You’ve done it! You’ve galloped through the finish flags on your cross-country round. Maybe that means your competition has finished and you’ll be waiting anxiously to find out your results. But maybe you still have your showjumping round to complete later that day, or the next day if you’re at a three-day event. No matter what stage of the competition you’re at, or what level you’re competing in, it’s very important to make sure that your horse is cooled down properly to ensure that your horse can recover from the exertions of cross country.
At the end of your cross-country course, there will be a cool-down area, where a team of vets will be waiting for you. Once you have dismounted your horse, a vet will perform a health check on your horse straight away. There are a few things that they are looking for during this assessment:
- Sweating – if your horse is covered in sweat, or has a sticky white foam on its neck, ribs or between its hind legs, then your horse is overheated and trying to cool down naturally.
- Heart Rate – a vet will take and record your horse’s heart rate to compare to follow-up checks.
- Body temperature – a vet may take and record your horse’s temperature.
It is to be expected that at the end of your cross-country round, your horse’s vital signs will be outside the normal range. The vets will check your horse every 5-10 minutes and you won’t be allowed to leave the cool-down area until they are satisfied that your horse’s vitals are returning to normal. There are several things you can do to help cool your horse down:
- Removing tack – If it’s possible, you can remove tack from your horse, including boots and saddle. You just have to remember that you will need to carry everything back to your float once you’re allowed to leave the cool-down area!
- Cold water bathing – This involves sponging, hosing, or pouring cold water over your horse continuously, concentrating on areas with large muscle groups or areas with high blood flow. These areas include the neck, shoulders, and rump. It is important to continually apply the water, with minimal breaks for scraping water off. In especially hot weather, you can put ice in the water which may help to speed up the cooling down process, or there may be cold misting fans set up by the event.
- Drinking – Make sure you offer your horse a drink of cold water as soon as practical. You can set aside a designated bucket that is only for your horse’s drinking supply.
- Walking – If cold water bathing is not needed or possible, you can keep your horse moving at a slow walk. This may help prevent ‘tying up’ by allowing the muscles to remove any lactate and relax.
Once you have been cleared to leave the cool-down area by the vets, you can return to your truck, float, or stable and finish cooling down your horse completely. You can take your horse to the wash bay and hose them down thoroughly and you can also apply ice boots, which may help to reduce any inflammation in the joints and soft tissue structures. You can also give your horse an electrolyte supplement such as Electro Paste or Recovery Aid Paste, which will encourage drinking and help replenish vitamins and minerals they have lost through sweating. Remember to make sure your horse always has access to fresh drinking water and take your horse for a walk and a pick of grass after your round.
Written by Emma H.