What injuries can ice boots prevent?
Dr Russell said ice boots work best in preventing tendonitis and tendon injuries.
When horses gallop, their tendons reach a critical temperature that over time can lead to significant damage.
“Horses’ tendons are almost at their functional limit when they gallop, so every gallop there’s a degree of this history. It’s just physics. You need to get straight onto it and remove that heat.”
What types of ice boots exist?
There are countless ice boots on the market.
At Flemington, the VRC first introduced vinyl ice boots – which are filled with cubed ice – but now also offers ones that are frozen and then wrapped around a horse’s legs.
Other varieties use ice gel to cool horses’ legs, while some trainers simply wrap horses’ legs in thick plastic bags and place them in buckets of ice and water.
Dr Russell works with leading trainers such as Ciaron Maher and endorses a unique method for icing horses he learnt while working under legendary Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien at his famous stables, Ballydoyle.
“They really like their icing. Aidan’s a very organic trainer and virtually doesn’t use any medication,” he said.
The method involves placing flake ice or crushed ice into elastic Tubigrip socks, then moulding and fastening them to horses’ legs.
Dr Russell brought the knowledge with him when he moved to Australia and introduced it while working for Lloyd Williams. He now uses it frequently alongside Maher.
“When I went to Macedon Lodge [Williams’ stable] we iced all our horses regularly and it got rid of all sorts of problems like shin soreness, foot pain and especially tendon and ligament injuries. When you’re rehabilitating a horse you want to keep the inflammation down as much as possible, so I incorporated that into my rehab program.”
What impact do ice boots have on racehorses?
Flemington trainer Michael Moroney uses ice boots that are soaked in a cold bucket of water in order to crystallise, as part of the daily management of his stable’s horses.
“Every horse who gallops here [Flemington] and does any fast work at all gets them on after they work,” Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Moroney said.
“We like to cool their legs down as quickly as possible to prevent any ligament issues and take the heat out. Ice boots help with blood flow and aches and pains, and if you can get that blood flow going quicker it’s far better for them.”
A renowned trainer of stayers (horses who perform better over long distances rather than shorter sprints), Moroney commended Flemington’s introduction of ice boots and increased steps to protect the wellbeing of horses, saying he believes they can boost longevity.
“Stayers get a bit more pressure; they’ve got to take more work and longer fast work. It’s when horses are under fatigue that they tend to suffer injuries, so it certainly helps them.”
(Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)