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Riding a horse with an old suspensory injury

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  • Riding a horse with an old suspensory injury

    I have a 15 year old Friesian/Standbred cross that is about 3 years post an upper suspensory injury/blind splint injury.

    after several bouts of stall rest (unsuccessful) he was retired and has been on pasture for the last three years. He is metabolic and cresty but pergolide is keeping his ACTH levels normal and his fasting blood glucose is normal. He is ginormous and an air fern.

    I've recently moved him from the retirement village (they took great care of him, but I'm hoping it will be easier to manage his weight here) to the barn where he can be routinely ridden. He is sound at the walk and canter but you can still feel his gimp in the trot. He's not head bobbing lame, but I can feel it.

    My plan is lots of walking, we have five miles of trails. Absolutely no jumping and slow walk and trot.

    Question... The gimp means he hurts? His weight needs to come off and he's terribly unfit. But the only way to get fit is to work. When he gimps I feel like badly but... vicious circle here.

    Any advice on using a horse with an old suspensory? He canters and bucks and seems just fine in the pasture. He was and is a kind quiet guy, and I hate to take advantage of his stoic good nature if this really is painful for him.

    All thoughts welcome.

  • #2
    If he were mine, I'd just start off by walking him and see how it goes. The gimp at the trot probably means the trot hurts, so don't do it, but it doesn't mean the walk hurts.

    You might find that with a bit of exercise and losing the weight that the gimp improves. And of course it might have nothing to do with the initial injury--at that age his hocks might be starting to get ouchy, for instance, and a bit of motion lotion might help them too.


    • #3
      Could mean he hurts, or just that he has a hitch in his giddy-up. My trail horse has an old low suspensory injury in his LH. His weight is good, but he's out of shape. I can feel a little hitch in his step at the trot, but it really does seem mechanical more than pain.

      My vet's advice for bringing him back has been to start with walking and then slowly add trotting over a period of weeks. So for the first week I did 20 minutes walking, 2 minutes trotting each ride. Then moved to 25 minutes walking, 5 minutes trotting the next week. And so on until we worked up to 40 minutes walking, 15 minutes trotting. At that point we were cleared for all the hacking out we want to do at either gate.

      Check for heat / swelling after you ride and consider doing a bit of icing (with a boot) or cold hosing afterwards. If you're really concerned you might ask a vet or trusted trainer to take a look.


      • #4
        Really look into bringing him back slowly & building appropriate muscles (lunge work is good as he doesn't need to carry a rider & it does not need to be circles) - keep checking saddle fit as he changes to make sure there are no pressure points (another bonus to lunge work is using a surcingle).

        When you walk him, do encourage an active, forward walk.
        As he muscle up, you may find that his gimp lessons - it may be stiffness etc from the old injury rather than pain.

        Also consider having bodywork done to help him out.

        He is metabolic and cresty but pergolide is keeping his ACTH levels normal and his fasting blood glucose is normal. He is ginormous and an air fern.
        This doesn't sound right ... I'd want to investigate a bit more for other possible metabolic issues (PSSM?)


        • #5
          When I brought my older TB mare back after a suspensory injury(she was 15 also) I was super paranoid as the vet said she would probably ok for light riding. She had been fit prior to her layup for the injury and she lived out instead of keeping her on stall rest. I started out walking her in the ring for 10 min at a time about 6 days per week. Each week I increased the walking by 5 min until she was walking for 60 min. Then I started adding a little bit of trotting (only down the long side of the ring) and would walk thru the turn at the end and pick the trot back up on the other side. I did this for several weeks and then started adding in complete trot of the whole ring. I continued to ride her at the walk for 60 min, but started walking her out along the driveway in the flat areas, then started adding a little hill work(along the driveway so good footing). By the end of 4 months I took her to a Combined Test and did a Tadpole(walk trot dressage test/ ground pole stadium) division and she got first place. I think walking is a great way to get your horse fit without stressing old injuries.