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Best way to get retiree back into light work?

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  • Best way to get retiree back into light work?

    I need a specific schedule for getting a horse back into light work. My horse had to be retired from training/jumping/showing 5 years ago due to a host of issues in his right pastern, i.e. sidebone, DJD, arthritis etc. The vet individually they probably wouldn't have been a problem but all together...things didn't look good and I was told I'd be lucky if he was able to live out the year comfortably. BUT he did, and he's been sound in the pasture for the last 4 years. The last time I rode him - 2.5 years ago - he was 99% sound under saddle...then we moved barns to a place without an indoor ring and he hasn't been ridden since.

    I'd like to get him back into work. He doesn't seem to be happy anymore and I think he'd perk up if he was ridden since he always enjoyed it. So, I'm thinking of getting him started again which may be difficult since he's a little mentally unstable at times, especially when not worked. I also don't want to push him too hard or fast for fear of lameness. Any ideas or tips, or even better, an actual schedule to follow?

    Ideally, I'd like to do 3x/week with walk and just a little trotting 20 min a time (not sure if his mental state will let me...there might be some rodeo-ing around). But I know to keep myself on track, I need to have a plan. Just not sure what it should be! Thoughts?

  • #2
    Your plan sounds fine to me.

    There is an order to building fitness: Bone density and ligament/their attachments first, muscle second, cardio last.

    This means more walking and trotting than you think. If your horse has been living out 24/7 on enough land (and preferably with some hills), you can go a little faster: He did lots of the Phase 1 fitting up himself. But horses weren't built to trot and canter in the dinky circles we create in rings. You still need to build the ligaments and muscle for that.

    I wouldn't bother to build cardio for this horse. Since he's unsound and a bit of a basket case in the head, I really wouldn't do that. I'd also ride him outside in straight lines as much as I could when I moved up to trotting and a bit of canter. But keep reading...

    I have never aced an horse to ride him, but I might think about it in this case as you guys start out. There's no point in you getting killed or him getting hurt for this project. OTOH, if you spend enough time *training him to cotton pickin' hold it together like the old man he is* while you are walking and trotting, you might not need the pharma.

    I think its great that you want to dust him off and give him some entertainment. I hope you guys are very happy together.
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat


    • #3
      I think your plan sounds just fine. I second the straight lines and gentle hills, and 20 min. sessions. He'll tell you what he can't handle. Remember, he's going to have learn to balance again, and may get sore under saddle. Be very, very careful about saddle fit, and give him the best footing you can find when you start. Trying to negotiate wet, deep or uneven footing when he's just starting out isn't a good idea. Mount from the the tallest block you can find to lessen the pull on his back, and make sure you've got the basics before you venture out too far (i.e. make sure he halts, moves off your leg and seat,turns both directions, etc). Good luck, and let us know how it goes!
      Riding: The art of keeping a horse between you and the ground.


      • Original Poster

        Thanks mvp and allpurpose. I think part of the problem is that he forgets he's ouchy and wants to "run, buck and jump"...and obviously doesn't have the reasoning capabilities to understand that's going to make him sore. So I'll hold to him a walk/trot and he'll probably throw a temper tantrum like he's 4...

        On the plus side, he was in a big paddock for the past 2 years with little hills and a ditch that he walked/trotted/jumped frequently every day. He's now in a smaller, more level paddock at the new barn so I'll get him going a little more slowly. I think the plan to not build cardio is a great one!

        I think I'll throw some calming supplements at him this week for our ride on saturday. If he starts getting histrionic, then I'll dismount and call it a day. He's been on joint supplements for the last month in preparation of coming back into work. So, lots of walking, halting, and remembering how to listen. I can't do much lateral work with him anyway due to his soundness issues, but asking for some gentle bend at the walk should be okay, right? Won't be too hard on his muscles?

        The footing inside (the indoor and outdoor ring are same size) is fairly soft and deep. A lot softer than what he's been ridden in previously so it should be nice ad cushioning. My only worry is the extra stress on his tendons, so I think I'll go doubly slow with walk and trot work.

        I'm really excited to ride him again. I've felt our bond deteriorating in the last few years and it's really bothered me. It'll be good to feel like a partnership again! I've got a friend coming out and hopefully she'll take pics!


        • #5
          I think giving a little ace prior to a ride is a good idea. Just enough to take the edge off. Just remember that he's been out of work for a while now, so you really CAN'T go too slow with him. Lots and lots of walking to begin with. Even better if he will walk outside the ring quietly out on the trails, provided there is decent footing out there and not too many hills as others have mentioned. I wouldn't even trot him for a few weeks. You know him better than anyone, but don't let his enthusiasm (or yours) about being under saddle again push either of you into doing too much too soon.

          My old unsound retiree who was pretty quiet absolutely loved going out for a wander around the farm or in the woods adjacent to the farm. I would hop on him bareback and off we would go. He was so happy to have a 'job'. Mentally I think it did wonders for him. Sometimes when he was feeling really good he would crowhop, and if I came off (mostly my choice and I landed on my feet), he would look at me with surprise (What the heck are you doing down there?). I didn't mind, it was nice that the old fart was feeling so good !


          • #6
            A couple of years ago we gave a teenager in the barn the project of bringing a retired UL event horse back into shape with the hopes she could ride him and show him some at the lower levels. He had an old stifle injury, so we went slow and steady.

            She started with short hand walks around the property, then we taught her to ground drive. She did that, at the the walk, for several weeks, first in the ring then around the property. We then got her on him, and she walked about a month, 30 minutes a day, in the ring and outside when the weather cooperated (it WAS the middle of winter). After the one month mark, she started adding in trot, a few minutes at a time, then canter.

            Since the stifle injury was a soft tissue injury, we used a modified version of a soft tissue rehab program. All told, start to finish, it took about 3 months from retired to full flatwork. Plus a few more weeks before she got to jump him the first time.

            Slow is the best way to go, and always keep in mind he might not stay sound. I think the hand walking and ground driving was critical, as it gave him some time to develop some strength before adding a rider.


            • #7
              For a totally out of shape horse, I'd do...

              At least 2 weeks of hand walking at a brisk pace on some gentle terrain.

              About a month of walking under saddle (skip longing since he's older), starting with 15 minutes per day, building up to 30 minutes. Start with big straight lines on good footing. Build up to cavaletti and gentle hills outside.

              Start trotting after about 4 weeks of walk. Start with 30 seconds each direction, straight lines and giant circles. Add 1 minute of trot per week.


              • #8
                We did exactly what Yellow Britches posted when we put our 19 yr old back to work for someone to use.

                Walk, walk and more walk, gradually increasing time and incline. Since he was such a solid citizen we skipped the handwalking but I used to ride a mare you would have to handwalk for a few days before you got on after time off or she would launch you to the moon. Its all about getting their minds back into work as much as their bodies.

                If he is really fussy under saddle consider having some chiro/acupuncture done - having them out of alignment in the pasture is one thing, but slap a saddle and rider on it and it makes it miserable for them and not much fun to ride.


                • #9
                  When refitting my older horse, we ground drove. It's safer (for my toes) than hand-walking, especially on the trails, and kinder to old backs and joints. This past year we really improved the halt and back up. They can have all kinds of fits and hissies about having to stand still on the trail and you're already standing on the ground out of reach
                  Disclaimer: My mom told me that people might look at my name and think I had an addiction other than horses. I don't; his name was Bravado.


                  • #10
                    I went through a similar process with my old lady, who also didn't thrive on full retirement. Your basic plan sounds fine; however, I would just note that I have seen better results with shorter daily rides. I started Herself back with 15 minutes of walking, 6 days a week for 2 weeks, sometimes under saddle, sometimes ponied off another horse and sometimes ground-driven. Then I added 5 minutes per day, and continued that for two weeks, again mixing up the work. By the time I was up to 30 minutes/6 days a week, I added in some cavalletti and lateral work, still all at the walk.

                    At this point, we were two months under saddle and I started adding in short periods of trot. I stuck at 30 minutes per ride for an extra 2 weeks (so 4 weeks total). After that point, I carefuly added in more trot, some canter, cavalletti at trot and canter, lateral work at trot, tougher hills, longer trail rides, etc. It is important to add just one challenge at a time, watch the horse carefully to see how s/he responds, and wait a sufficient time before adding anything else or lengthening rides.

                    When we hit 45 minutes/ride, I abandoned the every-day schedule and cut back to 4-5 days a week. I have found that my horse does best on a 2 day on-1 day off schedule, so that puts her at 4 rides per week, on average. You may find, as I have, that you have to modify your exercise regimen to reflect how your horse feels on a given day. Some days the old lady feels and acts like she is 10 again! Others, she may be stiff or just not up for much work.
                    Equinox Equine Massage

                    In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me invincible summer.
                    -Albert Camus


                    • #11
                      ditto on the ground-driving. With a little practice and training, you can do all kinds of bending and lateral work and get the horse in a nice frame, which allows you to strengthen the topline without putting stress on a completely unmuscled back.
                      RIP Victor... I'll miss you, you big galumph.


                      • #12
                        Somewhat different situation, but my 29-year-old Arab retired sound a few years ago and gets pulled in for occasional pony rides. He also gets a little "grainy" from the amount of senior feed it takes to keep his weight up. If I turn him out for a few extra hours in the evening with his best old buddy, I'm able to hand walk him at something less than warp speed. A few days of bad weather with no evening turnout and he's spinning around at the end of the lead rope - not the kind of horse you want to put your friend's child on! So maybe as you bring your horse back into work, a few extra hours of turnout might take the edge off and let you actually do the walking he needs without the airs above the ground.


                        • Original Poster

                          Hm I've never given him ace before...the only time he's been tranq'd is when the vet's been out. Definitely worth a thought, though for his safety (and mine!). What would be the best way to do so or appropriate dosage? He's 16.2 and a little ribby at the minute but still close to 1100 lbs.

                          Hand walking is a good idea. Would it be too much to put a surcingle on and loose side reins and hand walk him around like that for a week or so? He's never ground driven and again, I'd be clueless because I've never done it either!

                          Saddle used to fit great, possibly won't fit too well with less topline muscle now but I've got a fluffy sheepskin half pad to use in the meantime. We can't go outside as the ground has frozen completely, but I think walking in the soft footing in the indoor should be good. Better than the outdoor which is harder.

                          coloredhorse - I'd like to daily, shorter rides but time-wise 2-3 times is about all I can manage these days. I'll still keep them short, under 20 min, and then slooowly build up from there.

                          betsyk - he's already out 24/7 so I don't have any way to increase his turnout...and while he may benefit from being in a larger pasture and having to walk further to get places, he's in the winter paddocks which are more sheltered.

                          Thanks everyone! I'll start with 2-3 weeks of 10-15 min handwalking inside 3x a week, then walking under saddle 3x/week for 2-3 weeks, then slowly add in a little bit of trotting. I think you guys are right; it's going to be the mental part that'll be the hardest for him.

                          I'm going to supplement as needed and get him checked out by the chiro/masseuse when she's out next month, too. I'm so excited!


                          • #14
                            The problem with Ace is each horse regardless of size will require a different dosage to "take off the edge" and for some it won't matter how much you give, they will still be stupid except with Ace they will be drunk and stupid which is nothing I would want to sit on!

                            I would almost rather use something like Robaxin which will keep his back muscles from getting stiff and sore and it has an added benefit of helping them to care a bit less about things - just need to start it a few days before you start riding.

                            The main reason I have used handwalking was to get their brains out of retirement and into a working routine so you don't have to use Ace.

                            Maybe the first time you get on you could have a mounted "buddy" for him? Sometimes it helps to keep their mind from wandering into 'creative fun'.


                            • Original Poster

                              Just an update on this:

                              No riding yet, but have been bringing him in 2-3 times a week and getting him back into 'work mode'. Brushing, standing patiently (never his strong suit), etc. and doing some light in-hand work on the property but so far not in the indoor ring.

                              He is LOVING it and is being fantastic, a few spooks at silly things but holding it together really well. I feel guilty when I admit that I've done more with him in the past 2 weeks than I have in the last 2 years. Not that he was ever neglected - vet, farrier and worming all up to date all the time - but he was on full pasture board so 'brushing' was a quick brushing in the field and he didn't get much else done with him.

                              Already he's much happier being brought in and fussed over like the old days. So I'm thinking he's telling me he's definitely ready to be fussed over and brought into light work. Not time for retirement yet!