Did you know that hosing a horse down correctly can help recovery time and reduce muscle and tendon problems?
Exercising horses are hot horses. Horses' muscle produces forty times more heat at racing speed than at rest. Temperatures inside a hard-working muscle can get above 46 degrees. At these temperatures the muscle and particularly tendons can become damaged. Horses rely on evaporation of fluids from their skin for cooling. We can help this cooling process by hosing the horse with cool to cold water. The water should be applied all over its body but especially over the big heat generating muscles on the rump and the back. Do not scrape the water off between hosing sessions as this reduces the amount of water available to evaporate off the horse's skin. Hosing with a continuous wetting spray of cold water (like heavy rain) is far more effective than hosing for a short time and scraping the water off. Once the horse has begun to cool down it is important to keep walking the horse. This increases the flow of blood from the cool skin to the hot muscles. Walking a horse for ten to fifteen minutes after racing will also increase the movement of lactic acid from the muscles into the blood stream. This will help the horse make a faster recovery. In hot and/or humid conditions you might need to repeat the hosing and walking cycle several times before the horse's temperature comes down to safe levels.
Hosing and scraping then leaving a still hot horse to stand in a stall can result in the horse becoming even hotter again because the deep muscles are still generating heat. I would like to see more horses being walked for ten to fifteen minutes post-race to optimise their recovery before they are returned to their stall.
Avoid squirting water into horses' eyes and ears. Use the hose at low pressure or even use a wet towel to wash around these important areas. Horses can have dirt flicked up into and around their eyes when racing. The horse's eye has very efficient mechanisms for flushing these contaminants out of their eyes but only if the dirt remains on the surface of the eye. If you hose the eye too hard the contaminants can be pushed further into the eye where the horse's natural cleaning mechanisms cannot reach them. This can result in sight threatening infection. Water in a horse's ears can also result in infection.
A horse that has cooled down adequately will be breathing slowly and regularly. Its heart rate will be less than 80 beats per minute. Rectal temperature will be below 40 degrees and dropping. In dry hot conditions it is acceptable to leave a horse wet in the stalls but doing so in humid conditions can lead to skin infections (such as ring worm and greasy heel). Obviously putting rugs on a wet horse also increases the changes of skin infections. Drying a horse thoroughly in cold conditions is important to prevent chilling. While most horses will not require any rugs or sheets in the period immediately post- race as they stop moisture evaporating from the skin of the horse, this is not the case in very cold weather. Wet horses can become chilled quite quickly which can also lead to muscle soreness and poorer recoveries.