There are many products out there which use static magnetic fields designed to provide a range of health benefits to your horse. These include magnetic rugs, hock boots, fetlock boots and leg boots.
What do they do?
The magnets within the products are thought to relax capillary walls and the surrounding soft tissue. This essentially would lead to an increase in blood flow and oxygen supply, which aids recovery and healing.
Claimed benefits from commercially available products
Let’s look at the research…
An early research paper looked into the “Effect of a static magnetic field on blood flow to the metacarpus in horses” by Steyn et al., . They used 6 healthy horses and a commercially available magnetic wrap was placed onto one metacarpal of each horse and a control wrap was placed on the contralateral limb for 48 hours. They found no significant difference in blood flow between the control wrap and the magnetic wrap.
So what does this mean?
This research cannot disprove that the magnetic wraps are effective in providing health benefits to the horse, however they can conclude that potential health benefits do not arise from an increase in blood flow. The researchers suggested a potential reason for this could be that the magnets within the wraps provide a weak magnetic field, potentially caused by the arrangement and flexibility of the magnetics and/or the wraps do not fit directly to the limb surface and therefore may not be strong enough to expose the underlying blood vessels to the magnetic field.
A more recent research paper looked into the effect of magnetic blankets (rugs), titled “Does a magnetic blanket induce changes in muscular blood flow, skin temperature and muscular tension in horses?” by Edner et al., . They used 10 horses and a commercially available magnetic rug was placed on each horse for 60 minutes and then a placebo rug on the consecutive day. On each day, local skin temperature, muscle blood flow, behaviour of the horse and mechanical nociceptive threshold were measure before, during and after each condition. Blood flow in the back muscles, skin temperatures, MNTs and behavioural traits did not differ between active and placebo magnetic blankets. They also found that skin temperature increased similarly during the magnetic rug and placebo rug treatment.
So what does this mean?
This research, in support of the previous research, found that magnetic rugs do not result in significant differences in back muscle blood flow or skin temperature. The research suggests that the magnetic rugs may not result in significant changes to affect muscle relaxation or reduce tension.
My opinion – I feel very passionate that anything you do or use with your horse is backed up by research. There doesn’t seem to be much research out there currently to support the use of magnetic products or to support the claims made by the companies and so I personally would not invest in these products for the time being until more research has been conducted to provide clinical evidence of how effective they are. Please check out the research behind products to make your own educated opinion and whether you would like to use these for your horses.
Research paper 1: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10997160/
Research paper 2: https://beva.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/evj.12291
During a massage session, some of you may have noticed that I regularly refer to ‘knots’ and ‘sore spots’ in the muscle. This is known as myofascial trigger points (MTP).
MTPs are hyperirritable spots located in a taut band in the muscles. The taut bands are localised bands of hardened muscle within the softer muscle, that run parallel to the muscle fibres. The theorised cause of taut bands states that muscle injury can lead to excessive release of acetylcholine, stimulating excessive release of calcium in the muscle and the subsequent shortening and sustained contraction of the muscle fibres.
These areas can be painful on palpation and elicit a local twitching of the muscle as the taut band rapidly contracts as a result of the manual stimulation. MTPs in the muscle can result in weakness due to the reduction in contractile forces, as well as irregular recruitment and activation patterns in the muscle during movement.
Eccentric contractions are high-power contractions, where a muscle lengthens as a result of external force. This requires a vast amount of muscular effort.
Commonly affected muscles:
This essentially means that several or even just one session of intense training for your horse may lead to the development of these irritable painful trigger points in the muscle and, if not resolved, can become increasingly uncomfortable, lead to referred pain in other areas of the body (as the affected muscles may ‘shut down’) and your horse may struggle to cope with training.
Typically, because these areas are painful, your horse may show behavioural signs during riding as a response and their performance may decrease as they are unable to effectively recruit the right muscles, especially if there are several affected muscles. Aversion behaviours are common in horses with MTPs, for example, when your horse is reactive to the girth being attached. This is because the girth will result in uncomfortable pressure on MTP, eliciting a response from the horse.
Trigger point therapy during a massage session can help to relieve and resolve these sore spots and your horse will start to feel much more comfortable and ready for the demands of training. It is important to remember that tension and MTPs can develop very quickly (from just one intense training session!!) and so regular maintenance massages are crucial in keeping your horse in top form and feeling their best.
Interval training is also a good way to allow your horses muscles to recover and rest during a training session, and is less likely to cause fatigue. I would recommend (and practice with my own horses) a break every 15 minutes during your training session for 5 minutes of walking on a long rein so the muscles can stretch. This may help to prevent the development of MTPs but this may not always be avoided.