by Miriam Altman, M.S.
Those of us who compete in equine sports understand that a good, competitive horse is a top level athlete; they are subjected to the same strains, sprains, tight muscles, sore backs and overall discomfort as their human counterparts. To keep our horses feeling their best, we often incorporate (or at least try) all remedies available—from joint injections to liniments and poultices. But, when it comes to topicals, do you know what they are really doing?
Liniments have been around for a long time and are well-accepted within the equine world. They have cooling properties which help to relieve inflammation, aches, pains and stiffness. Traditionally, they have been formulated with alcohol which provides rapid, evaporative cooling on the surface of the skin. Counterirritant oils are added to provide vasodilatation (dilation of the blood vessels) which increases the amount of blood available to be cooled.
But have you ever taken the time to read the ingredients label? Liniments that contain counterirritant oils such as menthol (menthyls), capsaicin, chloroxylenol, and camphor (which is actually flammable) do exactly what they are meant to do.... they irritate the skin. This can cause burning of the skin severe enough to cause blistering and sloughing. If you’re using these, do not apply them before you ride or under anything that may cause friction, like your saddle. Only use these after workouts when you don't have any equipment on and use caution on how much you apply.
Look for a liniment like Sore No-More that is completely herbal, doesn’t have synthetic ingredients, and doesn’t contain any counterirritant oils. Instead, Sore No-More relies on the natural cooling and vasodilating compounds found in herbs. Sore No-More has more versatility and is safer than traditional liniments; since it won't irritate the horse's skin, you can apply it before workouts to help loosen and relax muscles, which helps prevent injuries. Horses that have liniments without counterirritants applied before riding greatly benefit from looser muscles, quicker warm-ups, and improved attitude through workouts.
You can also put Sore No-More under any equipment and saddles with no concern of burning horse’s skin by creating friction with counterirritants. You can leave it on under or pair it with therapies such as ceramics, ice therapies, magnetic, etc. You can leave it on overnight and you don't have to be as cautious with the amount you apply. If you feel like slathering it on, go for it. My liniment line of choice is Sore No-More Performance liniment and Gelotion to more easily target specific areas. If I have a horse needing extra help, I use Sore No-More Performance Ultra.
Poultices that are "medicated" also include counterirritants. Poultices that contain herbal ingredients instead of counterirritant can be applied to the skin longer than medicated poultices but with similar anti-inflammatory properties. Because when using medicated poultices you can run into skin burning risks, don’t leave medicated poultices on longer than eight to twelve hours, even without a standing wrap.
Again pick a poultice without counterirritant oils or synthetic ingredients. Good poultices apply very easily and should be very creamy and smooth. Poorly formulated poultices are often lumpy and gritty. The right consistency is key to a good application and you can use less with the same efficacy. Look for really fine clay; they clean off more easily and can be brushed or rinsed off quickly. For these reasons, again I use Sore No-More poultices; typically the Classic but I use the Performance Ultra on injuries.