If we find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of having a lame horse which most of us will at some point - we firstly need to seek out a good vet to try and help us. Lame Crooked Horses, Reluctant or Angry to work need a vet. A good vet is going to mean you save time and money in the long-run. A vet lacking in knowledge will send you down the wrong path and use all of your insurance money looking at wrong things or not identifying the problem. I have just recently worked on a case where I had asked for the feet and back to be X-rayed as there were clear signs of problems. The vet who took the radiographs said the X-Rays were OK and not causing the horse a problem. I on the other hand after seeing the X-Rays had concerns. I called in a knowledgable vet who confirmed the concerns I had. Its important your vet also understands the symptoms of the physical problems horses can have. Once the issue is identified the next thing to consider is “has my vet found a symptom of a bigger issue?” Or have we found the route cause of all the issues? Some horses can look lame behind from gut imbalance or stomach ulcers for instance. Does your vet think out side the box? Back pain can come from foot imbalance. Reluctance to go forwards can be a tight saddle. Finding the Root Cause is not always straight forward or easy!!

There are many fabulous vets in the UK, and sadly there are a few that are trying their best but through lack of knowledge I think give out the wrong advice. I am not a vet and don’t pretend to be – but I work with many rehab horses and horses living with severe arthritis and other debilitating conditions that if we had gone along with the some of the vet’s advice it would have been absolutely detrimental to the horse. (This does not include my current vets who I am able to work with closely)

Box Rest albeit extremely necessary at times with soft tissue damage for example - can be for some horses the worst possible thing you can do. When I hear of horses going on box rest for 6 or 8 weeks, when they are just 1-2 tenths lame I shudder at the loss of muscle and strength that the horse will lose. I have great concern secondly when I think how is this inexperienced owner then going to work on helping that horse back to strength. Sadly, most owners will think 4 weeks of walk, 4 weeks of trot, and then canter work will be all that is needed. And it is so far from the case!

If you spend 4 weeks aimlessly walking around the school or down the road you will literally achieve nothing. Those weeks, months and years of rehabilitation need to be spent with a list of goals to achieve. At the centre of all of the hard work you do, strengthening that horse’s core muscles and teaching your horse to weight bare evenly are the key to your success. Working with an experienced trainer who understands how to get the horse strong through exercises is key.

Using Training Aids such as the Pessoa or other forcing tools, is not advisable if the horse is weak. Many will compensate loading limbs to try and find a comfortable way of moving. It’s a disaster when done incorrectly and causes far more damage than repair. Even if the horse has got a little stronger- only the experienced should use training aids.

Muscle Development = Stability Repetitive Overload = Injury

In your Rehabilitation plan the first obstacle is to remove pain as much as possible, so the horse can switch on correct muscular pathways. A good vet should be able to assist you in this. Depending on the type of pain your horse may need shock wave therapy, acupuncture, electrical stimulation, manual therapy, or as a last resort a steroid injection.

Your horse will need a full management plan which may include –

• SI problems, 24 hour turn-out can be really helpful
• Back problems feeding hay from the ground rather than a haynet
• Arthritis as much movement as possible
• Many vets believe in stable exercises (carrot stretches etc)
• Groundwork Exercises prove very helpful
• Treadmill – movement without weight of a rider – CAUTION ON HEIGHT AND SPEED
• Ridden Exercises so you can feel the changes

When putting together your programme you need to consider everything. The Core Problem (if you know it) not just the symptoms. How weak is this horse? How uneven is its current muscle development? Is it really heavy on the forehand?

The programme needs to be completely tailored to that horses needs – there is never one fixed programme for every horse. The programme will change as the horse develops. It is vital you can see these changes so you know if it is getting better or worse.

Its team work to really give the horse every chance– the rider/owner, trainer, equine body worker, vet, tack/saddler, nutritionist, farrier, dentist.

There are many reasons for Rehab work, but one of the most difficult I think is following a Kissing Spine Op.

If your horse has a kissing spine, working out where the spinal rotation is and correcting the muscle imbalance will ensure your horse changes and finds comfort. Kissing spine is caused through muscle imbalance and the vertebrae in your horse’s spine being forced into a position that causes them to touch. Many horses could be spared the operation as it can be corrected through correct motion and rebalance of the muscles if the bones aren’t fused. There are many experts out there using their own correcting techniques – personally I have been lucky enough to work with and study many. I have seen much success in the teachings of Jean Luc Cornille (Science of Motion). I know of other techniques people use with proven success in the spine. The only issue with the others I have found, is that they encourage the horse very much onto the forehand which then causes many problems for the front limbs over time. I think there are some owners that believe having a kissing spine operation will be a quick fix. It literally couldn’t be further from the truth. Horses spines are more controlled to their movement than anything else, whereas for humans it’s our brains.

Bone has the highest capacity for complete tissue repair, the bone cells work together to repair mechanical damage. Improving the mechanics of your horse can reduce the chances of damage. If you can get the compression off of the joint then repair can start.

When your horse has the Kissing Spine Op they remove the vertebrae –- The horse’s stability and bridge of support is completely altered. So, this is a massive issue for the horse going forwards unless the rehabilitation is very knowledgeable, slow and thorough. You need to be experienced, dedicated and patient with the long road to gaining a strong horse.

The Second biggest Rehab I tend to come across is through hind limb problems. Many Dressage Horses suffer from Hind Limb Suspensory problems and Hock Problems. They generally seem to have both of these issues together. The Hock needs exercise but the Suspensory needs rest. It’s a difficult treatment process and working closely with your vet to assess if what you are doing is making things worse or better is really important. Many Owners have found the water treadmill very helpful as you have the cooling of the water for the suspensories, but the movement for the hocks. Ensure that the treadmill operator understands what is needed and works with you carefully.

A treadmill can help to get a weak horse moving, but working with the horse from the ground or ridden can be much more helpful as you can work directly on strengthening a joint. Bone needs time to adapt to new stresses i.e. don’t get off of the couch and run a marathon!

The saddle is vital in all of this and ensuring you have a knowledgeable, committed saddler is key. They need to understand the horse biomechanically and understand the changes that need to take place for this horse to improve. Understanding horses in this way properly does not come through a saddle fitting qualification – it comes through your saddlers own learning. I honestly don’t believe you can understand what a horse is doing with its body or really understand a gait abnormality without being a rider.

When you consider 75% of horses in normal work are lame and 95% of saddle slip is due to lameness – it makes all the difference to your horse if you have a saddler that can identify and analyse this.

Another big issue I find with Rehabilitation Horses is not just what the horse is doing to avoid using a limb but the crookedness of the rider. It has such a major impact on the horse’s ability to improve and get straighter. This is another major subject which will need to be covered separately.

I could ramble on for days about Rehabilitation and corrective riding as it’s such a huge subject and passion of mine – BUT I won’t bore you all to tears!!. I hope this shortened version of information has been interesting.