By Mark DePaolo, DVM

Therapeutic treatments and products often play an extremely important role in keeping your barrel horse in top condition. They can also help reduce the recovery time for certain injuries and be used as a preventative measure.

There are many approaches you can use at home and on the road to provide top-quality care. I cannot stress enough that if an injury occurs, you should consult an equine veterinarian immediately to determine how to proceed. A brief exam of reoccurring swelling, pain or mild lameness should also be performed by a veterinarian to help evaluate the best course of treatment.

Different therapeutic options will be available depending on the type and location of injury. The most common categories include:

  • Bone — fracture, splints, bruising, bucked shins, traumatic concussive force, laminitis
  • -Joint —OCD (osteochondritis dissecans), arthritis, inflammation, wind puffs, sprains/strains
  • -Muscle — soreness, strains/sprains/tears, hematoma, tying up
  • -Tendon/Ligament — bowed tendon, suspensory injuries, tears/sprains/strains

Physical therapy devices promote a cell’s natural ability to heal itself. The therapies listed here offer proactive options you can implement into a veterinary plan or use as a preventative method.

Ceramic Fabric

This non-invasive therapy is created by infusing ceramic particles in the fibers of the fabric. There are a variety of products to treat almost every area of the body: head caps, blankets, leg wraps, saddle pads, exercise boots and joint wraps. The most well-known brand is Back On Track.

The products work by radiating heat back towards the body. This increases blood circulation, which in turn provides oxygen and nutrients to the damaged soft tissue. This aids in healing and may speed up recovery time.

Issues like stocking up, wind puffs, scar tissue and stiffness can all benefit from the use of these products. Bone injuries, splints, and tendon/ligament damage should be treated with cold therapies for two to three days first. After that, ceramics can be introduced to promote healing.

It is extremely important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use and introduce the products gradually. It may take multiple uses before you see improvement, especially with long-term injuries.

I do not recommend using ceramic fabrics in extreme heat, especially while hauling and standing tied to trailers at events in the direct sunlight.


Therapeutic devices using static magnets are not only controversial but difficult to understand due to the different types and strengths of magnets. Some users favor unipolar magnets, while others favor bipolar designs. Some companies argue that placing magnets on acupuncture points will produce a greater effect, while other companies use an acupuncture meridian (line) to attempt to accomplish the same goal.

Magnetic therapy has been around for centuries. It is based on the fact that blood conducts electrically charged particles that react to magnetic fields. Blood vessels widen which increases circulation, creates muscle relaxation and reduces pain.

Increased blood flow not only provides more oxygen and nutrients, it allows for the removal of damaged cells and waste. The same types of injuries can benefit from this therapy as from the ceramic fabric products. Magnetic products are also good for prevention as increased blood flow can help prepare muscles, tendons and ligaments for exercise.

Magnet strength is measured in units called gauss. The natural magnetic field of the Earth is around 0.5-1, a refrigerator magnet is about 10 gauss, therapeutic magnets range from 200-2,500 gauss, and an MRI is over 10,000 gauss. There are several factors used in determining the efficacy of magnetic products. Make sure to buy products from a reputable manufacturer and follow their instructions for use.

Most blankets and wraps are made from heavy-duty mesh fabric, which allows the skin to be exposed to air—an absolute must in hot weather. It is also not recommended to exercise horses with high-gauss magnets under non-breathable fabrics. Don’t ever use magnets over an open wound.

Light Therapy

There are many names for devices that use light therapy to stimulate healing. You can find low level lasers, cold lasers, photon torches and a myriad of other uniquely named products used to describe phototherapy devices.

These products use wavelengths to stimulate tissue and blood cells to repair themselves. The energy of the light wave increases cellular activity. This will help provide pain relief, resolve inflammation and increase the quality of tissue repair. Unlike the two previous therapies, heat and circulation are not the primary catalyst for healing.

I prefer using an infrared LED torch or flashlight. Infrared light waves have the highest frequency (800-1000nm versus red light at 630-700nm) resulting in a deeper penetration into the tissues. This will provide relief for ailments of bones, joints, nerves and deep muscle tissue.

I also recommend treating wounds, cuts and scars with infrared light to speed healing. For sensitive horses who will not tolerate acupuncture needles, I use phototherapy on the acupuncture points.

Discuss treatment duration and locations with your veterinarian or alternative care professional. There are no adverse side effects to treating injuries with an infrared LED device. However, be careful to never look directly into the device or shine it in your horse’s eye.

Therapeutic Boots

Traditionally, hoof boots were for riding barefoot and soft-footed horses. The market has evolved to include gel orthotic boots for traveling, stalling and providing relief from injury/disease.

Therapeutic boots are designed to help absorb the vibrations during trailering, ease the discomfort when stalling on hard surfaces, and provides support for horses with leg or hoof ailments. The sole is made of non-skid material, so the boots can help provide traction on slick surfaces.

The cornerstone of the Soft Ride product is that it supports the frog, which stimulates blood circulation through the hoof. There are different densities of the orthotic inserts, so you can fine-tune your horse’s treatment.

The boots are handy when barefoot horses have to be tied up in gravel areas or on hot asphalt, like parking lots. They also provide temporary protection for the hoof when your horse loses a shoe.

Although there are several benefits and this is a great product to have on hand, a few concerns have been brought to my attention. Finding the correct size is imperative, as poor-fitting boots can turn around and rub at the coronet band. Avoid using the boots in turnouts with standing water or sand because these can become irritating when trapped inside.

Icing and Hydrotherapy

With all of the stress legs are put under to run barrels, the best way to reduce inflammation, cool tissues, and decrease trauma is with cold water or icing. This approach can also be helpful to alleviate pain and swelling after long hauls.

There are a variety of products you can use to achieve positive results: hosing, tubs of icy water to stand in, ice boots, whirlpool boots, dual action wraps like Game Ready and cold saltwater hydrotherapy. Treatment should last 20–35 minutes.

For injuries, icing is crucial during the first 48 hours and can greatly reduce the severity of soft tissue damage. Recovery time may be accelerated with these products, because swelling and inflammation are not allowed to create more damage to the injured area.

The drawbacks of this therapeutic approach is that most products can only treat the lower leg, and a few of the treatments require you to be present during the entire treatment. You have to choose what will work best for your horse and your budget. All categories of injuries can receive benefit from icing.


An ‘old school’ method for pulling heat and swelling out of legs overnight is with poultices. While they can be messy to apply on the leg, and let’s be honest, they don’t smell too great either, these products usually do a good job of relieving soreness. Look for products that contain the anti-inflammatory herb arnica.

A new line of products that look like a quilt of poultice packets is much easier and cleaner. Simply dip it in cold water, wrap it around the leg and put a pillow wrap over the top. In the morning, there isn’t any scrubbing needed to remove layers of poultice. STAYONS Poultice Wraps offers multiple blends of traditional poultice ingredients, which enables you to choose the right wrap for the problem at hand. Leg, knee, hock and hoof wraps are available.

This approach is great for minor bone issues (splints), as well as tendon, ligament and joint swelling and in the leg.

Hydrotherapy 2
Simply hosing down your horse’s body and legs is an easy way to help the muscles and soft tissue cool down and reduce body temperature after workouts. BHN file photo.

Cool Down and Rinsing

This is often the most overlooked part of an exercise regimen and a key way to prevent performance problems. A proper cool down will reduce heart and breathing rates, gradually cool body temperature, prevent pooling of blood in the extremities and allow the muscles to stretch and remove waste, such as lactic acid buildup, which causes soreness.

Abruptly stopping exercise followed by tying to a trailer, stalling or hauling may cause cramping, tying up and swollen legs. A 15-minute cool down period will prevent exhaustion and injury, as well as allow your horse to mentally relax.

In hot weather, it is best to cool out in a covered arena or shady area. In cold temperatures, use a fleece cooler to help keep your horse warm, prevent a chill and cool down slowly.

After strenuous training or competition, bathing is another way to help reduce body temperature and recover from hard exercise. Rinsing off sweat will not only allow your horse to feel better, but also decreases the chance of gall sores or fungal infection. This is a great time to check for any cuts or scrapes that may need attention.

Sponge baths with liniment, especially those products with the herb arnica, can be beneficial in soothing sore muscles. Liniment may also help reduce pain and inflammation in muscle tissue.

After bathing, or if bathing isn’t available, spraying a 50/50 mixture of rubbing alcohol and cold water will assist in cooling and drying. This is a great option if you want to leave an event shortly after competing.

In Conclusion

As you can see, many options for therapeutic approaches are available. If you want to include some of these products in your prevention or treatment regimens, be sure to research them thoroughly—don’t simply rely on forums or chat groups. Discuss options with your veterinarian, educate yourself on the differences existing between products, and always use caution and common sense with these therapies.

Remember to read and follow manufacturer’s instructions and be diligent in checking the equipment to make sure they aren’t too tight, loose or hot for your horse. Make sure to introduce new devices slowly and for short periods of time. I believe these therapies are a terrific complement to traditional treatments like joint injections, shockwave, PRP and IRAP.

About Mark DePaolo, DVM

Mark DePaolo, DVM, earned his veterinary degrees from Oregon State University and Washington State University in 1994. After working at two mixed-practice clinics, DePaolo decided to specialize in holistic equine healthcare. He furthered his education by learning equine chiropractic and acupuncture in order to open his own practice, All Star Equine. He graduated from Colorado State University’s acupuncture program in 2000.

Experience, innovation and a holistic approach to equine wellbeing have enabled DePaolo to become a leader in preventative and integrative veterinary medicine. A commitment to exceptional personalized care partnered with a genuine passion for providing a complete health care program drive his businesses.

In 2005, DePaolo’s passion in holistic equine health spurred him to create a new venture, DePaolo Equine Concepts, Inc. He recognized the need to combine both Western and Eastern approaches to medicine in order to create the best medicine. DePaolo is constantly striving to create new methods to address the many problematic issues people experience with their horses.

Looking to broaden the awareness of holistic equine medicine, DePaolo moved to Horse Country U.S.A. in the summer of 2011. Using Pilot Point, Texas, as his base of operations for both All Star Equine and DePaolo Equine Concepts, he strives to build long-term relationships with clients based on integrity, willingness to help each client understand their horses’ specific concerns, and using “common sense” approaches to equine health.


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