You’ve just flown round inside the time at your first three day event, your amazing 4 legged best friend made it feel easy, ears pricked all the way. What better feeling is there?! Now you’ve got to look after your horse and help him recover from the rigours of the cross country. We’ve been talking to top 4* and Olympic groom Imogen Mercer to bring you the top tips on how to look after your horse after cross country.
“The first and most important thing to do is to cool your horse’s core body temperature down. At a three day event the washing off will happen in the finishing area where they usually have a water bowser and ice, sometimes even misting fans. Keeping the horse moving steadily is really important to help prevent the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles and walking your horse slowly but constantly can help to bring the heart rate down as well as bringing adrenalin levels down. Rapid cooling is key and the traditional method of repeatedly applying water then scraping off until the water comes off the horse cool is tried and trusted. However there is new research to suggest that repeatedly applying water and leaving it on could cool the horse more effectively, we await more research on this idea. Always be careful in the cool off area and be wary of other horses as they will be very wound up and even more unpredictable than normal!”
Ice Ice baby
“Quite often at a big event there will be a vet in the cool off area who will be monitoring the horses, taking their temperatures and their heart rates. When you are happy that you are making progress with cooling the horse down you should apply ice to the horse’s legs. The easiest and most effective way is to buy ice bags from the supermarket, fill them up and freeze them at home and then take them with you in a cool box or if you’re very fancy in the freezer in the horsebox! Wrap these in a damp jay cloth and secure them on the legs with the cross country boots you have just taken off. Apply ice for 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off to help cool the tendons. At this point I would offer the horse a drink, obviously you don’t want them to drink too much in one go but a small drink is fine. When you are washing the horse off look out for any cuts, grazes, lost shoes and any signs of stiffness or lameness.”
Heading back to the stables
“Once the vets are happy that they have recovered sufficiently and their heart rate has come down you can then make your way back to the stables. I would suggest taking the horse’s studs out before you leave the washing off area. Horses can be very ‘buzzy’ after the cross country and the last thing you need is for your horse to stand on himself on his way home. It’s also sensible to lead your horse back to the stable in a bridle if they are known to get excited or at least with a lunge line on a head collar. Once back at the stable I always have fresh water available and a fresh bed to encourage the horse to stale, drinking plenty of fluids and passing urine are essential to help the horse dilute and pass toxins from the body. I would also have a small amount of hay on the floor in the stable and let them get their heads down. Once the horse has had a few minutes in the box, I would give the horse a bath to get rid of any muck or grease and wash their tails ready for the trot up in the morning.”
“Once back at the stables I continue to ice the horse’s legs. I would also walk and graze the horse at regular intervals, it’s a fine balance between keeping the horse moving to help reduce stiffness and allowing the horse some rest. Look out for any lumps or areas of heat and ice accordingly, the stifles are a common area for horses to pick up a knock, ice them in the same way as the legs apart from you may have to hold the ice on the area for 20 minutes! After a good leg stretch it’s a good idea to trot your horse up to see how they are moving and check they are sound ready for the trot up in the morning. After the last time of icing the legs I like to let the horse rest and have some peace and quiet, tuck them up with their dinner and make sure they are warm and comfortable. They’ve still got a big day to come tomorrow…”
Amongst all these brilliant tips, make sure you find the time to praise your fantastic horse for being so amazing and you could even reward them with a SPILLERS treat that they surely deserve!