Turning a Horse's Injury Into Opportunity
Intro: My Experience
The year 2020 has definitely thrown us all curveballs. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the equestrian competitions have been either delayed or canceled. In my case, my competition was mainly derailed because my main competition horse Uno suffered an injury in January. It knew it would change my training and competitions plans completely for at least the next 1-1.5 years. Now nearly ten months into this rehab, this timeline does seem to be accurate.
Because of how challenging 2020 has been in particular, I am even more eager to learn and grow from this year. So here are a few major tips I have to share with you about how to deal with your equine partner suffering an injury.
Tip #1: Improving your own fitness
Fortunately, I was able to stay fit in the saddle by riding other horses, but I’m sure there are many riders that unfortunately have to stay on the sidelines when their partner gets injured. Thus, staying fit and healthy outside of the saddle for when they do recover, would be even more important.
Even with riding 2-4 horses per day, I do like to stay fit through cross-training regularly. My main source of alternative exercise is running because it is my passion. However, I do supplement this with five days of strength training per week. I alternative between core, legs and arms, and frequently do more intense full-body workouts if I am not riding or not running that day. I highly recommend incorporating the TFE LIVE video workouts into your programs if you aren’t motivated to do strength training. I usually find it somewhat boring because I prefer to go outside and run away from myself to get mental clarity, but the TFE workouts are really helpful to stay motivated and focused.
I’ve seen tremendous progress in both my form and effectiveness as a rider. No longer am I as intensely tilting my upperbody over fences, and thus having lower legs swing up. Instead, I am able to center my upper-body over my lower body, put weight into my heels, and keep my calf still over the fence. This has become extremely helpful when riding hot or sensitive horses that respond to your aids immediately. It’s also helped me riding the colder horses that need more supportive leg constantly throughout the ride. I rarely ride cold horses, so when I do, I always feel relieved that I can actually endure the ride because of my strength training.
Tip #2: Gain Some Perspective
Analyzing your horse’s current nutrition/exercise program and see if any improvements can be made while not dealing with the stresses of constantly showing. I found that I needed to look over my horse’s overall nutrition program with the support of my barn and veternarian to see if anything could be improved. I found that with a lack of grass like he normally would have, Uno needed more supplements with nutrients such as Omega-3s in his diet. For exercise, I definitely wanted to ensure I got him out of the ring enough by doing trail rides and rides on the grass-field, for some mental breaks. Even now in rehab, we are able to go out on hacks outside of the barn because he’s pretty brave and the act of doing so is normalized with us now.
Tip #3: Focus on the Details
Take the rehab riding slowly with great attention to detail. Now is the time to address the nuanced problems or incorrect tendencies your horse has. For example, does your horse naturally drift a certain way or have a narrow base, or tend to brace on a certain side?
With a minimum of five months of stall rest to heal the bone injury, I knew we would be starting with fairly low fitness levels. It’s one thing to not be ridden, but for a horse to have zero turnout or walking, the rehab is definitely both a mental and physical period of development. During those five months of stall rest, I made sure to constantly groom and dote on Uno so he didn’t feel neglected and that our partnership would still stay strong. When we began riding, I continued this habit. Even at a full-service barn, I find being hands-on with my horse’s care really helps our bond. Whether this is a grooming session or hand grazing, the horses do appreciate it.
Even when we were only tack walking, I would make it a flat ride working on certain movements. Uno has a tendency to be narrow at the base so I worked a lot on lateral movements, especially making him use his right hind. It was actually one of the hardest parts of rehab because we’ve never focused a ton on the walk! Having him in front of the leg, taking the bit, and reaching through his back was fairly tricky, all while keeping him straight! When we began trot and canter work, the progress I made in the walk definitely translated to the next two gates because his repsoniveness from leg-to-hand was much quicker. I also love voice cues because they can be very helpful on course when the horse is nervous or you need them to slow down without pulling on the bit too much. Uno used to always rush through combinations, but by this last year they became an easy part of the course when we mastered vocal cues and upper-body control.
I am happy to say that as of now, Uno’s rehabilitation has been going very well! Uno is now working on cavaletti exercises, with me focusing on the details. This is the key part of Uno’s build to jumping because we already know how to jump big, it’s about fixing the problem we know will only be exacerbated as the jumps get higher. I love cavalettis because you can practice them far more than jumps without taxing the horse’s bodies as much. It’s also a great time to focus on riding position without worrying about getting over a big fence.
I am looking forward to taking Uno down for the entire WEF 2021 circuit to begin his journey back into the show ring. It’s certainly been a crazy year, but boy am I glad we both got through it in one piece!
TFE Ambassador Martha Wyatt-Luth