Tuesday, May 12, 2009

So, your horse is lame

(Pictured: Buttercup yesterday, completely full of herself and feeling good with her nicely shod hooves)

If you've owned horses for any length of time, one of them will inevitably turn up lame. Whether it is from farrieritis or injury, odds are you have had to deal with a horse in "down" time.

I had nearly eight months of down time with Buttercup last year. And now, after every trim, I have about four or five days before I can ride her due to her stressed lamina.

What many performance-orientated and even weekend riders forget is that despite having a horse out of commission, there are plenty of other activities you can do besides riding. Last year, I spent maybe three days out at the barn the first month after I confirmed Buttercup wasn't getting much sounder. I'd go out there, watch her limp around, sigh and then head home.

Sometimes I'd take her out of the pasture and groom her. Eventually I was only out there for her thrice-weekly epsom salts soaking to stave off the imaginary abcess she was fighting.

Buttercup didn't seem to mind the down time. She had 24/7 turnout and even on uncomfortable hooves, she seemed to take it in stride.

Not me. I was going stir crazy.

So, how did I deal with eight months of no horse to ride??? Well, besides trying to educate myself on hooves, I found some great ways to deal with a lame horse. Let me preface the following list of ideas by saying: do not do anything with your horse that can worsen his condition. Follow your vet's and farrier's advice on how much is too much for your horse.

Here's my "What to do when your horse is lame" list:

1. Take lessons. I'm serious. Get on a bunch of different horses with a bunch of different instructors. Are you a western rider who has never jumped? Take some english lessons. Jumper who has never tried dressage? Take some dressage lessons. You certainly won't be spending your money on shows or trailering your horse anywhere, so you might as well put it to good use in furthering your equestrian skills, whether that's in your current discipline or broadening your horizons.

2. Buy some books and DVDs. Take time to read/learn from the professionals. I am a huge fan of George Morris and read his books. I also re-read Conditioning of the Performance Horse and several other oldies but goodies. Ever wonder what the hype is about Clinton Anderson or some other natural horseman? Now's the time to check it out.

3. Learn how to adequately prep for a show. Pretend that a show is the next day and you have to get the trailer ready, your tack ready and your horse show ready. Do the whole-shebang. Clip, clean, braid. Figure out where you can be more efficient. Really suck at braiding? Time to re-learn the craft. Afterall, what else are you doing? Here's a great video on how to do that mane banding for showmanship or western classes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TspDuDujU4A

(Pictured: You know you want nice clean, supple tack; now's the time to do it!)

4. Break old habits. Never have time to un-do bad habits with your horse because you are in too much of a hurry to ride? Now's the time to desensitize that girthy horse to the girth. Teach your horse to stand still for mounting. Learn how to properly trailer load.

5. Learn some new tricks. Try riding bridleless if your horse is sound at the walk. Try something completely random, like this: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6640686269206361891 . Teach your horse to bow or say "yes." Why not hobble break your horse if he is comfortable with walking or standing still? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SbYFHKkwAM

6. Master the walk. It sounds stupid, but many people forget that this is one of the most important gaits. Try mastering all three speeds at the walk (collected, medium and free). Learn to halt squarely. Does your horse pull on you as you halt? Fix it at the walk. Energize the walk. You can even teach the half-halt at the walk. The walk used to be my least favorite gait (mainly because it is the hardest to get right), but now I spend probably 30 minutes each riding session walking, just because I've learned to really love this intricate and balanced gait. Here's Bud and I a couple months ago (we aren't doing too much here, but you get the idea): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gq9dskEfmU8

7. Keep tone with your own exercise routine. I've found that running and yoga help me keep my riding physique nicely. Of course, despite a regular exercise routine, I got sore again once I picked up riding, but my balance and core were strong so it didn't take too long to get back into the swing of things.

8. Learn how to stretch your horse. There are tons of materials online, and your horse will appreciate it, especially if he is lame. Lame horses compensate and cause their muscles to be sore. For Buttercup, that was her back left loin. Here's my first attempt ever at stretching her, notice how she is a bit uncomfortable? She's completely lost that now with a couple stretches a week: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6161219864017509245

9. Photo shoot! Ever want great pictures of your horse? As any photographer will tell you, it often takes hundreds of photos to get one good photo. Take conformation pictures, hoof pictures (remember to update your hoof journal!), and "glamor" shots. Your horse will appreciate the time you spend with him, especially if you bring carrots, and you'll love the new pics of your horse.

(Pictured: Buttercup in a recent "glam" photo shoot)

Having a lame horse is not a death sentence. If you are in the rehab process and have no other choice but to wait out your horse's recovery, you're going to have to get creative. I have learned to properly braid my horse, I have somewhat mastered the walk, and I've helped my horse overcome her displeasure at being girthed (she is not what I'd deem girthy. but she just really dislikes it).

Of course, instead of doing anything, you could just sit around and complain that your horse is lame ...

Have any suggestions on what to do while your horse is lame? Post 'em!


  1. These are great ideas. Also, many of them are things you can do with a young horse who isn't old enough to ride yet. When Halo or I start getting bored with our usual routine, it's good to mix in some other random stuff like this.

    I envy your ability to vault on like that - My version involves leaping up so my belly is across her back and then swinging my leg over, looking like a sack of potatoes the entire time.

  2. I used to be a lot better at it. I probably need to practice again. Luckily, Buttercup puts up with a majority of my antics! I'd probably be dead if she was my old OTTB.

    That's another thing I forgot: you can set up a course of spooky things and work on desensitizing your horse to flying bags and more. Here's a great link to a topic (I'm sure you've seen this already, spazfilly!): http://fhotd64476.yuku.com/topic/27058