Get­ting back on your horse

Been out of ac­tion for a while? Rachel Wil­liams finds out how to give your­self the best chance of a happy re­union when you or your horse have had some time off

Your Horse (UK) - - Contents -

How to make returning to the sad­dle after time off trou­ble-free

THERE ARE MANY rea­sons why you may need to have time off from rid­ing. Maybe you’ve been unwell, had work com­mit­ments or a con­fi­dence knock. Or per­haps your horse has been in­jured. Re­gard­less of your in­di­vid­ual sit­u­a­tion, ev­ery horse will ben­e­fit from be­ing prop­erly rein­tro­duced to a rider and, if you’ve suf­fered an in­jury or fright your­self, jump­ing straight back on board isn’t al­ways the an­swer.

In­jury, surgery & early re­cov­ery

The most com­mon vet­eri­nary sce­nar­ios re­quir­ing a break from rid­den work are your horse suf­fer­ing a wound, or­thopaedic in­jury to the legs or back, colic or soft tis­sue surgery. Most vets will dis­cour­age com­plete box rest to en­sure the horse stays as sup­ple as pos­si­ble. How­ever, some­times box rest can’t be avoided. “An ini­tial pe­riod of box rest might be nec­es­sary to al­low a wound or surgery site to heal,” ex­plains Tom Witte, con­sul­tant sur­geon and clin­i­cal direc­tor at Oak­lands Equine Hos­pi­tal. “This could be any­where from two weeks for a sim­ple lac­er­a­tion and up to three months for a more in­volved surgery, like colic. After this we try to get a horse mov­ing to avoid se­condary is­sues re­lat­ing to other on­go­ing con­cerns, like nav­ic­u­lar or arthri­tis, and to limit stress. “We pre­fer to be­gin walk­ing horses in-hand, build­ing up the du­ra­tion each week,” con­tin­ues Tom. “Walk­ing is the ba­sis of most con­trolled ex­er­cise pro­grammes, since any­thing more can re­sult in se­condary dam­age. For ex­am­ple, where joint surgery [arthroscopy] has washed the car­ti­lage of some of the key com­po­nents that make it springy, it must be given time to nor­malise. “For all but the worst ten­don or lig­a­ment in­juries, early mo­bil­i­sa­tion un­der con­trol en­cour­ages the right sort of heal­ing, too, pro­duc­ing flex­i­ble tis­sue rather than stiff scar tis­sue. “Any­thing more in­tense is gen­er­ally only sug­gested fol­low­ing an ul­tra­sound exam to as­cer­tain that heal­ing is pro­gress­ing well.”

Avoid­ing set­backs

If the early stages of ex­er­cise are not car­ried out in line with vet­eri­nary ad­vice, you risk caus­ing a prob­lem. “Joint in­jury oc­curs in two main ways,” ex­plains Tom. “Ei­ther ab­nor­mal loads — this is an over­load, twist or dis­lo­ca­tion — ap­plied to nor­mal car­ti­lage, or nor­mal loads ap­plied to ab­nor­mal car­ti­lage.

This means that car­ti­lage must be al­lowed time to re­turn to nor­mal be­fore full rid­den ex­er­cise is re­sumed. “For ten­don and lig­a­ment in­juries, in­flam­ma­tion must have sub­sided and the in­jured site filled in with ap­pro­pri­ate tis­sue,” adds Tom. “If too great a load is put on the heal­ing struc­ture too soon, it can rein­jure, with sub­se­quent in­jury be­com­ing more prob­lem­atic. Hence the need to mon­i­tor heal­ing by car­ry­ing out an ul­tra­sound.” The clin­i­cal ap­proach to back in­juries is chang­ing, with an in­creased fo­cus on the over­all con­di­tion­ing of the horse after he’s had surgery. “Suc­cess­ful man­age­ment of this type of in­jury also in­volves deal­ing with the re­sult­ing mus­cle spasm and the horse’s over­all way of mov­ing to en­sure the back is sta­bilised cor­rectly be­fore sig­nif­i­cant loads are ap­plied,” ex­plains Tom. “We may rec­om­mend spe­cific ex­er­cises, such as stretches or use of a Pes­soa. The surgery site is only one small part of the whole sys­tem, so sub­se­quent clin­i­cal re­sponses are poor if the is­sues of con­di­tion­ing and sta­bil­ity have not been ad­dressed and horses re­turned to rid­den ex­er­cise too soon. “Of­ten we’ll in­volve an ACPAT physio, but there are ther­a­pies avail­able which are not based on sound sci­en­tific ev­i­dence. At best, some ad­vice is use­less — but costly — and at worst it can be harm­ful.”

Make ground­work count

Love it or loathe it, ground­work is im­per­a­tive for your horse’s phys­i­cal re­con­di­tion­ing. “Any horse need­ing ground­work — es­pe­cially one who’s had time off after in­jury — re­quires walk­ing, walk­ing, walk­ing,” stresses equine be­hav­iour con­sul­tant and horse trainer Me­lanie S Wat­son. “I’m a huge ad­vo­cate of long-rein­ing. Get horses out walk­ing and grad­u­ally in­tro­duce some hill work, plus poles on the ground in the school. This will get ev­ery­thing nec­es­sary work­ing again and en­sures the horse is work­ing into a con­tact in a bi­lat­er­ally equal man­ner.”

Any horse need­ing ground­work, but es­pe­cially one who’s had time off after in­jury, re­quires walk­ing, walk­ing, walk­ing

Me­lanie also en­cour­ages work on a Pes­soa, pro­vid­ing you know how to use it ef­fec­tively. A neg­a­tive re­ac­tion could risk rein­jury. “There are DVDs and tu­to­ri­als on how to use one cor­rectly, or seek help from a pro­fes­sional,” she says. “The beauty of a Pes­soa is that you can get your horse go­ing long and low, us­ing tran­si­tions and build­ing up bursts of for­ward trot to get him work­ing from be­hind and strength­en­ing his ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles. “No Pes­soa? Then loop a tail ban­dage un­der his tail and tie the ends to a roller. It doesn’t have to be tight, it just re­minds the horse that his back end is there and needs to be used,” she ex­plains. “It may be­come slack as he lifts his back, which is fan­tas­tic con­di­tion­ing for car­ry­ing a rider again.” Me­lanie also rec­om­mends clicker train­ing to men­tally stim­u­late your horse when his phys­i­cal ex­er­cise is lim­ited. “Spend­ing time with him and mak­ing him use his brain can help avoid is­sues re­lat­ing to bore­dom and stress,” she says.

Push­ing your­self too far, too quickly, can cause more is­sues in the fu­ture

Do ev­ery­thing in lit­tle steps when you start to rein­tro­duce rid­den work

In-hand work will help to build up your horse’s strength be­fore you ride him

In­flam­ma­tion must have gone down be­fore work is re­sumed

Long-rein­ing will im­prove your horse’s stamina if he’s been off for a while

Kc slowly built up her horse King’s work after in­va­sive surgery

Have a l es­son o r s ome­one more ex­pe­ri­enced on hand t o h elp g et y ou b ack in the swing of things

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