Part 2: How can we manage recovery?

Recovery - Part 2

How can we manage recovery?

In part 1 of our recovery blog on how and why we should monitor recovery, we highlighted that recovery can be a key indicator of how well the horse is responding to workload so that training and after care can be adapted accordingly. We also discussed that ultimately, a fit and healthy horse should have a quick recovery. With this in mind, anything we can do to speed up the recovery and reduce exercise stress immediately after exercise can benefit the horse. In Part 2, we summarise the options available and share the research behind them.


As a horse exercising for one hour loses twice as much water, sodium and chlorides than a horse spending the whole day resting [3], it is important to replace these fluids and salts in either a paste, powder or within water and feed [3]. After exercise, the horse should have access to clean water with or without added electrolytes, although the addition of isotonic glucose-electrolytes has shown to help horses overcome dehydration significantly more quickly than when provided with plain water [2]. Whichever you chose, it is recommended that this is never just used on competition day but as part of the training and recovery routine leading up to the event so that the horse’s is accustomed to it [1]. Electrolytes required can also differ in relation to discipline according to Dr Noreen Picken. To learn more about the optimal electrolyte solution for your horse and their work, read here


In addition to electrolyte consumption, equine nutritionists highlight two other components of nutrition that should be addressed during recovery: muscle glycogen replenishment and muscle repair [1]. Unlike humans, horses do not experience rapid glycogen resynthesis when consuming a high carbohydrate ration following exercise however, rations high in soluble carbohydrates have proven more effective than those with high fat [1]. For more information on the different diet options for recovery, visit the Kentucky Equine Research centreOnce again, whatever you decide to feed, this should be a regular post-exercise feeding practice and not just used on the day of competition as the horse’s stomach will not be accustomed to a new feed and could result in gastric irritation and colic. 

In addition to feeding for glycogen repletion, hydrating the horse sufficiently has also been known to have a moderate positive effect on repletion of muscle glycogen stores [2]. Electrolytes, as discussed earlier, not only contribute to re-hydration but are also reportedly positive on glycogen repletion so in addition to replacing lost minerals, they can be beneficial for recovery after exercise [1].

For muscle repair, the supplementation of vitamins used to help reduce the oxidative stress caused by exercise can be beneficial before and after competition. Vitamin E in particular has shown to lead to increased blood and tissue levels, therefore leading to faster recovery [1].


Up to 80% of the horse’s fuel for exercise is converted to thermal energy, this equates to 8 litres of water for a racehorse racing at 28mph and 12.5 litres for a horse trotting at 11.2mph! [13] Compared to humans, horse’s sweat 3 or 4 times as much as the average athlete [14]. Therefore, it is VERY important for horses to rehydrate following exercise. Check out some top tips here for helping your horse hydrate. 

Cooling and supporting legs

Due to the vast heating effect of the horse’s body and legs during exercise, it is unsurprising that the ultimate goal to prevent leg injury and promote recovery is rapid cooling. When the body exercises and blood flow is increased, the blood vessels dilate to allow easier transport of the blood and its contents to the muscles. While this is crucial during exercise, it is not desirable at rest due to excess fluid accumulation. Following a work out, the main aim is to reduce swelling through vasoconstriction and restore normal circulation to the limbs as quickly as possible. This prevents the accumulation of inflammation associated fluids overstretching tissues and leaving the horse prone to fluid accumulation problems in the future [12].

In human athletes, it is common practice to ice legs after intense exercise with the use of an ice bath, however for obvious reasons, this is not as easily achievable for horses [12].There are however, many ice-boots on the market which provide the same role and can be worn for 15-20 minutes to reduce temperature and swelling [12]. Icing has many benefits including reducing pain and inflammation but some research suggests cool, running water to cold hose the horses legs can be more effective than icing [9]. It does however, state that the optimal temperature for water for cooling is 10 degrees, far colder than what would typically come from a yard tap [12]. 

In addition to cold treatment of the legs, bandaging is another common technique for leg after care to assist the return to normal size and blood flow. Although wraps cannot support the load that the limb structures bear, they can work alongside cold hosing or icing to reduce the swelling of the legs through compression. Wrapping a leg prevents fluid accumulation and helps the leg return to it’s pre-workout state faster. There are pre-cautions with bandaging legs though and they must be applied properly to be effective, not to mention should be applied with common sense i.e. - will not be optimal in the peak of Summer [12].
For more information about post-exercise leg care, take a look at the advice from Severn Edge Vets.

Active recovery

Active recovery is sometimes considered another form of therapy for recovery. This is because the benefits of movement help dissipate fluids and heat after exercise and restore circulation. In addition to helping the cool-down process immediately after exercise, it can be great for the days following an event to help the horse stretch, move his muscles and do as much as he would voluntarily to loosen up. Therefore turnout as soon as possible after an event is great for recovery, allowing the horse to be ease and ponder around [12]. Hand walking is another way to achieve these results without any stresses on the horse's body such as weight of rider or tack.


Strained muscle fibres are more largely contracted following exercise and cannot release completely or as effectively when under tension, therefore reducing performance abilities [4]. In human athletes, it is common practice and highly recommended by athletes and coaches to use pre and post exercise stretching despite little research to support its uses and benefits. This is similar in horses where research exists to support rehabilitative stretching and the effects of stretching on range of motion and stride length rather than recovery [5]. Nevertheless, it does not mean it can not be effective. Any methods which contribute to the lengthening of contracted muscle fibres so that they can regain optimal function will help them return to their previous state.


Swimming and underwater treadmill exercise are known to decrease pain and inflammation, improve joint range of motion and increased cardiovascular endurance. Therefore it provides an ideal solution for the after effects of exercise [6]. As hydrotherapy on horses has been proven to have positive effects on both stride length and range of motion, it can be a great tool for recovery [7].


In humans, massage has shown to alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness by up to 30% [8] and can significantly increase equine hindlimb protraction [10]. However, many studies investigating the benefits to aid recovery struggle to find significant scientific improvements using massage despite the main functions of massage to improve circulation to the tissues and the removal of metabolic waste and fluid [11]. Nevertheless, for both human and equine athletes, anecdotal reports of massage show benefits for recovery.

How can Trackener help monitor the effects of recovery management?

For each horse, the optimal solution for recovery management may be different and finding the best recovery protocol may take trial and error. Not every impact is measurable on a daily basis, for example the effect of hydrotherapy, massage or active recovery and relies on our feel, sight and experience over time. However, exercise and recovery do tend to show in levels of activity and sleep, both of which are recorded with Trackener. Discover how different recovery techniques affect the distance covered by the horse in the field the next day and see if this tends to result in more sleep and recumbent resting. To find out more about how the product works, visit our website or drop us a message.

    Written by Ruth Box BSc, EEBW @ruth_box6910 Email Ruth


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[3] Healthsmart
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[6] Kamioka H, Tsutanji K, Okuizumi H, et al. Effectiveness of aquatic exercise and balneotherapy: a summary of systematic reviews based on randomized controlled trials of water immersion therapies. J Epidemiol 2010;20:2–12
[7] Scott, R., Nankervis, K., Stringer, C., Westcott, K., & Marlin, D. (2010). The effect of water height on stride frequency, stride length and heart rate during water treadmill exercise. Equine Veterinary Journal, 42, 662-664.
[8] Zainuddin, Z., Newton, M., Sacco, P., & Nosaka, K. (2005). Effects of massage on delayed-onset muscle soreness, swelling, and recovery of muscle function. Journal of athletic training, 40(3), 174.
[9] Severn Edge Vets]
[10] Hill, C., & Crook, T. (2010). The relationship between massage to the equine caudal hindlimb muscles and hindlimb protraction. Equine Veterinary Journal, 42, 683-687.
[11] Moraska, A. (2005) Sports Massage: A comprehensive review. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 45 (3) 370
[13] Ridgeway, K.J. Thermoregulation and electrolyte management in the endurance horse, in focus on enduranc. Equine Research Centre. Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, Resto Graphics. 1995, p5-13.
[14] Marlin, D. Basics of equine exercise physiology, Available at: Acccessed October 2018