Thursday, January 01, 1998

Equine Rehabilitation - Linda

Decided it was time to reenter the discussions after a nearly six month hiatus while my Arab went to the equine sports therapist. I am now very much poorer, but so much more the wiser that I`ll have to say it was worth the expense and time away from the trail.

Much of what I observed, experienced and was taught in these months has come up recently and perhaps I can add some value to the discussion. Would also appreciate feedback on the following so we can continue to learn from each other.

My 7 yo gelding is Bask and Khemosabi on top, CMK (I think) on bottom. He`s 15:1, narrow but deep, with very long neck and medium long back. He came to me with some kind of muscle problem in the right hip, which vet/chiro thought would be fine with some work and regular adjustments.

That he got, but towards the end of a year of LSD, he began to rush down the trail with his head up, his back had hollowed, he had difficulty going downhill, and he forged and interfered badly. He developed that tell-tale bulge under his neck, and the crest was straight and weak. His back became painful all over, despite extra padding and saddle adjustments.

When even weekly chiropractic adjustments didn`t seem to make much difference, my vet suggested I take him to a local dressage trainer, who has a reputation for "rehabilitating" horses. Six months later, I have a new horse and a new attitude. Here`s what it took:

1) Longeing, five times a week. I was taught to use a surcingle with side reins and a poll pressure device that keeps the horse from raising his head (side reins alone won`t do this). They also placed a string of large wooden beads around his rear pasterns to increase the pumping action of the hind legs. The longeing technique imitates the rider`s hands working with softness and elasticity to encourage the horse to stretch his neck forward and down, thus bringing the hindquarters under him and rounding the back, all without a rider`s weight.

2) Chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, acupressure, laser therapy, microcurrent treatments, and stretching excercises. Yup, he got the works and loved every moment of it (I told my friends my horse was at a spa). I can`t isolate the beneficial effects of each of these therapies, but clearly in sum they were successful in relieving soreness and rehabilitating muscles.

3) Therapeutic arena work with a trained rider, still using the poll pressure device and wooden beads. He graduated to this after 3-4 months of longeing and the above therapies to relieve pain and strengthen his back and the muscles in the HQ. The rider concentrated on keeping his back rounded, HQ under him, emphasized moving HQ to the left to strengthen observed weakness in that leg/hip.

4) Hill work. When I saw the "hill" I nearly laughed. It`s steep, but you can trot up it in 10 seconds. But the point is, you don`t. Hill work means inching your way up and down in "granny" keeping your weight back, the horse`s head low, HQ tucked under him, and most importantly, tracking STRAIGHT! His weakness in the left hip/leg caused him to travel crooked. Flexing his head to the left and pushing his HQ to the left forced him to use that weak leg. Don`t overdo this exercise; as Tom Ivers just said, if you work the horse too hard, he`ll lose his frame.

5) Riding lessons. My first dressage lesson on an ancient Arab schoolmaster immediately revealed that I carried my right hip back and low, and that my left leg was weak and turned out at the knee. (Could it be that my weak left leg and weight thrown to the right had something to do with my horse`s weakness in the left HQ?) So I`ve been to the chiropractor, which helped resolve some of my problems, and I continue to work on the others. Also learned to put my weight in my heels instead of on the ball of my foot when doing a rising trot. Try it--you`ll like it.

6) Never stop learning, never forget the lessons learned, never ignore warning signs.

Chaco looks and moves remarkably different from the horse he was 6 months ago. His neck bulges just below the crest, the underneath part of his neck is now concave instead of convex, the dip in transition from loins to back is greatly evened out, his hindquarters bulge with powerful muscles, and he no longer forges or interferes.

Now it`s up to me to keep him this way as we rejoin our riding companions out on the trail.

Linda and Chaco

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