Topicals for Temporary Exercise-Related Muscle Soreness

When anything is bothering their horse, the tendency of many people is to look for a drug to take care of it but in the case of muscle soreness hands-on therapy is not only an option – it’s often more effective.

Even exuberant play may result in exercise-related muscle soreness

From flat-out speed or jumping to meticulously controlled dressage movements, whether ridden, driven or worked from the ground, exercise-related muscle discomfort is always a possibility

As with humans, risk is high for older horses that are asked to be active beyond their level of fitness.  Muscle soreness is also very frequently overlooked in young horses progressing through training because they do not show the more easily appreciated signs of joint or tendon/ligament swelling and readily observed localized lameness.  Well conditioned horses aren’t immune either.  Sharp changes of direction, extreme efforts and corrections after missteps are just a few of the scenarios where muscle overexertion may occur.

Consider muscle pain when:

  • The horse is stiff/off and reluctant to move with no obvious lameness
  • The horse avoids taking one lead or collection
  • Muscles feel hard to the touch (hard does not mean fit)
  • There is localized sensitivity to touch or pressure (be sure to also check the inner thigh)

If you are unsure, ask your veterinarian or a qualified body work professional to examine your horse.  Horses that are sore all over should be evaluated by your veterinarian for possible systemic disorders or problems with the diet, shoeing, footing or training schedule. However, localized temporary exercise-related muscle soreness may be helped considerably by hands-on physical therapy.

Any trainer of performance horses will tell you how invaluable “rubbing” by a horse’s groom can be. Think of how you yourself appreciate a good back or shoulder rub when you ache. Gauge how forcefully to rub by the horse’s reaction, avoiding causing obvious pain. Effective rubbing makes the horse relax and improves blood flow to the area.

Touch alone has powerful effects which can be enhanced by the correct liniment. When warmth is desired for additional relaxation effect, mint extracts and capsaicin, a red pepper extract, are excellent. Capsaicin also may assist the body in regulating pain transmissions along C type nerve fibers.

Acute exercise-related muscle sprain may respond best to topicals which may help the body restore a normal balance in inflammatory reactions. Arnica is the leader in this category, often supported by Comfrey, Lavender, Chamomile and Aloe vera.

The simplest solutions are sometimes the best. When in comes to temporary muscle discomfort, roll up your sleeves and treat your horse to some hands on therapy.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD


About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions,, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition.
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