Stable rest or in the field? The importance of controlled movement

stable rest rehabilitation field injury

Stable rest or in the field? The importance of controlled movement

Written by Morgan Lashley

When you’ve got a horse with an injury, you often you get the advice: controlled exercise. But why is this so important?

And isn’t is sad that your horse is not allowed to be free outside? And how do you keep your horse calm during this period?

When there is an injury, there is tissue damage.

This tissue has to heal and the process of tissue healing follows certain phases, which apply to all types of tissues. At a certain moment in the process, repair tissue has formed: scar tissue (like with tendons and ligaments) or new, original tissue (like with bones).

No matter the original type of tissue, in the beginning all repair tissue is more fragile and not of the same quality as the original.

The fragile tissue can be damaged quickly when there is too much loading of the tissue too early.

In the beginning, all repair tissue is more fragile and not of the same quality as the original.

Also, too much loading in this phase can lead to less quality and strength of the repair tissue.

No loading is also not good for the repair tissue. It should be adapting to its function in the future, so it has to adapt to the direction of force and loading.

In other words: no loading isn’t good and too much loading isn’t good either.

The compromise?

Controlled exercise.

By controlled exercise, I mean that the horse moves in a controlled way, for example by walking in hand, walking under the saddle or walking on a (water)treadmill.

It is important that the owner and the therapist keep the control of the speed, duration and frequency of exercise.

Besides controlled exercise, the horse should be on stall rest with more serious injuries. Make sure there is enough ventilation and good bedding in the stable.

It’s also important that the horse has constant access to roughage, possibly with a slow-feeder.

When the horse is free to move (for example in the paddock or field), it will lead to uncontrolled motion like little sprints, slipping, short turns and sliding stops.

A horse is a flight animal and, because of its adrenaline, it will run through the pain when there is a big enough external stimulus.

The amount of controlled exercise is depending on the tissue that is injured and the severity of the injury.

It is very important to have the right diagnosis and a complete diagnosis. Some horses have multiple problems, like limb and back problems.

When the picture is complete, the rehabilitation plan can be adjusted optimally.

A horse is a flight animal and, because of its adrenaline, it will run through the pain when there is a big enough external stimulus.

Horses seem to be adjusting very quickly at stall rest. A study shows that there was no difference in behavior at the stables between horses who get out every day and horses who get out only once every 14 days. (Houpt et al: The effect of exercise deprivation on the behavior and physiology of straight stall confined pregnant mares Anim Welf 2001;10:257-67).

Of course it is important that a horse with stall rest is not left behind alone, without other horses near, because this will cause stress and restlessness.

How to keep your horse in control

Controlled movement is easier said than done. The first weeks are often fine, but eventually the horses will become too energetic to walk calmly in hand. Here are some tips to keep the exercise as controlled as possible:

Don’t give concentrates with too much energy.

Horses that are in rehabilitation usually get enough energy from just the roughage, supplemented with vitamines or minerals. Concentrated gives unnecessary energy. When the horse is allowed to work more, you can give more concentrates again.

Try to walk your horse on quiet moments.

Estimate when it is the most quiet at your barn and use these moments to go for a walk.

Use a bridle or special training halter.

You’ll have more influence on the horse.

Keep your horse ‘working’ while walking.

Ask regularly for transitions (walking-halt, faster-slower) and let your horse do some steps reinback. This way you’ll keep your horse more focused on you and let him use his body more. Does your horse have a very serious injury? Discuss first with your veterinarian if you can savely do these exercises.

Use side reins while walking your horse.

It can have a great effect on the control of your horse. You’ll also keep the topline working the right way. The side reins should not be to too tight!

When you walk your horse under the saddle,

you can keep more control and influence his posture more. However, walking under saddle gives higher loading as well, so discuss with your veterinarian first.

Sedation can help you keep your horse calm.

There are all kinds of sedations which you can administer as an owner. Most sedations are safe to use for a long period of time.

Didn’t any of these tips work with keeping your horse calm? You can also try to walk them on a treadmill or water treadmill to help them get rid of their energy in a controlled way.

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