“The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit and fire”.
The quote above is by Sharon Ralls Lemon, the author of The Ultimate Horse Book. In a small number of words she manages to capture a lot of how of how I feel about horses, and why I have developed a career that is invested in their health and wellbeing. For those of us who love horses, it is fair to say that they are a passionate part of our lives.
Through my profession I have realised that our vision of these magnificent animals can be shortened by the relationships we have with them – as an owner, rider, trainer, even a veterinarian. By this I mean, we often connect to them purely through the purpose we need them for – a lot of the time that need is competition. If you own or work closely with a horse who has endured a long and physical competitive season in the UAE, then the topic I’m going to cover in this piece could be very useful.
Competitive horses, similar to their human counterparts are rarely without a physical niggle, or just plain injured. Their formidable size and power does not shield them from the wear and tear that is brought about by galloping for sustained distances, dressage and jumping – with added weight on their backs. So rest is definitely needed.
With the season in the UAE done and dusted, many horses will get valuable rest so that they can be ready for the next season and heal from any injuries that they picked up over the course of the one just gone. However, here is the thing: giving a horse too much rest can be counterproductive and have a weakening effect.
Why? How? Well, to begin with muscle wastage sets in and leads to a reduction in mass, but the tendons and ligaments also lose their strength and elasticity. A muscle takes much less time than a tendon to repair, as they enjoy ample supplies of blood. A horse that has had a long period of rest and goes back into training too quickly is more prone to injuries than a horse that has been maintained with light training during the summer.
If a horse is recovering from, say, a tendon injury, just because the horse is not showing any lameness after a couple of months rest does not mean it is back to full strength. That tendon will have scar tissue and still be weak, even if the horse shows no discomfort, so it is crucial that you give that tissue extra time to strengthen. Keep in mind that it takes the scar tissue between 10-12 months to reach its full strength, and even then, it will be weaker than the original tissue.
Keeping a horse on the sidelines for a number of months might appear to not be financially viable, but can an owner really afford to lose a horse that they’ve invested so much time and money in, for an even longer spell, or even permanently? Of course, if the horse has an acute injury then box rest is required until the horse can move again, but as soon as it can move around keep it moving. Horses that suffer from arthritis are in real danger during the summer as they do not move as much and stiffen up. The joints need to be in motion in order to get that circulation going and keep nutrition coming to the joint. The more mobile they are, the healthier it is for them.
The off-season is the time to work on the injuries and twinges the horse might have gotten. Horses aren’t meant to be in boxes all day and then just put 30 minutes in the walker machine or a paddock; that are almost the same size as the boxes where they are unable to move around. These are some of the most athletic animals on earth after all. Many times, I hear that the horse does not get paddock time because ‘it goes crazy’! Its not that the horse is crazy; they’re just happy to have space to move. If you are afraid that your horse will hurt itself while it´s out, then just put some leg protections on instead of keeping it in a box or lunge it for a few minutes in a controlled speed and then let it loose.
Think about it and get in touch if you need some help. Use the summer wisely; if you are going on a long vacation find someone who is willing to either ride your horse or lunge it. It will be greatly beneficial for your horse and for the sake of the coming season to have a stronger horse.
By Shirly Vigdis Sewell
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