Anyone with a racetrack background is familiar with “leg tighteners.” Others may have seen leg-tightener products in a tack store or catalog and wondered what the heck they’re used for — or been told they’re medieval. While some old-time remedies are best left dead and buried, the use of a leg tightener is one legacy that continues to occupy a useful niche and deserves to be broadened in scope.
The definition of a leg tightener seems straightforward, but it isn’t. You could define a leg tightener as anything that results in a tighter/swelling-free leg. Defined that broadly, it would include anything from ice to severe blisters.
For the purpose of this article, however, we’re defining “leg tightener” the old-fashioned way: a topical leg treatment that relieves swelling and heat in a horse’s leg without a significant counter-irritant effect. In other words, it’s something you put on a horse’s leg that results in it being cooler and tighter the next day, not after an intervening period where the leg goes through a stage of irritation, swelling and heat, as happens with paints and blisters.
Risks With a Leg Tightener
Some people avoid using anything on a horse’s legs for fear it could mask a problem and lead to further damage. If you make the decision regarding exercise level based on appearances alone, this could indeed be deceiving. However, if you look at the big picture, there’s little danger of being fooled. Of particular importance in your decision is how the horse moves — is he “off” or in pain — and whether there is any pain on palpation of a possibly injured area. We know of no leg tightener that effectively blocks pain. However, whenever in doubt as to the possibility of a significant underlying lesion, it’s always best to have an ultrasound examination or X-rays before continuing work.
We also advise you to remove leg bandages at least an hour in advance of riding/driving. Legs that come out of a wrap looking great may fill up again when the bandage is removed. If this happens, postpone or adjust work accordingly.
When To Use A Leg Tightener
Leg tighteners are appropriate for horses showing mild filling as a result of work. Increased fluid production in tendon sheaths and joints may be a physiological reaction to hard and/or regular work. You might call it “microdamage” — not really an injury but just tissue stress that is often unavoidable and even beneficial in stimulating skeletal and soft-tissue structures to strengthen.
However, the filling alone can result in some degree of stiffness/mild discomfort. If the horse chooses to rest that leg because of this sensation, the leg may fill even more, raising the question of an underlying significant problem. Instead, leg tighteners will help reduce the swelling, which allows a better evaluation of the leg.
Tighteners can also be used to prevent this type of filling in horses with old injuries or those known to have a tendency to fill, e.g. wind puffs, with work. Osmotic leg tighteners — those that draw fluid from the tissues — are sometimes useful even with horses that stock up if the problem is due to poor circulation.
We used our leg-tightener products on a variety of problems, including fetlock puffiness (both anterior/osselet area and increased joint fluid), suspensory filling, diffuse flexor tendon filling, wind puffs and mild stocking-up that appeared during conditioning. We also used them as a prophylactic/preventative-medicine treatments.
To avoid difficulty in interpreting results, no other topical therapies, such as ice or therapy devices, were used on legs receiving a leg tightener. Joint supplements that had been administered for at least two weeks prior to the start of a leg tightener were continued, but no new supplements were allowed and no anti-inflammatory drugs. All horses were in regular work.
Three young horses entering the speed stage of race training were treated with either Sore No-More, an osmotic-type leg tightener, or an iodine-based (counter-irritant) product on one front leg under a standing bandage. The other front leg was wrapped but had no topicals applied to the skin. The back legs were left open. These horses were stall confined except for working and hand walking. Three additional young horses at similar stages of training were left unwrapped but were turned out several hours each day, or overnight, weather permitting.
Two of the three on stall confinement developed intermittent problems with mild filling/stocking up in the hind legs that were not associated with any lameness, didn’t require specific treatment and resolved on their own. None of the wrapped horses showed any puffiness or filling in the front legs, whether a leg tightener was used or not. None of the three horses receiving liberal turnout in addition to training showed any signs of filling.
We discovered early on in this field trial that the key to success in using leg tighteners is to match the product to the degree of inflammation in the leg. What works well for filling in an area of chronic injury/scarring (e.g. old tendon or suspensory injury) is not necessarily a good choice for a new area of filling.
When dealing with acute swellings involving either a joint capsule (osselets), tendon or suspensory, and the area was clearly carrying an increased amount of heat that indicated some active inflammation, we had our best results with Sore No-More. The only other two products gentle enough to use without the risk of increasing the swelling or causing skin irritation and flaking/scurfing were Doc’s Leg Tightener and Kwik.
All three were highly effective in reducing swelling. Only Sore No-More worked 100% of the time in controlling heat, but Doc’s Leg Tightener had a good response rate, too, relieving both heat and swelling in four out of five test horses.
With new swellings that are not particularly hot to the touch, any of the products we tried can be used effectively and work better than wrapping alone. We had best results with early filling in the area of osselets with Rabbit’s and The Sauce. Despite the fact that both contain iodine, we had no major skin reactions, although some horses showed slight flaking of the skin.
Winner’s Circle Leg Tightener smells “strong” with all the aromatic oils and does produce a distinct tingling sensation when you get it on your skin, which lasts for hours. The horses apparently had the same reaction, often stomping their feet for a while after application. We saw no instances of any skin reactions when use was limited to one or two days, and results were excellent. However, prolonged use of Winner’s Circle may lead to skin reactions.
The osmotic agents that contain iron salts (Williams Draw Tight, Vapco Shrink It, Su-Per Leg Tightener) can be highly effective, even when milder products (Sore No-More, Kwik or Doc’s Leg Tightener) don’t eliminate the swelling. However, this means they must be used with extreme caution as they have the greatest potential to mask the visible changes indicating an underlying injury. They also carry the highest risk of skin irritation, even hair loss and mild blistering. These products are best used on areas of stubborn leg swelling associated with old tendon or suspensory injuries.
Puffiness in fetlocks caused by increased joint fluid, characterized by the typical outpouchings just below the end of the splint bone, did not respond particularly well to any of the topical treatments when combined with wrapping.
Joint filling appeared to be down when wraps were removed but would reappear to the same or a slightly decreased degree within an hour of standing the horses without wraps. Applying ice to the legs immediately after work for a period of 30 to 60 minutes was found to be far more effective in alleviating joint swellings. We did find that use of either The Sauce or Rabbit’s Leg Tightener without wraps resulted in a 50% to 80% reduction in joint swelling after four to five days of application when not wrapped. The combination of the prolonged reactions and may also have resulted in enough heat trapping to interfere with effectiveness.
Although the expression “an art and a science” is probably overused, we find it fits leg tighteners to a tee. While Su-Per Leg Tightener earned an overall Best Buy and was our favorite in two categories, we believe it’s most important to match the product to the problem, so we have specific recommendations to match specific common swellings:
Early Osselet-Area Swelling: Rabbit’s Liniment/Tightener/Sweat and The Sauce worked best for this, with minimal-to-no skin reaction or increased swelling, followed closely by Winner’s Circle Leg Tightener.
Work-Related Diffuse Filling/Stocking Up/New Wind Puffs: If the leg also feels warmer than normal, stick to Sore No-More, Kwik or Doc’s Leg Tightener to avoid skin reactions that might make things worse. If you find no particular heat in the leg, these three are also good choices, especially if you are catching it early. The best results overall, however, were with Winner’s Circle Leg Tightener (limit use to one to two days to avoid skin reactions).
Wind Puffs: You’re not likely to get rid of old wind puffs permanently, but the stronger osmotic agents — Draw Tight, Shrink It and Su-Per Leg Tightener — will produce the best temporary cosmetic results. Use with caution on white legs and on horses with sensitive skin. Wait 48 hours between the first and second application to allow delayed skin reactions to become apparent. Su-Per Leg Tightener is especially effective and our top pick here.
Old Tendon/Suspensory Injuries: For persistent swelling that is not work related, try Rabbit’s or The Sauce first. The mild circulatory-enhancing effects of these products may be just what you need. If this isn’t effective, and for swelling that is associated with work, we would use one of the stronger osmotic agents, such as Draw Tight, Shrink It or Su-Per Leg Tightener. Again, Su-Per Leg Tightener gets the nod. If significant heat is present though, use Sore No-More first to cool out the leg, followed by The Sauce or Rabbit’s. If this fails, go to the stronger osmotics.
Routine/Prophylactic Use: Our test horses responded just as well to either wrapping the leg dry or increased turnout as they did to use of a prophylactic leg tightener when in heavy work. However, if your horse needs more, we suggest Doc’s Leg Tightener as a first choice since the vinegar base is gentler to the skin, an important consideration if you are going to be using this regularly.
Also With This Article
Click here to view "How To Use Leg Tighteners."
Click here to view "Leg Tighteners Ingredients And Comments."
Click here to view "Tightening Ingredients."
Click here to view "Swelling And Serious Injury."