If your horse has a leg problem such as a splint, bowed tendon, or suspensory ligament injury your veterinarian may suggest that you cold hose the area. Cold hosing, a simple form of hydrotherapy, isn't difficult. The only challenge might be keeping your horse still, especially if stall rest has also been suggested. Here is why cold hosing is done, what it does and how to go about it.
What Cold Hosing Does and When It's Used
When body tissue becomes injured, the body sends various fluids, including blood and lymph carrying healing white blood cells and other healing components, to help heal the area. This the body's natural defense. However, it's not unusual for this defense to go a bit overboard. Too much blood causes the area to heat up, and lymph builds up causing swelling. This can cause further injury to the area and complicate healing.
So, cold hosing is used when there is any inflamed soft tissue in the legs such as when your horse first 'pops' a splint, bows a tendon or strains a ligament. It can also be used on horses whose legs swell or "stock up" up after standing in a stall or on a trailer. In some cases, a veterinarian will also recommend cold hosing areas that have been cut or lacerated.
Cold hosing is felt to draw the heat out of the tissues, reduce excess blood flow, reduce swelling and bleeding, and temporarily relieve pain. Because the running water is gently massaging the area at a constant temperature, it won't be warmed up by the body as cold or ice packs would.
Straight out of the well, the water on our hobby farm was 52 degrees F or 13 degrees C, cold enough to make you gasp when the swimming pool was first filled. That's well below a horse's body temperature too. So the area you are cold hosing will be consistently cooled at that (or a similar temperature) for the duration of the procedure.
How to Cold Hose Your Horse's Legs
Cold hosing is simple, as long as your horse stands still. Run water from a garden hose over the injured area for twenty minutes. The trick, however, is to get some horses to stand quietly as the water runs down their legs for that length of time. That's where good ground manners come in and teaching your horse to stand for a bath.
The best strategy with an antsy horse, however, is to start hosing low on the leg. This prevents the sensation of chilly water running down a warm leg, which can tickle and be upsetting for some horses. If you're cold hosing a fetlock or pastern area, you don't need to work your way up any further. However, if you're cold hosing a splint, knee or hock, you may need to work your way up the leg gradually. You might find that this will be a two-person job, one to hold the horse and another to aim the hose. You'll then let the cold water run on the area for about twenty minutes.
It may be tempting to do a 'really good job' and cold hose much longer, but this may be counterproductive. If you live in a location where the winters are cold, you're probably familiar with getting cold hands that become slightly swollen, red and stingingly painful as they warm up. Over-cooling your horse's leg may result in a similar reaction as the horse's body attempts to warm up the over-cooled area. This reaction may slow healing and increase swelling.
How Often to Cold Hose Your Horse's Legs
You may be cold hosing twice daily, once a day, or every other day, depending on your veterinarian's advice. If stocking up is the problem, there shouldn't be a problem cold hosing daily.
Cold hosing shouldn't be used on open wounds until the veterinarian gives you the go-ahead, especially if there is excessive bleeding. Cuts may need to be stitched before cold hosing can be started. If you are unsure whether you should cold hose an injury, your veterinarian can give you the best advice.