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The benefits of ice boots

8 March 2024 Written by VRC

Ice boots are an effective way of proactively preventing injury in racehorses and help to support recovery by maintaining and promoting healthy ligaments, tendons and joints in the legs.

Cold therapy is common among professional athletes, such as AFL footballers who routinely step into ice baths or head to the beach to ease aches and pains following a match.

Powerful and quick racehorses pounding the turf are no different; with ice frequently used in training and after racing to remove inflammation and accelerate healing.

What are ice boots?

Ice boots are cooling wraps strapped to a horse’s legs, which reduce inflammation and help prevent and treat ligament, soft tissue and tendon injuries.

Horses typically wear them for 20-30 minutes after a strong gallop.

“Horses are at their maximum potential [for injuries] when they’re at full gallop,” leading equine surgeon and veterinarian John Russell said.

“A lot of the time, you don’t even know they’ve had a sprain until a day or two later. Icing straight after a race takes down all the inflammation immediately and doesn’t allow that inflammatory response to take hold.”

How do ice boots work?

Essentially, cold therapy works by constricting blood vessels, which helps flush waste out of the area and reduces swelling and tissue damage.

In racehorses, applying ice boots to legs helps kick-start the natural healing process following intense and repetitive movements, and proactively prevent injury.

“Inflammation is the enemy at the end of the day,” Dr Russell said.

“We try as much as possible not to use medication [to reduce inflammation]. If you use them too much, too often or in high doses, it can actually be detrimental to a horse’s health.”

What injuries can ice boots prevent?

Dr Russell said ice boots work best in preventing tendonitis and tendon injuries.

When horses gallop, their tendons reach a critical temperature that over time can lead to significant damage.

“Horses’ tendons are almost at their functional limit when they gallop, so every gallop there’s a degree of this history. It’s just physics. You need to get straight onto it and remove that heat.”

What types of ice boots exist?

There are countless ice boots on the market.

At Flemington, the VRC first introduced vinyl ice boots – which are filled with cubed ice – but now also offers ones that are frozen and then wrapped around a horse’s legs.

Other varieties use ice gel to cool horses’ legs, while some trainers simply wrap horses’ legs in thick plastic bags and place them in buckets of ice and water.