Poultice has been in use by people for thousands of years, since at least Egyptian times.
In relation to equines, poultice has two basic functions. The first is its common use as a treatment for soreness and inflammation on a horse’s legs. It is applied to the portion of the leg below the knee after strenuous activities like cross-country runs or long days of work. Intense bouts of exercise can cause the tendons in the legs to become excessively hot or swollen, opening the door to injury. Poultice, generally a moist clay of some kind or a combination of Epsom salts and medicinal fluids, draws extra heat and fluid from the muscles and ligaments along the cannon bone. Over a period of time, the poultice lessens tension in the legs. It is used increasingly as a precautionary method to avoid serious damage to this vital region of the body, particularly at race tracks training facilities.
“It’s part of the regular daily routine for every horse that is exercised beyond a light workout,” said Craig Schmersal, winner of a gold medal in the 2002 World Equestrian Games, to HorseChannel.com.
Poultice’s second function is to drain the fluid from abscesses on the underside of the hoof. An abscess forms when harmful bacteria invades the sensitive areas of the foot and causes pain. The affected area has purulent material, much like the pus on a pimple, that needs to be removed so the foot can heal. An abscess can burst on its own, or its source within the hoof can be vented for drainage by a veterinarian. Poultice can then be applied to suck the infection from the wound and prevent further contamination.
Things to keep in mind before poultice application
“Following exercise, the horse’s legs should be reexamined once its respiratory rate normalizes.”
Horses of all shapes, sizes, breeds and disciplines can benefit from the use of poultices for the preventative and counteractive reasons given above. However, it may be difficult for an owner or trainer to know if there is an issue if they are not familiar with their horse in the first place. It is important that these individuals take into account the conditions of the equine’s legs before exercise. This can allow them to recognize any potential abnormalities or injuries following intense activity. Each horse is different and will have its own set of genetic dispositions and previous history of work and injuries that should be considered.
Equus Magazine recommended caretakers find the time to explore every part of a horse’s four lower legs. The contours of the knees, hocks and fetlocks should be glossed over. The muscle and tendons beneath the skin should be felt by pinching the fingers slightly together as they are run down the back of the leg. Any bump, knob, bald spot, scar, softness in a joint or other imperfection should be investigated and noted, possibly even written down for later reference. These could be markings of prior health issues that have since healed; normal irregularities not worthy of concern if the horse is sound.
Following exercise, the horse’s legs should be reexamined once its respiratory rate normalizes. Keep an eye, and a hand, out for any abnormalities such as a soft spot on a joint, a warm spot along a coronary band or a change tendon thickness.
If something odd is detected, stand back and watch the horse walk or do a light jog. Look for any stiffness, limping or general lameness. Consider if there are any obvious causes behind the oddities – things like working in split boots during the summer will inevitably cause a horse’s legs to heat up.
Keep a note of any and all anomalies and recheck them in an hour. If they still persist, the conditions may warrant a call to a veterinarian. Even if the horse appears sound at this point, the symptoms could be the beginning of a more severe injury.Take the professional advice of the veterinarian in these circumstances. However, he or she may inform you that administering a regular treatment of poultice for a few days is the only remedy necessary.
Equine skin is eight to 10 times more sensitive than human skin, which means they feel the effects of inflammation and injuries like abscesses more than you might. Finish Line’s Kool-Out™ Poultice is made with kaolin clay and designed specifically for sensitive horses. It is mild enough for everyday usage and is perfect for minor cuts or cooling down inflamed ligaments after exercise.
There are a number of steps caretakers should employ when applying poultice to the tendons on the cannon bone. They should first gather the necessary materials, which include:
- Poultice clay
- A bucket of water
- Poultice paper, newspaper or another thin paper, or plastic bag of any sort
- Bandages or cotton sheet
- Bandage wraps
- Tape, safety pins or another type of fastener
- Gloves, if desired
It is recommended that these items be kept within arm’s reach while working on the foot.
Take the following steps (as shown in a video from Finish Line):
- Tie the horse’s tail when working on rear legs so it does not get in the way. Be sure not to sit too far away from the horse’s rear. If it decides to kick, the closer you are to its knee, the less exposed you are to accidental injury. It may also help to have another person present during the application process to keep the horse calm.
- Clean the legs thoroughly with castile soap or other non-medicated cleanser.
- Using gloves or bare hands, apply poultice evenly to affected area in a layer 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Coat the leg up the bottom of the knee and the top of the hoof. It is not recommended that the material be applied to the heels or behind the knees.
- Wash poultice from the hands in bucket of water, or remove gloves.
- Prepare manufactured or homemade poultice paper. If making your own, use water to moisten the thin sheets of paper or plastic you collected. Manufactured poultice paper should already be wet. Wrap this layer of material fully around the poultice sections. Be careful to avoid too much overlap or too many wrinkles.
- Apply the bandage. Do not wrap the bandage too tightly around the leg. This may cause injury to tendons and possible circulation problems. However, bandages that are too loose may unwrap and tangle in the horse’s legs causing it to panic and risk injury.
- Secure bandage with bandage wraps. Start wrap in the center of the bone then move downward to the hoof. Come back up to the middle then wrap the top of the leg portion before ending in the wrap’s point of origin. Exert caution applying tightness. Fasten wraps with tape, safety pins or another type of adherent.
- Leave the bandage on overnight.
As the poultice removes heat and fluid from the leg, the clay will dry into a chalky crust. If the clay is still wet the next day, there was no excessive heat or liquid in the leg (which is ultimately a good thing.)
To remove dry poultice, take the following steps:
- Use grooming gloves or strong brush to scrape away any stable shavings or dirt from the outermost portion of the wrapping, especially if the wrapping will be reused.
- Remove bandages and wraps to expose poultice leg.
- Use grooming gloves or brush to thoroughly rub clay away using a downward motion. Utilizing a single finger at a time will allow you to get between individual tendons for more precise cleaning.
- Rinse off with cold water.
Applying poultice to the hoof for abscesses is a simple process, as shown by Evention TV. First, gather the necessary materials and keep them close by.
- Duct tape
- Poultice clay
- Cotton sheet or a baby diaper
- Bandage wrapping
- Hook pick
- Gloves, if desired
Then, follow the steps below:
- Clean the hoof thoroughly with hoof pick, ensuring it is also dry.
- Fill the frog as much as possible with poultice packing. Try to keep the hoof flat by either resting it on your bent leg or by requesting the help of another person.
- Cover the hoof in sheet cotton or wrap it with a diaper. A diaper can cover the entire foot and its fasteners do well to keep it in place.
- Apply bandage wraps to the foot. Ensure entire foot is wrapped taught but not too tight.
- Use duct tape to keep the materials in place and protect the foot from contamination. It is possible to wrap the tape around the hoof using individual strips. Another option is to create a large patchwork of tape strips before beginning the poultice process and keeping it nearby. Place the tape collection beneath the foot before enclosing the remainder of the tape around the upper hoof.
- Cut excess material off the upper portion of tape to prevent it from touching the skin or coming undone.
- Do not leave packing in for more than 24 hours.
Any bout of exercise, whether intense of light, can stress a horse’s legs in a way owners and trainers may not expect. It is wise to keep the materials necessary for poulticing nearby at all times to help keep an equine safe from leg trauma or nurse it back to full health if is hurt following an abscess.
WATCH How To Apply Poultice in the video below: