Winter fitness for the coming-off-an-injury horse
My vet is wonderful, but not always the best at helping me work out a fitness schedule, and I like schedules. ;)
My 18-year-old (eek!) horse is recovering well from sesamoiditis that led to a very mild re-injury of an old suspensory lesion. We've changed his shoeing (farrier: also wonderful,) continued his isoxsuprine, and done three treatments of shockwave therapy both to hopefully kickstart some remodeling in the bone as well as to treat the suspensory. He was never lame because of the ligament but it was inflamed and sensitive, so although it was not the area of greatest concern, we treated it and it's not something I particularly want him to reinjure again.
Today he was cleared to advance his exercise. He is now allowed to do more lateral work, do trot poles and raised poles, and jump small obstacles. For the last 4 weeks he has been doing 20 minutes of active trot and canter flat work (with a couple of 1-minute working walk breaks- he's worked down to 2 of those) in addition to a 10-minute walking warm up and 10 minute cool down. We recently switched barns and their ring is on an incline, so he's doing a bit of hill work almost every day, as well as trotting slopes in the field when footing permits. I felt that he was muscle-sore after 2-3 weeks of that and did a week of light trail walking last week. He now feels better in his body. The key at this point is to build his fitness (particularly of the hind end) without boring him out of his mind or breaking him again. As we come into February, month of the crappy weather, with only an outdoor ring, consistency of fitness work can be a little difficult.
So: when you are rebuilding muscle and cardiovascular fitness after injury, other than "don't rush it" and "listen to what the horse is telling you about how he feels," what are some things you keep in mind for success? Particularly in the winter, when the weather may limit exercise because of footing and temperature?
This is his first week back into flatwork after his walk week and in the back of my head, depending on how he feels, my idea was to do another week of flatwork and ground poles only, and then start introducing raised poles and the odd canter crossrail next week, footing permitting. I'd be inclined to not jump him until March if I didn't know how much he hates flatwork and how done he is after 6 months of doing only boring stuff. I can avoid an expression of Irish opinion, and get more work done in less time, if I put a little jump or two into his flat routine, but I'm having a hard time figuring out when the "this horse is strong enough and healed enough to do more than the odd crossrail" benchmark is going to be. I want him to be able to do 30 minutes of raise-your-heart-rate flatwork by April so he works off his spring grass calories, but I do not want to reinjure him. That is a goal; but obviously he will set his own schedule, more or less, based on how he feels. Any suggestions to offer?