Rehabbing An Injured Horse
It is a bit of an anxiety-filled word to most horse owners. You have just spent a large amount of money at the vet’s office and a diagnosis has been handed down with the prognosis of recovery if rehabilitation goes as planned. Immediate thoughts of self doubt and questioning begin. “What if I don’t do it right? Should I stall them or turn them out? What drugs or supplements will I use? Will a ceramic or copper infused wrap help… or a vibration plate? Should use a chiropractor? An acupuncturist? A horse medium!?!?”
And then your ulcer begins along with your horse’s. . .
If you can’t tell, I’ve been there. In fact I’m currently rehabbing a mare with a torn gluteal muscle. But I’ve also been on the other side trying to help set the rehab plan into motion. Throughout my years of helping horses get better, I have noticed some undying trends. And in hopes of helping others, I thought I’d share them.
1.) It takes a team. If it is a leg; bring in your hoof care specialist. If it’s soft tissue; your acupuncturist or massage therapist can help. It will also take a willing partner that wants to see the horse better as well. That can be a devoted spouse, barn buddy or horse-loving kid. You will not be able to all of this alone, and support is critical as well as refreshing.
2.) Blood Flow. The ONLY way the body can remove damaged cells and bring in nutrients for new cells … is blood. Restricted blood flow = slower healing. So I am ALL ABOUT methods that increase, repair, stimulate, or in any way, assist the circulatory system of the horse. Look into this to see what methods best can help your horse and his specific injury. Acupuncture/acupressure, massage, cold therapy lasers, and a long list of healing modalities fit here but due to word count restrictions, we can not list them all! That said, it does not need to be an expensive tool or large piece of equipment.
It may simply be frequent hand walking, taking the shoes off to increase the leg circulatory function, cold water impact therapy (high pressure hose/spray nozzle), epsom salt, or just massaging the area as best your horse will allow. Also keep in mind most anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed to our horses not only decrease pain, but also allow the inflammation to be at a minimum to maintain blood flow to the area. Whatever it is you can do to assist the blood flow, do it!
3.) Nutrition. I feel this gets overlooked so often in rehab. In fact, we often take a horse off supplemental feed while “standing in the stall”. Do they do this to humans? “Oh you broke your leg, so now you will eat only spinach and water until you heal.” NO! So why do we do this to horses? An adjustment may be needed in the amount of calories fed, but the horse NEEDS good nutrition even more at this point.
Look at the minimum requirement your current feed says meets your horse’s nutritional needs based on weight. (Some feeds require a least 6 pounds a day to meet the vitamin and mineral needs of a 1000 pound horse). If that is too many calories then change your feed to one that has a higher concentrated nutrient content and feed less pounds. There are even several hay balancers out there that are minimal calories to maximum nutrients. Also address your horse’s digestive health, mainly ulcers. There are some great plant-based daily ulcer prevention products out there. Your horse is in pain, cooped up, and may have a diet change…ulcers will happen. The last thing they need is to add another issue to their injury.
4.) Time. The number one prescription of all is giving the horse’s body time to heal. I have always been the one to add an extra few weeks or month to my rehab timeline. If you buy into the theory it takes a minimum 8 weeks to get a horse fit, then think of how long healing + rehabilitation + getting fit again takes. Many injuries can take even longer to heal depending on the amount of blood flow to the affected area. Remember, our horse’s body does not know nationals are only three months away.
My heart goes out to all of you facing the long journey of rehabbing a horse. There is no ONE way to do it the best, but hopefully the tips I’ve provided will help. YOU know your horse. Listen to your gut, and never be afraid to ask for help or second opinions. You and your horse will get through this together and hopefully come out closer and healthy at the end.
Raised in a family run veterinary clinic, some of Summer’s first memories are going on calls with her father, Dr. R. Scott Nicholson. Growing up assisting in the care and healing of animals led her to further her dedication to animals by attending Oklahoma State University and earn a Bachelors in Animal Science Pre-Veterinary medicine. Summer has worked for multiple veterinarians over the years as well as trained and cared for her own horses and several outside horses. Be it in the lab, in sales, marketing, or direct animal care, her focus and profession has remained animal-centered. She lives in Nebraska with her family, two dogs, two cats, and five horses.