Thursday, April 13, 2017

Equine Physical Therapy

Casey and I are now two rides into her new physical therapy program. As a quick recap, she has a minor suspensory ligament sprain and so Vet gave her a controlled exercise regime. The first two weeks consist of 20-30 minutes walking under saddle 4-5 days per week.
Prepared for the oh-so-exciting 30 minute walk!

It could easily be assumed that it would be boring to only walk for 30 minutes, and there is some partial truth in that. If all we did was walk along the arena rail, it would get incredibly boring, really fast. My goal though is for us to use this time to improve in the basics so that our training doesn't totally tank from this injury.
Casey doesn't really get why we have to cover the basics. Why walk when we can gallop?

I have figured out a good set of activities for us to work on during this time. We start out the ride at a nice free walk. During this time, I give Casey her head and encourage her to really stretch out to loosen her muscles.
Super big, motion-filled, free walk

A good thing to work on is bending, so after our couple of minutes of free walk we move on to bending circles. I am trying to keep my reins as light as possible while still getting a true bend. Once our circles are looking good we start trying to keep the bend while going down the long sides of the arena. Casey is a lot stiffer to the left and doesn't bend as easily that direction. She will sometimes fight me on trying to bend that way. In just our two walk rides I'm already seeing a huge improvement in this. She is now much more easily bending that way, takes a lot less rein to get the bend, and her meltdown temper tantrums are becoming infrequent. Yesterday she only got mad at me once, tried to stop and shove her head in the other direction, and I just asked for the bend again and she did it without a fuss.
Me? Bend? Uh, no?

Since this is physical therapy for a leg injury, I only do a few minutes of bending practice at a time, breaking up the sessions with a lot of free walk.

After the initial free walk, I change it up and will use free walk time to work on other skills. Some of these skills are neck reining (I have aspirations to one day be able to ride my horse bridleless - this is an unlikely dream), holding two point (I held it for 5 minutes straight the other day and now am in pain), and stopping without using reins.
Although, if we did bridleless, we couldn't wear cute bonnets, so maybe we shouldn't?

Our adventures in stopping without reins is interesting. I think that Casey is smarter than she lets on. As in, I am pretty sure she knows I am asking her to stop when I say "ho," she is just being a jerk and ignoring me. When I say "ho" and she ignores me, if I say "HO" in a growly/mad voice she stops right away. So I think she knows what the word means, she just tries to get away with not listening to it. I am making sure to really emphasize what I want with both my voice and my seat. I still have to have my reins in my hands (held at the buckle), because if I don't have them at all she will not stop. I think that when I lean back with my seat it might be applying the tiniest amount of pressure still to the reins, but am not totally sure. She's made so much progress in stopping, she now will stop without me having to use the reins. Even with all of this progress though, she's still not as good at it as I want. I would like her to give me a first-time response when I say "ho" and she has yet to do that. She likes to mosey to stop, rather than actually stopping right away.
She doesn't know why we have to stop

The other major thing that we are working on is leg yielding. Casey is in some ways pretty dead to my leg. She's a very forward horse, and so if leg means go fast and be racehorse, she's totally game. However, if leg means move your body sideways at all, it's like trying to guide a struggle bus. I think part of it is that, considering her age, she really does not have as much body awareness as she should. This is how we got to the point of injury in the first place. She always is nicking herself up just from not knowing what her body is doing. For an example, yesterday when I showed up to the barn, I noticed that Casey had nasty scrape on her hip. I pointed it out to Trainer, who told me Casey had probably just run into the corner of her paddock shelter. Never mind that she has lived there for 6 months and knows the layout. She was just clueless enough to run into it! And this is why I called her my ditzy mare... Going back to my point, we are working on basic leg yielding and shoulder-in. Haunches-in is much too confusing to her at this point to really get anywhere with.
Absolutely zero body awareness here

All in all, physical therapy is going well. I will definitely be more than bored of walking by the end of the two designated walking weeks, but for now I am a whole slew of things that we can work on. Hopefully all of this walk training will carry over into the other gaits and this time will actually help our overall communication! Also, Casey is doing much better with it than I was expecting. I think that she likes have mini-activities to do as well and I know that she loves getting to leave her paddock.
Unfortunately, a kisses-only communication method doesn't really work when dealing with crazy mare

Does anybody else in the blogosphere have any walk-only activities to suggest?

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