It is disappointing not to be able to ride a recuperating horse – but there’s nothing quite like playing “veterinarian” to discover plenty of little things to work on with him during his convalescence!
Mind your manners
My recuperating horse did not want to stand with his foot in the bucket of warm water/Epsom salts. He did not want any icky concoctions syringed into his mouth. He was not particularly patient about holding his hoof up for lengthy periods while I struggled with poultice, vet wrap and miles of duct tape. In short, after a few days confined to a stall, this 24/7 turnout horse was getting a wee bit exciting to handle.
Your horse’s training does not have to stop just because he is on stall rest. If anything, it can be just as important to keep working with your horse in some fashion during this time. Bored horses with energy to burn can “forget” their manners, and come up with countless new games to test out on their handlers.
Keep things interesting
Following are some of my favorite things to work on with horses that are on stall rest or rehabbing. As always, your safety comes first – if your recuperating horse does not handle stall rest well, and is overly difficult or energetic to handle, only do things you know you can do safely. Balance your training sessions with how your horse is feeling – you don’t need to play with him for an hour at a time. Horses that are in pain or feeling somewhat miserable are going to be more touchy, just like people. A few repetitions of an exercise or technique are sufficient. Do not do anything with your horse that will aggravate his condition, and know when to ease off.
1 Body yields.
Yielding is an easy thing to work on with your horse at any time – you can do it while working around or grooming your horse in the stall. Have your horse softly move his front or hind end away, move sideways, back up, lower his head, and so on.
2 First aid practice.
Painful injuries can bring out the worst in our horses, and understandably so. It can be tough to help your recuperating horse understand that if he would just let you clean that sore cut, you’ll be able to help make it feel better. If I have to syringe anything into my horse’s mouth, I like to practice a few times by putting something yummy in the syringe so he doesn’t start to anticipate the syringe with an icky taste.
Injections are generally not a horse’s favorite thing, so it can be a good idea to practice teaching your horse to relax for needles, rather than getting tense and worried. A popular way to simulate this is with a toothpick – the horse gets the sensation of a needle without breaking the skin.
Depending on where the horse’s injury is, I will also practice my leg wrapping technique, and teach the horse not to helpfully lift his leg as I am wrapping. It may be necessary to teach your horse to stand for cold hosing, or to stand in a bucket or water or ice.
I wouldn’t practice techniques involving an affected limb or even a leg that is not affected, since if the horse objects and picks up that leg, he will transfer more weight to the injured limb. Stick to areas that are not going to annoy your horse.
3 Everyday reminders.
This involves working on things you don’t always have or make time for while your horse is in work. If you have a recuperating horse that is difficult to halter or bridle, softly work on having him accept each of these things. Work on mane pulling and braiding, if that is in your grooming regime, and basic clipping (every horse should be able to accept clippers, in case of an injury/emergency). If you have a horse that can get rude at feeding time, remind him how to behave in a mannerly fashion.
4 Touch acceptance.
If I have a recuperating horse that’s touchy about certain areas of his body, I will use stall time to increase touch acceptance. Again, don’t aggravate certain areas if the horse is in pain, and read the horse to know when to leave well enough alone. We commonly work on hoof handling, desensitizing the ear-shy horse, handling/cleaning the horse’s nether regions, and whatever else a particular horse may get fidgety about.
Stall rest does not mean putting a halt on training or bonding with your recuperating horse. In fact, it can be very beneficial in the long run. Again, when working with a horse that is injured and on rest, keep your safety and your horse’s pain level/attitude in mind. Do not do anything that will aggravate him or his injury. Have fun with your horse, and by the time he is ready to go back to work, you will have an equine partner that is better in areas you perhaps overlooked or didn’t make time for in the past. Some of the exercises will improve your skills too!