by Jenny Rukavina
(RMSAAM Equine and Canine Instructor)
Most horse owners have received an injury or illness rehabilitation protocol from their veterinarian at some point. After veterinary diagnostics and treatment(s), most vets will send you home with a fairly straightforward plan that includes confinement, controlled exercise, cold hosing, etc. of course depending on the nature of the illness or injury being addressed.
The rehabilitation of a horse from an injury or illness can be a long, lonely, stressful and frustrating road! Additionally, getting a thousand pound horse to cooperate in the healing process is often challenging!
Some of these difficulties can be eased with a team approach and a clear understanding of a general time line that the horse can be expected to return to work.
Patience and diligence are key factors when dealing with rehabilitation! Every horse and every injury is different. Soft tissue structures in the lower limb have a limited blood supply and healing is often dreadfully slow even with regenerative therapies like PRP, IRAP or stem cells. Having a team that recognizes compensatory issues need to be addressed along with the main injury can also make a world of difference in the horse’s successful return to work.
The veterinarian is ultimately the team leader and other members of the rehabilitation team can include the farrier, veterinary chiropractor or acupuncturist, massage and craniosacral therapists, equine dentist and trainer. It is often very difficult for horses to settle into box stall rest and controlled exercise at their training or home barn. You may find that a facility that specializes in rehabilitation is the perfect place for your horse to spend the initial weeks or months of recovery.
The horse pictured here came to Acadia Equine Rehabilitation in early 2010 after his second arthroscopic surgery on his right stifle. He arrived with severe muscle atrophy all down his right hamstring muscles and a very strict post surgical rehabilitation protocol from the veterinarians. Because of the timing of when the horse came into rehabilitation at AER, and the fact that he was dealing with acute issues and recovery from surgery much of the team had to wait! This horse needed some immediate support provided through a new farrier who works with us regularly. And slowly over time other professionals were worked into his protocol. Dental work, veterinary chiropractic, craniosacral, and massage were all factored into this horse’s care and program over subsequent months. Diet and specific nutritional help was needed to help him ultimately gain muscle and recover much of his athleticism.
Ultimately, building a team of equine professionals that will look at your horse and his injury as an individual can mean a smoother and more successful recovery! Each horse and situation absolutely needs to be seen as an individual. What may have worked with a different horse that had a similar injury might not have nearly the same results on this horse. Conformation, metabolism, performance history, and the horse’s individual compensatory patterns are all factors that have a strong impact on how the horse will respond to individual rehabilitative protocols.