Ask an Expert

Riding After Injury

July 11, 2011

There are several benefits to riding your horse during rehabilitation from injury.

Question:

My mare is just coming out of six months stall rest after a stifle injury. We are hand walking her but were told to ride her instead. Why would this be more beneficial? She, of course, gets excited and jumps around, so we are a little afraid to ride her yet. Also, how will we know when it is OK to move her into a trot?

Answer:

Generally, rehabilitation from injury depends on the type and severity of injury that the horse sustains. In your case, at this point your veterinarian feels it is appropriate to start riding under saddle at a walk. There are several benefits to this. First, the horse receives slightly more stress from the weight of the rider and therefore gains more muscle to support herself, but not so much as to strain the injury. Secondly, the owner is allowed to feel like he or she is progressing by getting back astride the horse and usually can control those “excited tendencies” of the cooped-up horse a little better (although not always).

If you feel concerned for your safety while riding, you can ask your veterinarian about some quieting products, such as certain feed supplements or a mild tranquilizer, which you can give 30 to 45 minutes prior to riding. It is always scary to get back in the saddle after your horse has had an injury, but at some point, it becomes a necessity to work forward in the rehabilitation process.

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As far as the introduction of trot, that should be determined by your veterinarian. It usually depends on the extent of the injury, as well as monitoring for any changes in the stifle, such as joint effusion, lameness, changes on X-rays or ultrasound. If you have any concerns when you increase your work load (under your veterinarian’s advice), you should stop the work and contact your veterinarian, as you may have progressed too quickly and need some more time at a lower rehabilitation level.

– Dr. Karen Blake
American Association of Equine Practitioners