You Saw the Signs...Now What?
Racehorse guru Chuck Karlin discusses how, when, and why to mud or sweat wrap a horse.
By Chuck Karlin with Danika Kent
In last month’s blog, we talked about how to check for heat and swelling in a horse’s legs, which should be done first thing in the morning, before he’s up and moving around for the day. If you notice such a change, that’s a hint of something that could turn into a bigger problem if it’s not alleviated, and there are some really simple ways to do just that.
Let me say that we’re not talking about an injury; we’re talking about a day-to-day basis, like when you run your horse one night and the next morning, there’s a little extra fluid in the ankle. If your horse is showing any kind of lameness, major swelling or heat, it’s time to check with your vet. If you go out there in the morning and he’s eating like he always eats, standing like he always stands, and moving like he always moves but you feel a little heat or filling, that’s just time for maintenance.
Any time I find heat, I use ice first to slow down the swelling. When there is any kind of trauma to the legs, the body automatically says, “Send circulation. Send circulation. Send circulation.” The body is trying to help it, but you don’t want excess circulation because then you get a buildup of blood in a tendon or excess fluid in the joint. So, you slow that down first by icing for 20 minutes, and then you apply heat to start circulating inflammation out of there.
Whether you mud a horse’s leg or sweat it is up to you. Mudding, or poulticing, will draw heat. Sweating will increase circulation and add heat, and when you pull the bandages off, you pull the heat away.
There are all kinds of fancy, expensive poultices out there, but personally when it comes to mudding, I prefer bentonite. It’s a powdered mud. You put it in a bucket, add water, Epsom salt, and vinegar, and it’s good for drawing heat and inflammation.
How to mud a horse’s leg:
1. Wet the leg.
2. Apply your mud or poultice of choice. Use a generous amount; don’t just cover the hair.
3. Wrap with wet, brown paper, like from a paper bag, or wet paper towels. That will hold the moisture, and as it pulls the heat, it will dry and fall off.
4. Wash the dried mud off with a hose and re-check in the morning.
For sweating, many people use DMSO and Furazone. DMSO is a penetrating agent. It’s got some healing agents as well, but that’s when it’s in its purest, injectable form—not as much when it’s rubbed on. We used to get DMSO in 55-gallon drums for nothing in Arkansas at a lumberyard—it’s a by-product of pine wood—but that was before they found out the healing properties of it. Pure, 99 percent DMSO freezes at 55 degrees, so if you have a jar of DMSO sitting someplace and it’s 54 degrees, it better be starting to crystalize, or it’s not pure DMSO. I’ve used the gel, and I think it’s got some good properties, but keep in mind that whatever is mixed in with it is penetrating into the bloodstream. I prefer to use 99 percent. Furazone has a lot of good properties to it as well, and people have used it for sweat for years.
How to apply a sweat wrap:
1. Apply the sweat to the area of concern.
2. Cover it in wet, brown paper.
3. Wrap with quilted cotton.
4. Seal with Saran wrap. It’s common to put the Saran wrap on directly over the sweat, but you want to put it on the outside of the cotton because while Saran wrap in a sheet is very pliable, when you bunch it up, it’s as strong as wire and you can cut off the circulation when the horse lies down or the bandage slips, and you run the risk of tearing up tendons and ligaments that way.
5. Apply your bandage. If it’s a knee you’re working on, don’t bandage with anything that’s not elastic, because when the horse lies down or flexes his knee, he’s going to cut off the circulation.
Remember, if you sweat a horse’s leg and leave it on overnight, there’s going to be heat there when you take it off in the morning. A lot of people, when they come home at night, unload and do a horse up, and that’s fine because it pulls heat away from the leg, but when they check the leg the next morning, there’s going to be heat there because it’s been done up all night. So if there is no problem when you get home at night, just leave them alone. The next morning, the horse will show you if there’s anything taking place that you need to pay attention to. If you’re going to do one up, do it during the day and pull it off at night so the leg has a chance to cool and see where it stands the next day.
If you stay on top of checking your horse’s legs on a day-to-day basis, a little bit of maintenance will go a long way. Any time we use a horse, we’re doing something to them. You can’t put them in a glass bubble. When a racehorse is born, there are only so many races in there. Like anything else the Good Lord does, each horse was given so many races, so use those races appropriately.
Racetrack Remedy No. 1: Bentonite Mud
1 pint vinegar
1/2 gal. Epsom salt
Bentonite powder (typically comes in 50-pound bags)
Fill half a 5-gallon pail with bentonite powder. Add Epsom salt and vinegar. Add water to get the consistency of mud desired.
Meet Chuck Karlin
Thoroughbred trainer Chuck Karlin has spent the majority of his 70 years on racetracks across the United States, developing a discerning eye from studying thousands of horses. He got his first job at the age of 5, working under his grandfather, Marion Van Berg, and as an adult worked for his uncle, Jack Van Berg, both legendary Racing Hall of Fame trainers and Karlin’s lifelong mentors. He now resides in Haughton, Louisiana, with his wife, Koleen, and can often be found at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City.
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