1 of 3
Horse getting chiropractic on its back
The horses need chiropractic also
2 of 3
Acupuncture on a horse
Close up picture of an acupuncture needle in a horse
3 of 3
ask Holistic Horse
Horse back riding
Horses can become injured in the course of training or performing. Repetitive motions, impact injuries, sprains, and over-training are all risks. Trainers and owners must be aware of the various symptoms and their treatments so horses can continue to perform comfortably and safely. Whether you are a trainer, rider, or owner, keeping your horse healthy and in top form is a priority.
Injuries are often unavoidable, but there are steps you can take to reduce risk. Ensuring proper conditioning, avoiding overtraining, and reducing inflammation after a hard workout will all contribute to a healthier animal. When injuries do occur, it’s important to work closely with your vet and/or trainer to safely return your horse to activity. Although the specific recovery plan will vary from case to case, there are some common challenges and milestones you can expect to encounter.
Typical Injury Recovery Challenges
People decide to participate in competitive animal sports for a variety of reasons, including financial gain, athletic pursuits, and pure enjoyment. Regardless of the reason, owners are responsible for ensuring the health and well being of their animal athletes.
Some of the most common challenges that owners and trainers face with injury recovery include:
Patience – Although it may be tempting to get a horse athlete back in the game as soon as possible, this is not always the best course of action for the animal. Injury recovery takes time, and it is not always easy to know when to introduce more intense activities. Always follow your vet’s or trainer’s instructions with respect to activity after an injury, even if the horse seems to be no longer in pain or if swelling has subsided.
Limiting activity – You’re not the only one who wants your horse to return to activity. Animal athletes are trained to be continuously active, and they often enjoy it. When they stop feeling pain, they may feel the urge to run when they should only be walking. Stick to your recovery plan and find ways to engage your horse without putting them at risk for re-injury.
Ice baths – Many injuries are treated with cold hosing, ice baths, or ice packs. Although cold therapy is proven to be beneficial, these methods come with inherent risk of damage to skin, either from excessive cold or high-pressure water application.
Fortunately, it is possible to overcome each of these challenges. Being committed to the health of your horse will help you develop the necessary patience to wait until they are completely healed. Ongoing research provides the latest methods for injury recovery, including the most successful treatment plans. New technologies allow animals to receive the benefits of cryotherapy and active compression without risk for other injuries.
The Injury Recovery Timeline
In the first few days after an injury is sustained, the primary objective is to keep the horse comfortable by reducing pain and swelling. A combination of cold therapy, compression, and rest is a standard approach. When the initial pain and swelling have subsided after a few days, the goal during the next month of recovery is to limit the spread of inflammation and repair any damage caused by the injury. Depending on the injury, a typical approach includes a combination of alternating temperature therapy, compression, and the introduction of gentle exercise.
A full recovery can take six months or more, even if the horse seems to have healed. It is important to avoid vigorous exercise during this time and continue a program of controlled exercise while damaged tissues continue to fully recover.
Accelerating the Healing Process
When an injury occurs it’s important that vets, trainers, and owners take a unified approach to treatment and recovery. Introducing too much activity too soon can slow the healing process and prolong the recovery time, which can be both costly and frustrating for owners of animal athletes.
Some of the steps you can take to accelerate healing for many of the most common equine injuries include cold therapy and compression.
Cold therapy is proven to reduce pain and inflammation. Therapeutic cold offers beneficial effects that include:
* Deadening nerve endings to reduce the sensation of pain
* Reducing muscle spasms that contribute to additional pain
* Reducing swelling
* Slowing cellular metabolism to help speed up the healing process
Cold hosing and ice packs are the traditional methods for applying cold therapy in horses. Although these methods are effective for delivering cold, they do have some drawbacks.
Cold hosing can result in skin problems because of the amount of water used and the frequency of application. Ice packs lose effectiveness over time because heat from the animal’s skin is transferred to the ice pack. It can also be difficult to get sufficient coverage with ice packs because they do not conform to the body.
Lymphatic drainage and good blood flow are essential for speeding up injury recovery in horses. The body does this naturally through the circulatory and lymphatic systems, but excessive swelling can impede the function of these systems. Compression therapy , in the form of pressure bandages, can be used to help control swelling after an injury, but they also present risks. Too much pressure can limit the flow of blood and lymph, and prolonged use of pressure bandages can cause tendons and other connective tissues to weaken. Animals present an additional challenge with the use of pressure bandages because they cannot effectively communicate comfort levels.
Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of injury recovery in competitive animals is the ability to get adequate rest . Despite this inherent challenge, it is important that injured horses rest not only the injured area, but also get an adequate break from all activity.
Healing after an injury requires a significant amount of energy for cellular regeneration and tissue repair. When the body is at rest it has a better opportunity to repair damaged tissues, thereby speeding up the healing process and shortening overall recovery time.
Although adequate rest is essential, a certain amount of appropriate activity is also important for the recovery process. Introducing mild activity in the early stages of recovery and then later increasing intensity will help a horse return to peak activity more quickly.
Working closely with a veterinarian and a qualified trainer is important for identifying the right balance of activity during injury recovery.
Kelly Hansen is Director of Marketing at Game Ready ( www.gameready.com ). She received her B.S. degree in Consumer Science from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Outside of work, Kelly enjoys an active life competing in Ironman triathlons.