A Smooth Cool Down: The Secret to a Healthy and Happy Horse

For the equestrian enthusiasts among us, the wellbeing of our beautiful beasts is paramount. A key aspect of this is cooling down your horse after riding. This may seem like an elementary aspect of horse care we've known since we were pony-jockeying youngsters, but it's easy to overlook the complexities and importance of these calming moments.

Stretch, Chill, and Relax!

Firstly, cooling down is essential for the physiological well-being of your equestrian friend. As chartered physiotherapist, Rachel Greetham, who’s been the British team’s dressage and showjumping specialist physiotherapist since 2017 explains, “Cooling down reduces both heart and respiratory rates as well as the core temperature and the temperature within the muscles. This helps to remove metabolic waste, such as lactic acid, preventing muscle soreness and pain. Muscles can recover better with lactic acid removed, increasing your horse's performance for the next day.

But it's not just about purging waste. A thorough cool down also leaves your horse supple and ready for the next ride. Muscle contractions and shortening occur during exercise, and a cool-down stretch can restore their length, maintain flexibility and prevent injury. A relaxed horse is a happy horse, and a good cool down should leave your horse both physically and mentally relaxed.

Good, Better, Rest

The length of your horse’s cool down should depend on how hard they've worked. The essential outcome is to reduce the respiratory rate, promote obvious relaxation and mental "switch-off." If your horse seems tense - just check their ears for evidence!

But a good cool down isn't just achieved by simply walking in large circles. To encourage muscle recovery and flexibility, add in some serpentines and other exercises that ask your horse to bend around the inside leg in a long, low outline. This can even continue after you dismount, with limb or spinal stretches to help reduce muscle soreness.

Going to Extremes

Conditions also affect how we should cool down our horses. For instance, in colder months, an exercise sheet during cool down can prevent the muscles from getting too cold. Conversely, during summer, washing your horse off with cold water can help cool their body temperature. "The colder the water, the more heat you draw out" says Rachel.

In sum, cooling down your horse after riding isn’t just an optional extra, it’s a necessary post-exercise recovery process which can improve your horse’s future performance and overall health. From physiological to psychological benefits, next time give your trusty steed the cool-down they deserve. Who knows, they may just return the favor with a flawless dressage performance or a clean showjumping round!

Source: Horse & Hound, "We spoke to the British team’s equine physio about cooling down your horse after riding – here’s what you need to know", 2024. https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/features/cooldown-your-horse-after-riding-694746