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Need advice: Rehabbing an injured horse, fearful rider!

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  • Need advice: Rehabbing an injured horse, fearful rider!

    Hi All,

    I have had good luck getting advice on this forum so I thought I would ask for some in my latest situation. I will preface this whole thing by saying I am not a brave rider and I work very hard in keeping my fears at bay. I have a TB mare who, up until recently, I believed was the perfect combination of sensitive enough to be a challenge but smart and even keel enough for me to ride. Since I have had her, I have had my fear issues, but through a lot of work we progressed from W/T only, to W/T/C, and then even trotting very small cross rails and trail riding by the end of last summer. The great thing about her is she was always the same horse always forward and making you work for contact, etc., but never one to throw in a buck/rear, spook, or bolt.

    She fractured her RF coffin bone in late September 2009 she spent the better part of 4 months on stall rest. In late Jan. we started hand walking progressing very conservatively over the past 2 months, adding paddock turnout, tack walking, trotting straight lines, and finally trotting the perimeter of the ring. At this point we are on full day paddock T/O and supposed to be walking 20-25 minutes with 5-7 minutes of trot work total.

    As we have increased her level of freedom/work her behavior on the ground and under saddle has progressed from pretty good to being on edge all of the time; she is spooking, being pushy on the ground, offering a rear or a buck on the lead and under saddle… I am fine on the ground but under saddle these behaviors petrify me. Riding her is like sitting on a coiled spring that you can feel is about to uncoil. Even on up to 2ccs of ace...anymore than that and she is comatose and not rideable. I had hoped that by the time she was on full day T/O she would be come back to earth and I would have some semblance of my old horse back. I know she is not being bad, she just wants to go…the rearing and bucking come from frustration on her part for not being able too. I currently have the barn manager riding her (very confident and capable rider) 2 days a week and me trying to fill in at least twice a week, but truthfully I am starting to dread going to the barn. At this rate she will never build muscle…and I cannot afford to pay someone to ride her 5 days a week.

    I have a feeling these issues could be solved by turning her out in a field and letting her move and around but here is the clincher: my vet, who I highly respect, is afraid of re-injury, so is recommending that my horse lead a very managed life from here on out. Only paddock T/O in pristine conditions and to let her get her energy out with an intensive riding program, for the rest of her rideable life…

    I am not sure I can deal with that…but on the flip side I do not want her to hurt herself again. So all of this leads to the question of whether I should just bite the bullet and turn her out for a few days in a big field and see what happens? Maybe after she has the chance to decompress she will be back to her old self? I hate to go against the recommendations of the vet! But, I cannot continue to ride her if she is going to be like this and do not have the land to bring her home and manage her care myself.

    Just an example…last night she was so ramped up in the cross ties she spooked at something hopped and came down on her RF pulling her own shoe off!!!! This is not the same horse I had last year! Over the past few months I have put a ton of money and effort into getting this horse sound and this whole thing is killing me! Do I need to find her a new home with someone more capable? The thought is starting to cross my mind!

    Sorry for the diatribe…but has anyone had a similar experience? What did you do? Thanks!

  • #2
    Oh my goodness do you own my horse? I think I should head out the to the barn and make sure she's still there!

    In all seriousness I really do own the same horse. TB mare, usually sensible but only based on her need to please because has the athleticism to be REALLY naughty if she wants to. She typically keeps it in check, but when injured and on limited turnout she feels like the coiled spring you described. Currently she's taking some time off for her latest injury...a RF coffin bone fracture! We've also gone through this process twice before once for a fractured splint bone and once for a quarter crack. So here are the things I've learned over time:

    1. Do you have a trainer? If not find one ASAP. Try to ride only when he/she is around so they can help you if get nervous (at least at first). It's amazing what you can do when you have someone to talk you through it.
    2. Ride only when there is limited traffic in the arena. My horse is very competitive and if anyone is cantering or jumping then she wants to canter and jump too, which then leads to a blow up when I don't let her.
    3. Purchase earballs and use them every time you ride until she gets into a routine again.
    4. Ride inside, with walls, ride straight into them if necessary.
    5. Consider a long term tranquilizer. There are some rare but nasty side effects of fluphenazine but it's been a god send for my horse. It doesn't alter her personality (make her dopey) but just keeps her feet a little closer to the ground. She's also less agitated about her limited turnout. Another alternative is reserpine, but I don't have experience with that one. Talk to your vet and decide which (if either) is appropriate and what risks you're willing to take.
    6. Purchase this book http://www.amazon.com/Riders-Edge-Ov.../dp/192916422X it really helped me get over my nerves.
    7. Make sure your horse has a routine! My mare has to get ridden at least every other day during rehab or I get bucked off. She tends to "work-up" so if she's had a couple days off then I work just until she starts to "wake up" and then I put her away. Then ride her the next day and she's able to focus better and we avoided a fight and negative experience for both of us the previous day.
    8. Check back to COTH often for advice from older and wiser horse folk than me!

    Good luck - you can do it!


    • #3
      When was the last time her foot was radiographed?

      If not recently, I would get the foot re-radiographed to check for healing.

      I'm sure I have read more than once that a healed fracture is stronger than the original bone, but I will leave that to the vets on the board to chat about.

      If she is healed, and if this were my horse, I would turn her out with a buddy or two and let her be a horse for 30 days before I started trying to work her too much. Let her mind settle down from the stress of stall confinement.

      I can't see keeping a horse in solitary confinement for the rest of its life just on the off chance it might hurt itself. Doesn't sound one bit fair to the animal.

      When she is ready to go under saddle again, pay a good, confident rider a fair amount to take those first few rides. Consider it money well spent. Don't get on her yourself until you have been able to get over your fears. Assume this will take a long time and then be pleasantly surprised when one day you just do it.

      Good luck!
      "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." ~ Jack Layton


      • #4
        No, don't give up! It sounds like you and your mare have come a long way and you're just at a tough bottleneck right now. Don't make a good short-term solution that has bad long-term consequences.

        You can:

        Put in a little more money and have a pro continue with the riding part of the rehab for now.

        Look into pharmaceutical help. I like the ideas about ear plugs and low-traffic situations as well. In addition, you might think about doing the walking part of your rehab in a smaller paddock. The walls will help you and the footing doesn't have to be perfect for the walk. At the trot with a coffin bone injury, I can imagine that your vet would like straight lines, not corners.

        But can you use this as a training opportunity, too? An athletic horse is better with a job than she is when bored or mentally unchallenged.

        You might learn to long-line her at this juncture. Go slowly and at the walk. That gives her plenty to think about, and you a way to influence and train her rather than feeling like a victim just hoping the coiled spring won't blow.

        With a horse like this, I might tack up and long-line first. Then, when the horse has mentally settled down and applied herself to the job, I'll get on. In the saddle, I'll finish the ride-- walk some to make sure the attention is still there, then do the trotting portion.
        The armchair saddler
        Politically Pro-Cat


        • #5
          Hi there - I'm sorry you are feeling so frustated with your mare. That's no fun at all. While I am not what I would consider a fearful rider, I've certainly had my moments of fear rehabbing my young TB.

          I guess my best advice would be to have a professional work with you as closely as you can afford. For example, perhaps have the pro ride her for a full week, and then go down to once a week, or once every two weeks, or once a month, or whatever you can afford. I also HIGHLY recommend taking a lesson at least once a week with that same pro. It might seem silly, since you really are not doing much "work" with your horse right now, but you would be surprised how much help it can be to have a pro in the ring with you while you are sitting on your "coiled spring" - particularly if the pro has ridden the horse before and knows what the horse is all about. The benefits of this approach (or some variation of it depending on time/money factors) are that you know that someone else has ridden her and survived and that you can get great advice from the pro on how to handle her if she is acting up. I don't think you necessarily need to put her in a serious training program, and you might be able to taper off the lessons/training altogether after a while as things start to go well...but I really think having some sort of pro help would be great to get you over the hump. If you can't go the pro route, my next best recommendation is to have a friend in the ring with you while you ride. You should carry on a regular conversation with that friend while you ride. You would not believe how much something like that will relax you, and, in turn, relax your horse.

          And...the point of all of the above is really this: your horse is likely tense (or more tense than she has to be) because you are tense! The pro rides, the lessons, the talking to the friend - none of those things are likely NECESSARY for you to be successful in riding your horse - they are just ways to help you relax! You said your mare is a TB. Well, I'm a total TB person, and, let me tell you, I've never encountered another breed that picks up so acutely on how its rider/handler is feeling. If you are even slightly tense, you can work them up unintentionally very quickly without even knowing it. This, in turn, works you up more, which in turn works the horse up more. I realize it is not as simple as just "forcing" yourself to relax (ah, if only it were so easy, lol). That's why I've made some of the suggestions above.

          A few things that I do when I am about to get on my rehab TB and I start to feel stressed:

          (1) Walk away from him - immediately. Go around the corner and take a few deep breaths, maybe talk to a friend, and then go back to him when I am feeling more balanced. I won't walk into the ring with him until I am feeling as calm as possible.

          (2) Tell myself on the way to the barn that I'm excited to be riding him and that he is a wonderful, trustworthy horse who is going to behave.

          (3) Talk - to others in the ring, him, myself, whatever - just normal talking. He seems to find it soothing.

          (4) Once I'm on him, I make a very conscious effort to relax my whole body, especially my inner thigh and butt, while keeping nice, consistent contact on him with my calves.

          (5) If he is a little "up" I try to think "Oh good, we are going forward with a purpose - that must mean he feels good, which makes me happy." Then I keep thinking forward, which lets me stop focusing on whether he may or may not be thinking of going up, sideways, or backwards with either his front or hind end.

          In the end, you can somewhat teach yourself to "fake" relax. If you get good enough at "fake" relaxing, the horse usually behaves a little better, and the next thing you know...you actually are "really" relaxed.

          I hope this makes sense and is helpful. I've left this message several times and come back to it, as I am at work.

          Good luck to you, whatever you decide.


          • #6
            Also take a look at her feed - could you change it around to see if it makes a difference?

            And (I can't believe someone hasn't brought it up yet as it is always mentioned ) ulcers? She has been confined which can be stressful....

            If she used to be in a herd dynamic and now isn't she could be a little more expressive because no one is putting her in her place on a daily basis. If that's so you may need to step it up in terms of her handling.

            It sucks to dread going to the barn BTDT - keep working on it, don't give up, it will get better


            • #7
              If it were me, I'd Ace her till she was pretty dopey and turn her out. IMO the stress of confinement does nasty things to their minds, and sometimes you have to take the physical risk to alleviate the mental stress.

              My experience:

              10 YO TB gelding, GREAT mind, re-started him myself (and I can be a nervous rider at times) last fall. Broke both LF splint bones on 12/28/09. Was stall rested for 2 months, with handwalking for the last 2 weeks. Even with reserpine and Ace he was a monster to handwalk--rearing, striking, kicking, etc. He scared me, and I had NEVER been afraid of this horse until that point.

              At his last x-ray appt, I told the vet that I wanted him out even if the x-rays weren't perfect because he was really getting rank and I was not willing to risk anyone getting hurt by him.

              He has been on turnout (with Ace) for 2 weeks now and is doing extremely well. We have weaned him from 5 cc's to 3 and he is still behaving. He DOES move, which is what I want, but he's not ridiculous.

              Last night I was able to trot him in-hand in the indoor without a single misbehavior....two weeks ago, if a speck of sand looked at him the wrong way, he'd flip out.

              I will be getting on him to start tackwalking next week. I am one of the most experienced people at my barn, so his rehabbing can't be passed on to someone else. Frankly--yes, I'm scared, but the turnout has made a HUGE difference and I am WAY less nervous than I would have been otherwise.

              From what I understand, bones often heal STRONGER than they were prior to the injury. Perhaps your vet is being too conservative, and a second opinion would be in order? That kind of managed turnout (as described in your OP) is not doable for many horses, especially when they are used to turnout and herd company. If my vet had told me that about my guy, I'd have been looking for a second opinion.


              • #8
                I know *everything* is an ulcer symptom but...

                I would check for ulcers, or just try a short treatment for it. My TB had a tumor removed from under his coffin bone and spent a couple months on stall rest with Bute. He is a spooky horse and gets wound up by his routine changing and he was a NUT while he was in his stall. (This is the same horse who paces by the gate begging to go in for a couple of hours before meals, just so that nobody forgets to feed him....you'd think he'd be happy to stay in.) I spent the last year trying to get him to move under saddle--it was either stop or spook, no in-between. It took *two* full months of ulcer treatment, but it seems like he is finally able to go to a maintenance dose of omeprazole and he's a different horse, much less spooking and edgy behavior. Since your horse was in for so long, and probably had a lot of NSAIDS, ulcers are quite possible.

                I did treat him the first month with a full tube of Ulcergard, but when I went to the maintenance dose of 1/4 tube for a few weeks, he started balking under saddle again, and I treated him for another whole month with a full dose of enteric-coated granules from Omeprazole Direct, and it doesn't work for every horse, but it worked for him, plus was WAY cheaper Ulcergard is about $28/day at a treatment dose, the enteric-coated omeprazole is about $4.50/day at a treatment dose). He's now on the maintenance dose from them and I think he's doing very well on it. I also give him soaked alfalfa cubes and corn oil with his omeprazole (both are supposed to be good for horses with ulcers, plus one cup generic Metamucil (psyllium) from Target in his am and pm feed (in case he has hind gut ulcers). I probably sound like an ad, but I'm just so pleased that I can maintain my horse on something that I can afford--wiped out my savings for the first month of Ulcergard. :-(



                • #9
                  Originally posted by LuvMyTB View Post
                  If it were me, I'd Ace her till she was pretty dopey and turn her out. IMO the stress of confinement does nasty things to their minds, and sometimes you have to take the physical risk to alleviate the mental stress.

                  In some circumstances I agree with this. Sometimes the stress is so bad that they just need to spend some time being successful at not being stressed.

                  You and she need to be safe, and she needs the opportunity to succeed at getting out without hurting herself.

                  Just don't do it when you need to to handle her alot. I would only want to have to do with her aced going in and out, and even then not really. Just get her out, and maybe do it when the vet is there to help you handle her, or a friend. Turn her out and let her have some exercise.

                  I hesitate about acing, because you also are compromising their abillity to make judgements, about what is safe (no governer in their brain) and about distances (not stopping in time) and basic movement and handling their body in space decisions.

                  Taking the edge off her energy might be good for a short time.

                  Also, do look at your feed. There are "acting out behaviour" type things horses can have, like alfalfa, oats, I don't know what, others can say.
                  Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.


                  • #10
                    Also, the way you feel about handling her, and what she is doing, no, I wouldn't handle her. Either get someone who knows what they are doing to handle her, or sell her to someone who can, because if you are fearful, if you have limits on what you can tolerate from her, if you are continually surprised by her acting out, you shouldn't be handling her. You can't hesitate when you handle her, you have to be one step ahead of what she's going to do, not a shocked and stunned two steps behind.

                    Just sayin.
                    Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.


                    • Original Poster

                      thank you!!

                      All Thanks so much!

                      It is good to know I am not alone in her injury or behavior. I was in such a bad place last night, I literally left the barn in tears. You all have made me feel better and made me realize I need to come up with a different game plan rather then just continuing the way I have. I am going to take a few days away from my mare and have asked the barn manager to ride her for the rest of the week.

                      The next time I get on her it will be in a 20 minute lesson with the BM on the ground talking me through it.

                      I want to clarify my language on my vets reccommendation: It was made to me from the perspective of how to best prevent reinjury and promote long term soundness...not necessarily from perspective of "this is what has to be done" Our vet has been very supportive and more then caring and I hope I did not put her advice to me in a negative light.

                      Donkey: I think you are right about the handling as well. As soon as she acts up or invades my space I attempt to discipline and she escalates to a buck or rear. Even in hand! I have thought of ulcers...if the T/O does not help her attitude...I will probably have her scoped.

                      mistypony: I will check out the book, thanks for the reccommendation. The similarities in our horses is too funny! Why do they do this to us?

                      hitchinmygetalong: The fracture was so faint that it was only detectable via MRI. The xrays never showed any fault in the bone and we did 2 different rounds with 2 opinions while we were still diagnosing her lameness. Even the specialist at the MRI center was surprised that it only showed up on 1-2 images of the MRI and she was three legged lame at the trot...I cannot pay for another procedure so at this point the only way I will know if she is healed is if she stays sound. That is where the very conservative rehab is coming into play.

                      mvp: Thanks for the suggestion. I have never long lined her. I put her on a lunge last night and she was a wild woman. Bucking like a maniac and very hard to whoa! I stopped that pretty quickly but am not sure if it might be a good idea to let her get a good run in. Though I worry about the strain on the newly healed foot with all of that circling at speed.

                      Luvmytb: Good luck with your guy!

                      FineAlready: I know that my nervousness is feeding her. Just as you said...she is a very sensitive/intuitive horse and picks up on everything. Usually she is the one telling me its OK. Haha! She really is a great horse! Just feeling a bit too good! I have been taking regular lessons but at a different facility, I am thinking that I need to start making some changes now that she is back under saddle. I will probably benefit more from a 20 minute session on my horse then a 60 minute lesson on a schoolie.

                      All that being said I still think she needs to go out and that is my best option. I am leaning towards giving her a few weeks to "just be a horse" and work out the kinks. But I think I need to get on her before we do that otherwise I will be agonizing over it!!

                      I am going to do another week or so of paddock T/O (we are expecting rain up this way until next Tuesday). I already have an appt with my vet at the end of next week for spring shots and follow up. At that point I am going to make a decision as to how we can move forward.

                      Well thanks again everyone!


                      • #12
                        Let me preface this by saying I have been rehabbing a monster of a Dutch Warmblood for the past 2 years- and we have both amazingly survived the process...

                        What I do:

                        1) DO NOT lounge or long line your horse during rehab EVER. First its going to put unnecessary strain on the injury and you have lost about 50% of your control to an already frazzled animal. Plus I do not reccommend long lining to anyone who is not REALLY WELL trained in it, especially with a horse that has not done it before.
                        2) Strict turnout- small paddock-whatever amount of ace is necessary- never unsupervised. The first few minutes and any time over the hour mark is where it gets dangerous- I reccommend hay, anything that will keep her occupied.
                        3) Schedule, schedule, schedule- horses like routines. If I decide to ride in the morning when 99% of the time I ride at night that immediately puts my horse on edge.
                        4) If you have access to an indoor use it. Have a friend or preferably a trainer or experienced horseman with you to supervise and talk to you. Ride when it is quiet (there are days when I start tacking up at 10 pm.
                        5) Walk on a long but solid contact- REALLY FORWARD- head down keeps them from rearing, forward keeps them from bucking. It also relaxes them- watch her ears intently- if they flick away from you jostle the bit a little and apply leg pressure.
                        6) If she feels like you just cant touch her (explosive)- touch her in a big way- stretch your chest up and your legs down as far as you can and give her a big bear hug with your entire leg- No heel just constant steady pressure (lol- try to keep your legs from shaking-I know its difficult)
                        7) Hum to yourself- best tool in the book for nerves- takes your mind off life or death scenarios, the vibrations & tone calm your horse, and people usually can't hear you.
                        8) Ace is your friend- I know what you mean about the crazy drunken rambling- thats no more fun than getting run off with- my guy is 16.3 about 1000 lbs and I had him on 2 cc- I know its not the best feeling in the world but its better to have a slow uneventful ride than to put yourself at risk and loose all your hard work to reinjury
                        9) And now for my secret weapon- MUSHROOM MATRIX- buy some immediately. Its a totally natural, FEI legal supplement that horses do not mind eating and it totally focuses and calms them (and it makes their coats look super) On Mushroom Matrix I can ride my horse on 1-1.5 cc (which does in fact have an effect) and actually get some work done.

                        Good luck- And I'll tell you what the shipper that saved me from getting decapitated by my horse told me: "There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of if you don't do anything stupid". You know your horse, you know what situations are going to cause a major flip out- dont question that instinct, use your head and avoid the situation.


                        • #13
                          I (and my very good friend/coach)just finished rehabbing my mare who was on stall rest for 9 months and everything that NicDel said helped me...except the mushroom matrix...I don't have any experience with that!
                          I still ride with my iphone/ipod on so we both hear the music
                          Everyone here has such great advice and I know it helps me too when I come on here to read.
                          Good luck and don't be afraid to use whatever you need to keep you and everyone else (and your horse) safe.