My horse is a rehabilitation horse: now what?
In this Blog I will take you along my personal journey with my horse Grandioso. One day Grandioso became lame and the lameness was specially shown in movement. I went to a clinic with him for a diagnosis. The result of this diagnosis was that his future as a riding horse was over. Best case scenario was that he could stay as pasture buddy for the other horses. This story is an extreme example that you may encounter as a horse owner. Fortunately, in most cases it is about lighter injuries and a better future perspective.
A rehabilitation process starts from the moment that you as a horse owner identify a problem with your horse and that you want to take steps to gain insight into what is going on and how to solve it.
Step 1: recognizing the problem
Grandioso was trained for the first 10 years of his education according to the principles of the Academic Art of Riding by Bent Branderup. I attended this school because the philosophy appealed so much to me: “ Dressage for the horse and not the horse for dressage ”. Also, the beauty of the art of riding, the harmony between rider and horse and how the horse is shaped and guided through mainly seat aids, fitted completely my goals and dreams.
At a certain moment Grandioso became quite good at doing the side movements and I had developed a very subtle communication with him . Still, there were some aspects in our development that I was not satisfied with. The ability of stabilizing his body, of stabilizing his balance. Of gaining a more powerful movement with more elasticity and cadence. And… when I take it further back to the basics: a horse that can maintain his own balance through self-carriage in the working gates trot and canter.
I started to look further. My search was focussed on the choice of training method. Therefore I started an education in dressage. During this dressage training Grandioso was put to work more intensely and with more transitions and canter work. Despite his dressage training, the feeling of a stable and supported back, a more powerful movement with spring and cadence and a horse moving in a good self-carriage was not achieved. In fact, at a certain point Grandioso started to become lame.
Despite having so many problems with Grandioso, I now got to a point where I clearly recognized a problem and that I felt the need for obtaining a good diagnosis!
Step 2: acknowledging the problem and the unconditional will to solve it
The moment that you acknowledge the problem is the moment that you start to ask for help. You can no longer solve it yourself and you need others for expertise and services. These can be veterinarians, practitioners, therapists and other specialists.
The unconditional will to solve it is necessary to persevere! You are entering uncertain times. A time in which you invest a lot of your time and money and where you have no guarantees whatsoever about the result. And we are talking here about your horse! Your great love, your friend! Is he going to get better? Will he be functionally deployable again and what does that mean for his resilience?
And also the emotional part about your dreams and future plans. You have to let go of this! The will to help your horse is greater than your own ambitions . All the sadness and disappointments must be set aside and you focus completely on the wellbeing and soundness of your horse!
Step 3: well-founded diagnosis
Obtaining a diagnosis through a veterinarian or a clinic often provides insight into the problem area. Where is it located? What is going on in the body? But this is of course not the complete picture. The body is a coherent whole. WHY did the problem, like osteoarthritis, arise? My experience is that veterinarians often detect the problem area, but you get less insight about the cause. As a horse owner you will often have to look further and investigate the bigger picture.
In the case of Grandioso, his diagnosis was that he has osteoarthritis in his right hind knee and a fissure in the meniscus. The problem was tracked down and the damage in the meniscus made that his perspectives were poor. Damage in the meniscus does not heal.
The conclusion of the diagnosis encouraged me to seek contact with a vet for laser therapy. I then got in touch with a vet who wanted to laser the knee / meniscus experimentally to experiment what the lasering would do for tissue repair. My contribution to this experiment was that I would monitor the process by doing ultrasound on a regular basis and by documenting the differences in the tissue. After 6 weeks, the conclusion was that the fissure in the meniscus slightly improved and that continuing with lasering was no longer useful.
My next step was to go to a highly recommended and specialized clinic for a diagnosis of the musculoskeletal system. Their conclusion was that Grandioso has osteoarthritis in several places and that he experienced bone pain. Grandioso was given a medicine to rebalance and restore the normal bone metabolism. Thanks to this medicine Grandioso started to feel much better and his locomotion improved.
After a period of rest of more than a year I started very carefully to take Grandioso back into training. At the time, I began an education as a rehabilitation trainer. I joined this program with my young horse Jugo. All the insights and techniques I learned through that year I also put them into practise for the training and recovery of Grandioso. Slowly, very slowly I began to notice that his body coordination improved and that I could keep him out of his (old) compensation patterns more easily.
In my second year of my education as a rehabilitation trainer I finally got the opportunity to present Grandioso. This second year is entirely dedicated to the rehabilitation of a horse. During this year you receive intensive guidance and the progress is monitored very closely. For me, finally I was no longer alone in this. I received help and support of experts and wonderful people with a big heart for the well-being and health of horses and how we can train them in a sustainable way.
Step 4: treatment plan
The success of a rehabilitation process is determined by a holistic approach of looking at your horse. When you miss one piece of the puzzle the rehabilitation process will stagnate, the development of your horse slows down or in the worst case your horse does not improve at all.
Drawing up a treatment plan ensures that you include all the different aspects in the assessment. Every topic needs to be discussed and worked out in concrete actions and measures.
Topics that come up in the treatment plan are:
- Practitioners and therapists
- Bridle and bit
- Rider (you need to take a close look at yourself to see what your contribution is in the rehabilitation process: think of overweight, attitude and expectations, emotional state, experience and skills)
- Additional research
Treatment plan Grandioso
As much as possible outside 24/7 to keep Grandioso moving. Together with other horses to encourage movement because movement keeps the body more supple and the fascia active.
Very tight pasture management to limit the amount of grass feeding. Low sugar intake is essential to prevent the body from developing inflammation. Inflammation can be the precursor to osteoarthritis and sore muscles.
Feeding hay instead of hay silage.
The use of supplements for osteoarthritis such as glucosamine , MSM, green-lipped mussel.
Homeopathy, cell salts and herbs with a focus on bone metabolism, pain relief, movement.
Practitioners and therapists
To remove blockages in the body and to support the body with bodywork I had chosen 2 therapists for Grandioso. Every two months one of the two came to give Grandioso a treatment. This continuity was also very helpful to read the body in terms of progression and to peel off the different layers in the recovery of the body.
Good balance of the hoof and the hoof/bone structure is essential for a correct movement pattern.
In the beginning I had to trim Grandioso myself on a weekly basis. I had to be very precise in the maintenance of the hooves otherwise his biomechanics got influenced in a negative way by his hooves. Of course, the other way around happened too. His crooked movement formed his hooves to uneven vertical balance, a wrong horizontal balance and flairs in the hoof wall.
The training of Grandioso was completely focused on the vertical balance. The vertical balance allows the horse to raise its back and adopt a forward downward outward tendency. When the back is raised, more things happen at the same time. The sternum is lifted, the front legs are placed further forward, the hind legs are further under the body, the underline is shortened and the topline is stretched. So the horse changes throughout its entire body. His muscles and fascies are activated which stabilizes his trunk. A stable trunk provides a freer movement and a healthy movement pattern.
Step 5: implementation treatment plan and training
“Treatment loosens up, training solves it”.
All measures indicated in the treatment plan are important for the degree of success of the rehabilitation process. Yet you can say that the training is the most important component to do this in a sustainable way. You cannot start a rehabilitation process, ask for help from different specialists and then do the same thing in the training that you have always done. Training means fully taking into account the load capacity of your horse. The pace at which the horse recovers and the extent to which the horse is loadable, is determined entirely by the horse. That is why it is so important that you have no expectations and concrete goals and time schedules with regard to the training. The goals are determined by a healthy body posture and a correct movement pattern. No matter how great the challenge is to straighten and balance your horse, it is and remains your mission to help your horse!
For Grandioso this meant that I was only concerned with his vertical balance during the groundwork and in the riding. A super challenge because during my education and the rehabilitation process of Grandioso it became clear that Grandioso is extreme hypermobile. This hypermobility means that Grandioso has a lot of difficulty in bringing his body into a healthy position. His connective tissue is too elastic and the energy and proprioception is not going through the body as it should be. Therefore, hypermobility makes it very difficult for the horse to stabilize its body and to maintain its correct body posture!
Step 6: evaluation
Grandioso’s treatment plan was drawn up for a period of a year and coincided with year 2 of my education as a rehabilitation trainer.
In these videos you get an impression of how Grandioso developed during this year.
The greatest gift for both of us is the improvement of Grandioso and the contact I have with him again !! Grandioso is mentally back and he feels GOOD !!! Just look at his eyes ; a nice open look, with big eyes that look at you and make contact!
Another great gift is that we are riding again. Not only in the arena for training, but also outside! We go out twice a week and make really nice rides. To the forest but also along the road in the beautiful rural area where we live.
Step 7: management of your horse
With his age of 21 and the journey we have travelled together, it doesn’t need many words to say that good management is crucial to keep my horse happy and healthy .
My latest measure in the management of my horse was to buy hoof shoes. How great is that! Nowadays we ride so much outside and make longer distances that I started to notice that Grandioso got uncomfortable and that he got sensitive with his front hooves.
Good management is above all, keeping a close eye on your horse and listen very carefully. Every slightest change in your horse, how small and perhaps seemingly unimportant to you, you have to take seriously and take action.
In our training we still make progress. Very slowly but it is still progress! And the great thing is, in the last 2 years that I have been involved with the rehabilitation of Grandioso, I have learned to enjoy the little things, the small improvements and the subtle changes in my horse.
Take this moment, I look out of the window of my living room and see my horse dozing after his morning meal. Wow, what a posture, what a selfcarriage! Beautiful isn’t it!
Would you like to read more about this topic and what you can do to keep your horse healthy?