Rehab Techniques


When you are bringing a horse back from any type of injury or illness, common health related rehab tasks become a daily necessity. Some of these, if you have not done them before, can be slightly baffling and frustrating.

I can use myself as a perfect example. For years, I dreaded having to poultice and wrap hooves. I felt completely inept when it came to doing this task, and my poultices rarely lasted more than a few hours. One day, at a new facility, I was helping the barn manager as she poulticed and wrapped a horse’s foot (I use the term “helping” loosely – in reality I was holding the scissors). She showed me a technique that made absolute sense! So let’s start with that.

HINT: Some people like to add a hoof boot or soaking boot to prevent the hoof from wearing through the wrap and duct tape. This is especially useful if the horse will be wearing the poultice for any length of time.

Poulticing

Ideally, ask for help when performing this task. You will be occupied with holding the horse’s foot up and doing the “intricate” wrapping job – so having someone to help hold the horse and hand you supplies is a good idea. Once you’ve started, you don’t want to set your horse’s foot down until you are done!

If you can’t find anyone to help you, tie your horse on a clean, dry surface where she is most comfortable, and make sure ahead of time that all your supplies are within easy reach. You will need poulticing material, some type of stretchy vet wrap, duct tape and scissors.

  • Cut eight to ten pieces of duct tape that are several inches to a foot in length (there is no real science to this – it will depend on your horse’s hoof size and shape). Place half of these on the ground, sticky side up, going vertically. Place the other half on top of these, again sticky side up, going horizontally. You now have a double layer square of duct tape that will be easy to apply.
  • Pick up your horse’s clean hoof, making sure you’re both in a position that will be somewhat comfortable to hold for a couple of minutes. Place the poultice on the horse’s hoof. It is usually best if the poultice material is the same size as or slightly larger than the bottom of your horse’s hoof – this helps prevent the poultice from shifting from the area where it’s most needed.
  • Wrap your horse’s entire hoof from top to bottom with the vet wrap, being careful not to wrap too tightly around the coronet band area. Concentrate some extra wrap around the bottom and edge of your horse’s foot to help prevent the foot breaking through it.
  • Place your square of duct tape on your horse’s foot. The bottom of the foot should be in the middle of the square with the edges folding up the outside of the hoof to the coronet band. Cut off any excess, and check again for tightness around the coronet area. Voila!

HINT: You will often hear horse people use the terms “tendon in” and “tendon out” when referring to putting on horse boots, wraps or bandages. Tendon in refers to booting or starting a wrap *medially (*toward the center of the body*)*, while tendon out refers to doing so laterally (toward the outside of the body).

Wrapping

My next favorite task is wrapping legs. Nothing quite like struggling with yards of wrap, Velcro, and no bows or cottons! Until you get the hang of wrapping, it can make you feel rather clumsy.

For this job you will need a set of standing wraps (or your preferred type of wrap), and a set of no bows (or cottons, etc). There are a number of different ways to wrap legs, depending on what you are trying to do for your horse and the type of support she needs. When in doubt, consult your trainer or veterinarian.

Below is what I consider the most common, basic technique.

  • Take your first no bow or cotton and roll it. Make sure your wraps are also rolled ahead of time. Do not start the wrap on your horse’s tendon. Place the edge of the no bow front and centre on your horse’s leg, and wrap tendon in with even tension – back to the tendon, then toward the center of the body, then toward the front of the horse, and finally around the front of the horse’s leg towards you. Continue doing so until the end of the no bow. The no bow should be snug enough that it will not slip/move, but not so tight that you cannot fit a couple fingers at the top. There should be no wrinkles or bunching.
  • Now take your standing bandage/wrap, and start it underneath the finishing edge of the no bow. Wrap in the same fashion, tendon in with even tension, wrapping down the leg and back up. Add a little tension with each circuit of the leg by pulling slightly as you come around the front of the horse’s leg (the lateral part of your wrap). Do not tug or add tension as you go around the tendon (the medial part of your wrap). Leave 1/2” to 1” of no bow sticking out at the bottom and top of the wrap. The Velcro should ideally end up around the top portion of your wrap. Ensure you can still stick a few fingers between your horse’s leg and the no bow/wrap, to make sure it is not too tight.

HINT: While most wraps come with the Velcro nicely on the outside, it’s more helpful if you keep them wrapped with the Velcro in, starting at the Velcro end of the wrap. This way, they will be ready to go on your horse.

Intramuscular injections

While it can seem daunting, it’s important to know how to give your horse an IM (intramuscular) injection. You may one day have to give your horse a banamine injection in a colic emergency, or penicillin following an infection. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to do this – there are a few things you need to be careful of.

In general, you must make sure you inject in an area of the neck that is largely muscle, away from bones (spine), ligaments (nuchal) and large veins/arteries. The commonly referred to “triangle zone” is the easiest and safest area to inject in.

Giving medications

Convincing your horse to consume what is “good” for him can be a challenge. Horses frequently turn their noses up at some herbs, medications and short-term supplements. Sometimes the easiest way to get these things into your horse is to syringe them directly into his mouth.

Take a plastic syringe, without the needle, and cut off the tip. If the medication is a liquid, this will be easy. If it is in pill form, you may need to dissolve it in a small amount of warm water. Place the dose in the syringe, and syringe it into your horse’s mouth just as you would a dewormer.

Hopefully some of these rehab tips will help you nurse your horse back to good health. If something comes up that you have never attempted before, ask someone more experienced, such as your trainer, barn manager or veterinarian, to show you rather than attempting it blind. Best of luck!

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