Introduction: Ice Pack Vest for Horse

Picture of Ice Pack Vest for Horse

We have a horse who is anhidrotic; that's a syndrome in which one does not sweat properly or at all. Specifically, in about the second week of July (when night temperatures stop dropping below 70F), our horse stops sweating completely. She starts sweating again at the end of September, but never as much as needed to keep her entirely comfortable.

In Florida, this is a big problem. Without being able to sweat, she can't cool herself, and so she overheats. In fact, she's developed "heaves" (similar to asthma in people) as a result of standing around blowing hard when she is overheated. Every summer when she stands around breathing heavily, she makes her "heaves" worse. We have fans and a misting system for her, but she still spends a miserable few months during the hottest part of the summer.

I got her a couple of ice wraps which attach with elastic and velcro to help keep her cooler. These have fabric cases which velcro closed, and hold sheets of ice cells, which we can swap out. The ice cell sheets themselves are inexpensive, made by a company called "Cryopak." My Other Half & I work freelance/from home, so there's usually somebody here who can swap out ice packs every few hours during the hottest parts of the day. (We also hose her down with cold water at that time.) But after a couple of weeks of daily use the velcro stopped being effective: it didn't hold the sheets inside the cases, and didn't hold the cases on the horse.

So I designed this vest which has zippers and a side release buckle instead.

This idea could probably be used for horses without anhidrosis who still need to cool quickly (endurance horses or 3-day eventers, perhaps) or even for non-equine purposes if the general shape is altered. It will probably not be terribly useful for traditional uses of ice, since it holds the ice packs at a fixed location; you can't wrap it around an injury. (Those ice wraps we originally bought are designed more for injuries, and they would work pretty well for occasional use.)

Step 1: Supplies

Picture of Supplies
  • about a yard of nylon non-stretchy sports fabric--this is what my husband says soccer shorts etc are made of, though I bought a thicker-and-hopefully-more-durable variety. There will be one layer of this material between the ice pack and the skin; it shouldn't block cold.
  • about half a yard of thick fabric to insulate the outside of the case somewhat
  • about 3 yards 3" wide elastic -- this will vary depending on the size of your horse's chest, or if you even want to put it on a horse.
  • 2 zippers; I got 12" separating zippers, but as it turns out, I could have used closed-bottom zippers just as easily, I think.
  • 3" wide side-release buckle. (I only found a 2" buckle, and you'll see how I attached it, but a 3" buckle would have been better.)

  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Seam ripper
  • Scissors

Sewing machines are scary, and this one was borrowed; I didn't even have the manual. Hence, a lot of this work looks terrible (I'm sure the tension was wrong for this fabric, but *I* wasn't going to mess with it). Thankfully, this is a "garment" for a horse, and she's not going to care too much if it looks sloppy.

Step 2: Pattern/Measuring

Picture of Pattern/Measuring

On a sheet of posterboard, I traced around the ice sheets and added an inch to each side. I cut this pattern out of the posterboard. I added one inch because there needs to be room to insert the ice pack, as well as room to put in the seams. I fully expected to need to do a lot of futzing around with it, but as it turned out, adding an inch worked just fine for this size ice sheet.

I needed to know how much elastic I would be using. I had the ice packs strapped to the horse, and measured across her back from the front and from the back (Each of these was 20"). Then I measured around the front of her chest, from one edge to the other (36"). Then I measured around her belly, from the bottom of one pack to the bottom of the other (36"). I noted these measurements on the posterboard in their approximate locations.

I need this to be tightly against her shoulders, and not buckle outwards, so she receives the full effect of the ice. The elastic needs to be tight. I decided to remove 2" from each measurement to make sure it was snug.

Step 3: Cutting Out the Pieces

Picture of Cutting Out the Pieces
I used my posterboard pattern to cut 4 pieces of the nylon material.

I also cut 4 pieces of the insulating material; I was doubling it over. If you have something thick enough that you don't want to double it, you can just cut two pieces total.

I cut 4 6"x7" pieces of nylon, then cut each in half for 8 pieces of 3 1/2" by 6". These will be used as tabs to attach the elastic straps to the cases. Each tab contributes 2" to the length of the strap attached to it.

For attaching the buckle, I cut 2 6" by 7" pieces.

There are 4 pieces of elastic:
  • 2 x 14" across the back
  • 1 x 30" around the chest
  • 1 x 10" under the belly--the buckle will also go here, and the attachments for it take 12".

Step 4: Making the Cases: Starting With the Zipper

Picture of Making the Cases: Starting With the Zipper

I recently read a great way to attach zippers, so that's the method I used.

1) Take two nylon rectangles and stitch them together across the top. I think I used 1/2" seam. I did NOT backtack at the beginning and end of the seam to seal it; I was going to rip it out later.

2) I sewed the two seam end bits to the main body of the case--I could probably have just pinned them but pins scare me. (I have a tile floor that makes it hard to find pins when I drop them, I have curious dogs, and I have shaky hands. Terrible combination.)

3) I put the middle of the zipper on the line of stitching holding the two nylon pieces together. I stitched it down on the left and right.

4) I used a seam ripper to take out the line of stitching under the zipper, and had two rectangles held together by a zipper.

5) Then, because I am paranoid, I used a zig-zag to stitch it down AGAIN. (Shown: one side with zig-zag, then I also did the other side.)

I just want to reiterate, here, that this is for a HORSE, and visible or uneven stitching doesn't matter. I won't win any awards for my craftsmanship, but hey, it's a horse.

Step 5: Making the Cases: Outside Layer

Picture of Making the Cases: Outside Layer

I took the insulating material and folded over one short end, and stitched it down. Again, for this, I could probably have used pins and skipped a line of stitching, but pins are scary. So.

I am putting one case on each shoulder. When it's on, I want the zipper to be in the back, and I want the zipper tab to be at the bottom when it is closed. So I waved the rectangles around this way and that way until I figured out which side was the outside on each one.

I stitched the insulating material with the folded-over bit next to the zipper, onto the outside of the case.

(Ideally, all the pieces would be the same size. I made a slight miscalculation and didn't have quiiiiite enough material for that. It did work out but I suggest having enough material on hand.)

Step 6: Making the Cases: Tabs for the Elastic Straps and Stitching Around the Edges

Picture of Making the Cases: Tabs for the Elastic Straps and Stitching Around the Edges

Making the tabs:
I took each of the 8 7" by 3 1/2" rectangles, folded it so it was 3 1/2" by 3 1/2", and stitched the ends together to make a tube. I used a zigzag stitch hoping that might help prevent fraying.

Positioning the tabs:
I determined what was the front, side, and bottom of each case. I put a tab on top of the outside of the insulating material: at both corners of the top (oriented vertically), the lower corner of the front (oriented horizontally), and at the back corner of the bottom (oriented vertically). These will, of course, be different corners for the left and for the right.

The tab should be facing INTO the center of the case; when the outside edges are stitched and the case is turned inside-out, they will be facing outwards.

Closing the case:
I stitched all the way around the three closed edges.

I started by zipping up the open side, so that the zipper would meet well once it was done. Then I put "right sides together" (the outside of the bottom of the case was touching the outside of the insulating material, with the tabs sandwiched between).

Then I stitched a line down each long edge.

I test-fit the ice pack, since I wasn't sure that an inch of seam-allowance-etc was going to work. It looked fine.

So I then stitched the bottom closed.

Again, because I am paranoid, I went back around with a zig-zag stitch to improve durability and hopefully prevent fraying.

With that done, I turned the whole thing right-side out.

This is, of course, repeated in mirror-image for the other case.

Step 7: Adding the Elastic Straps and the Buckle

Picture of Adding the Elastic Straps and the Buckle
Elastic straps:
The elastic straps were easy enough. Stitch each strap in its correct place on one case, then to the matching tab on the other case:
  • Top back tab to top back tab
  • Top front tab to top front tab
  • Chest tab (bottom front) to chest tab

Put "right sides to right sides"--that is, don't just overlap the material. Stitch it together, then open the material up. Now stitch the leftover edges down to the tab. Here again I used a zigzag stitch trying to get durability etc etc.

Buckle strap:
The buckle will go around the belly. One strap attaches to the belly strap; then half the buckle goes on the end of the strap. The other tab attaches to the buckle.

You can see that I had to reduce the diameter of the strap to put in the buckle. All I did was start with 3" material, then fold over the corners to make it 2", then wrap it around the bar at the end of the side-release buckle.

Using the ice vest:
To put it on the horse, unzip each zipper and insert an ice pack in each case (and close the zipper). Put the whole thing over the horse's head, position on the shoulders, and then pass the belly strap under and buckle it in place.

Click "next" to see what I did when it didn't fit.

Step 8: Adjusting the Fit

Picture of Adjusting the Fit

Okay, well, I have a degree in physics...that means that we don't let me near any math with actual numbers in it. I somehow managed to screw up the length of the straps, which was irritating, but not wholly unexpected. I measured 20", 20", 36", and 36"; I decided to use 18", 18", 34" and 34", taking into account the length of the tabs as well. I apparently screwed up royally, as the thing was very loose on her.

Considering I attached these things down VERY firmly, with two seams per tab, it would have been hard to rip the seam and start over. And besides, I don't really want to cut that elastic; maybe someday I'll want it longer, or something. So I folded the straps back over and tacked them in place, taking out a few inches on each strap (6 inches on the belly strap). I left the folded flap loose while I checked the fit again. Once I was sure the fit was right, I put in another seam to keep that flap from, well, flapping around.


horselover101 (author)2012-04-25

Great job! So smart!

J@50n (author)2010-02-11

your horses are beautiful!! 

b_a_b_e (author)2009-03-14


fungus amungus (author)2008-07-31

So it's effective I take it? I love the description of the process, but how does the horse like it?

galadriel (author)fungus amungus2008-07-31

She's a pretty smart horse; she seems to recognize the things that help her cool down. She'll some running up to the barn when she's hot in order to get hosed down (which makes us wince, because running will heat her up more quickly than walking, but we can't exactly stop her...) She goes and stands directly under the highest concentration of mist coming out of the mister, and so on and so forth. When you spend a couple of months constantly on the verge of heatstroke, I suppose you get pretty appreciative of the things that help cool you down. She likes this vest much better than the previous contraption, which wasn't really designed for what we're trying to do. We had to wrap it under her belly and out between her legs and up her chest in order to keep the ice packs in place, which looked like it pinched. As uncomfortable as it looked, she was surprisingly tolerant of it, which suggests to me that the ice packs ARE helping--or at least feel nice. She's only had this vest for a day, but she's even more cooperative about having it put on her. We took it off when it rained earlier, and when I went to put it back on this afternoon, she lifted her head to help me get it over her neck without much prompting.

Sandisk1duo (author)galadriel2008-07-31

you should coat the outside with aluminum foil, so it doesn't heat up from the sun!

galadriel (author)Sandisk1duo2008-08-01

(laugh) And every time she moved, all the horses would be jumping the fences to get away from the SCARY SCARY sound. These ice pack cases need to be flexible and repeatedly usable--opening and closing the case flexes the sides--and I think aluminum would probably bend and break quickly. Heat from the sun isn't really a big problem; the horse spends most of her time in the shade, actually. Ambient heat, however, IS a problem. Again, this is Florida. It would be nice if the ice pack were entirely focused towards the horse, yes, but it's going to lose some of its "cool" via heat transfer towards the air instead of towards the horse's shoulder. A more insulating material might help preserve the ice pack longer, but I couldn't find something more like neoprene or other soft, thick, insulating materials.

Sandisk1duo (author)galadriel2008-08-01

are horses actually afraid of crumpling aluminum?

galadriel (author)Sandisk1duo2008-08-01

Oh, goodness, yes. Horses are a prey animal, constantly on the alert for predators, and often terrified of anything new, strange, or loud. Most horses will be frightened of a new sound with which they are not familiar. Many horses take a long time to acclimate to things like riding through the woods, where a squirrel or some such running on dry leaves will create a very terrifying noise. In many situations, horses are just not that bright ;) but if you consider their instincts, it is reasonable. And if you consider their instincts (the unknown is scary), you can help them get over it. For example, my neighbor asked if I'd object to him shooting skeet occasionally. Fine with me: the more strange sounds that the horses are exposed to, that are not harmful and they'll eventually learn to tolerate, the safer they will be to handle and ride.

galadriel (author)galadriel2008-08-01

Addendum: horses are *particularly* frightened of crinkly sounds. Silly creatures.

thepelton (author)galadriel2009-02-19

It probably sounds like a predatory cat or wolf walking through leaves.

Sandisk1duo (author)galadriel2008-08-01

go to sporting good store, they have foam, or you can check the dumpsters behind the sporting good store, they throw out odd-shaped pieces of foam all the time!

galadriel (author)Sandisk1duo2008-08-01

My concern was getting it attached in such a way that it would be useful; I can't stitch foam (AFAIK), and daily wear/exposure to moisture/etc etc would destroy glue. The comment below from shantinath1000 makes a good suggestion :)

wobblestar (author)Sandisk1duo2008-08-01

... but a horse covered in foil would look silly!

Sandisk1duo (author)wobblestar2008-08-01

well a horse with an ice-pack doesn't look silly enough!

teakay303 (author)2009-01-13

This is a great idea! I was thinking you could make one shaped more like a traditional saddle pad (or maybe just add pockets to the inside of a pad, then the pad would act as the insulator) and then just run an elastic surcingle through the billet keepers and around the whole package. Although if your horse was very active they might wriggle out of the arrangement. In any case you've inspired me to experiment for one of the horses that boards at our barn and suffers quite badly in the summer months.

galadriel (author)teakay3032009-01-14

Thanks! I put it on the shoulders so that it would be up against the most muscle mass. Where a saddle pad would sit, there's a lot less muscle (over the ribcage), and what there is is shallow (along the spine). Also, the spine area itself is VERY sensitive, and ice up against that area for hours at a time might cause long-term problems. The muscles of the shoulder, though, are very thick. There's a lot of blood in the area, and cooling the bloodstream will help the most with cooling the horse's core temperature (internal). I would have put it against the jugular vein if I had been able to come up with a way to leave it on securely, unsupervised...but that would have been a bad idea, I think.

abfabsteele (author)2008-11-13

horses have been my favourite animals for ove 4 yrs ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

gamer (author)2008-08-02

Use white fabric, make it absorb less heat, and the ice pack would heat up slower.... Great idea though. -gamer

abbzz (author)gamer2008-08-27

oww i just love horses there sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo cute

galadriel (author)gamer2008-08-02

Grin. See the big smudge in photo #1? White around horses doesn't stay white for long. This really does have to stand up to a lot of abuse. She isn't just carrying it around. She also rolls with it on, and she wears it in the rain, and it gets wet when we hose her down. The fillies think anything the adults wear is fascinating, and they like to rub their muddy little noses on it. It also has to stand up to being carried out/in by a person with only two arms and a lot of things to do, so it ends up being set down on the ground occasionally. I usually manage to keep the fillies from pawing at it when I have to set it down inside the pastures. Usually. ~ ~ ~ But hey, for non-equestrian use, white fabric might be useful! However, white only helps with reflecting light away; it still won't change the fabric's ability to transfer heat with the air. That requires a more insulating material.

shantinath1000 (author)2008-08-01

how about using a thin camping mattress pad? you could cut a piece to fit on the inside of the bag on the side away from the horse. the pads are available in a closed cell foam which would insulate well.

galadriel (author)shantinath10002008-08-01

Sticking it inside the pouch makes good sense. If I ever have to re-make this, that's probably the way I'll go. As it is, though, there's barely room in there for the ice pack; it's a really tight fit. Anyone who makes something like this should certainly consider altering it to use foam encased in the case.

shantinath1000 (author)galadriel2008-08-02

How about altering what you already have- I don't know if it would be possible but adding another layer of fabric to the outside and slipping the foam into that? Or how about using a nice thick polar fleece as the next outside layer- that in itself would be a good insulator. you could even just use velcro tape on the two fabrics (or foam pads) and that way you coud just peel off the outside for washing!

galadriel (author)shantinath10002008-08-02

This is already pretty heavy, once the ice packs are in, and I don't want her to have to carry around too much (again with the breathing and overheating problems). Yes, it's much less heavy than a rider would be, but she's not capable of carrying a rider at all during late summer. The double layer of terry-ish cloth (this is some dense, thick stuff, not real terrycloth) is already doing a better job of insulating than the last set of packs (whoohoo!), which had thick polarfleece as the outer layer. The cold is lasting longer. I don't know if we could get an ice pack to last longer than the 2 - 2.5 hrs we're getting with this ice vest, even if we had better insulation on the outside.

frontier (author)2008-08-02

nice instructable galadriel. have you thought about this? take a hose and attach a mist end that spreads the water out in every direction in a very thin mist... aditionally get an electrical valve for the hose, and attach a motion sensor to it, and mount the system in a specific place . the idea would be, that whenever the horse went to a specific corner of its fence or something, the valve would open etc, the horse would automatically be showered slowly, cooling it down. its possible you could easially teach the horse and make it learn whenever it went to that specific place the water would start falling. so it could just go there by itself whenever it needed cooling, and you wouldent have to go change ice packs all the time etc.

galadriel (author)frontier2008-08-02

From the intro: "We have fans and a misting system for her, but she still spends a miserable few months during the hottest part of the summer." She has two misting systems, in fact: one in the barn (to which she has free access), and one in the front pasture, which is farthest from the barn. She uses them both. Despite the fans and the mister, her heaves gets worse every year. Heaves is a terrible illness for horses, and we'd like to prolong her quality of life as much as we can. Hence, the ice packs: if we can keep her cooler, perhaps we can slow down the progress of the heaves. We've discussed trying to find her a home further north where her anhidrosis might be less of an issue, but it's too late. Now that she HAS heaves, we can't--heaves is also an expensive illness (the medications cost a lot) and there is just no way to be sure that she would be properly managed. Sadly, there are a lot of horror stories about people taking a horse for one reason or another, and starving the horse/selling the horse for slaughter/selling the horse for riding when the horse is not sound/etc etc. The only way to be sure this horse gets the care she deserves is to give it to her ourselves.

beefsupreme (author)2008-07-31

My grandpa used something just like this. Kept his beer cold and his horses happy!

darkmuskrat (author)2008-07-31

Wow, I love instructables that are practical and cost effective this is both. Great Job

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