Updated: Mar 13
Today, new veterinary graduates learn little, if any, of the secrets on the use of paints, sweats and liniments. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of "secret mixtures" containing various counterirritants, each made up for a special condition for a particular horse.
The healing process in horses is much quicker than in most other animals. This is the reason why treating wounds and leg problems in horses is quite different than treating dogs or humans. The idea behind using counterirritants is to stimulate the natural healing processes of the horse. The counterirritant should not be used to destroy tissue, or as a "physiological bandage." The ability to heal rapidly is sometimes counterproductive to the best interests of the horse.
Proud flesh is one example of a healing process in the horse which often gets out of hand. Excess bony growth which can easily occur from just a slight bump is another example. In cases such as these, counterirritants may be used to slow the healing processes. The reasoning being that stimulating inflammation in the face of inflammation may actually slow healing.
In other instances, a wound or ligament tear may become chronic and lack appropriate healing. Counterirritants can get the healing process going again. Infected joints need inflammation to aid the healing process. Counterirritants can be used successfully to accomplish this. Some of the essential oils used in making counterirritants produce heat, and must be mixed with a vehicle so that burning of the skin will not occur.
We now live in an age of injectables and electronic equipment. These "old formulated paints, ect. will be lost if someone doesn't take an interest in preserving them." Many of the old formulas were named after those who mixed them: many of the mixtures carried the name of the condition it was made to cure.
In the day of injectables and electronic devices, we tend to over-treat horses. We often ignore the natural healing which occurs over time. Heat therapy encourages natural healing, and is cheaper and often more effective than injectable drugs.