you should ask your vet how often to ice your horse's hooves, the hooves can be iced continuously throughout the 24 to 72 hours without a break.

The Best Ice Boots and Wraps for Horses

Timing is crucial when you need to ice legs and hooves, so having ice boots and wraps on hand just in case is important. There are several quality wraps and boots on the market, so add these to your supply list for the stable!

Dura-Tech Cooling Gel Leg and Hoof Wrap

Dura-Tech® Cooling Gel Leg & Hoof Wrap

Designed to flare at the bottom to cover the leg, hoof, and coronet band, the Dura-Tech® Cooling Gel Leg & Hoof Wrap is great for healing soft tissue injuries or for prevention after exercise. No ice is necessary, as the polyacrylate gel-filled sections stay cold for hours when applied directly from the freezer. These wraps were made to fit a wide range of horses comfortably. The gel-filled sections are quilted to conform to your horse's leg to deliver cool therapy evenly and comfortably.

Dura-Tech Evercool Leg and Hoof Wrap

Dura-Tech® Evercool Leg and Hoof Wrap

The Dura-Tech® Evercool Leg and Hoof Wrap gives instant cold therapy in an easy-to-use horse hoof wrap. This leg and hoof wrap stay colder for 50% longer than your regular gel-ice cooling wraps. It's flexible and conforming for your horse's comfort, and it stays cold for hours when applied directly from the freezer. It’s recommended for use in 20-minute intervals up to 3 times daily, as necessary.

Dura-Tech Stifle Ice Wrap

Dura-Tech® Stifle Ice Wraps

Dura-Tech® Stifle Ice Wraps are Made of a four-way stretch neoprene with a self-fastening hook and loop closure. Ice the stifles to reduce pain and inflammation due to strenuous training, strains, or arthritis. Flexible straps attach over the back to keep them from slipping down. Each stifle wrap comes with two gel ice bags to wrap the stifle that will not freeze solid and will mold to your horse's leg, applying cold therapy to the entire area of the stifle.

Dura-Tech Hoof Soaking Boot

Dura-Tech® Hoof Soaking Boot

The Dura-Tech® Full Leg and Hoof Soaking Boots are ideal for icing legs or soaking hooves easily and efficiently. Made with waterproof material with an inner lining that keeps the water from leaking, you can add ice or warm water as needed. A 5/8" thick foam footbed gives additional cushion under your horse's hooves. Fill up the leg and calf compartments with water or ice, then soak them.

Tips & Tricks for Icing Your Horse’s Legs and Hooves

  • Before you need to ice, it’s important your horse can withstand 20 minutes of ice as well as being able to wear boots. Make sure to introduce them to these items (you don’t have to ice as long as you would if your horse was injured, just enough so that they aren’t scared). Bring treats!

  • Don’t just ice and go: make sure ice is applied correctly and for the exact amount of time your vet suggests. Ice wraps used incorrectly or applied for too long can potentially damage the skin and underlying tissue, creating new problems.

  • When using ice, remember that the kind of ice matters. Crushed ice works best because it’s malleable (making the ice pack easier to conform to the injury), and it releases its cooling properties quickly. Frozen vegetables aren’t just for making great sides: they can double as an ice pack in a pinch! There is a direct line between digestive issues and laminitis: if your horse has suffered from food overload or unusual bowel movements, icing their hooves could ward over laminitis.

  • Even though there are recommended amounts of time to ice, it’s imperative to discuss any injuries with your vet. They could recommend longer or more frequent icing or less. Always follow their recommendations!

  • Use a cloth between the ice and the horse’s skin to protect tissue and dissipate cold. You also never want to put ice directly onto an open wound.

Icing your horse’s legs and hooves is a wonderful way to stop swelling and inflammation, as well as a useful preventative against injury and potential disease. Knowing how to ice and what you can use to ice with will make you a proactive horse owner and rider. Your horse will get better faster: meaning you and your horse will be back to your rides in no time.