Why Equine Rehabilitation?

It seems inevitable as a horse owner. At some point, we all have to deal with injuries.  Often it’s just a small wound. Sometimes it’s a tendon or ligament injury that makes the future uncertain.  And sometimes it’s a “how in the world did you DO that??” kind of injury.

All of these injuries do have something in common, though – they can all benefit from rehabilitation.

It used to be that once a horse was diagnosed with an injury (usually tendon/ligament related), they were prescribed several months of strict stall rest.  And I mean STRICT – often, not even handwalking was allowed.  What we have discovered in recent years, however, is that there is a better way to address injuries.  Studies have shown that when recovering from injury (again, I’m mostly talking about tendon/ligament), no exercise is just as bad – if not worse – than too much exercise.  That means that having your horse stand around in his stall for several weeks or months may be JUST AS DETRIMENTAL as keeping him in heavy work while injured.  This is because the injury needs a small amount of stress to stimulate healing.

Thankfully, with a few exceptions, strict stall rest is a thing of the past.  Most vets will now recommend a short time in a stall (during the very acute phase of an injury), followed by a controlled exercise program (short hand walks or underwater treadmill work progressing to walking under saddle).

I would like to take that a step further. Controlled exercise is certainly the most important aspect of injury recovery.  And depending on the severity, the vet may have the horse on a course of NSAIDs, or recommend regenerative medicine. However, I propose that there are many other things that we could be doing to help the horse (both mentally and physically) during this gap between injury and recovery.

Bodywork can help address the stiffness and lack of circulation from standing around most of the day.  Cold laser can help wound healing, reduce inflammation, address pain and speed healing. Therapeutic ultrasound can encourage scar tissue to form in a uniform pattern, maintaining structural flexibility. A home exercise program can help maintain suppleness and core strength while out of work. The list goes on and on – thermotherapy, vibration therapy, PEMF, microcurrent/TENS…all of these can play a part in the horse’s recovery, depending on his particular situation.

Think about it this way – if you are injured, you go through a course of physical therapy to help give you the best chance of a full recovery.  Shouldn’t we do the same for our horses? A professional rehab plan can not only improve the quality of healing – it can help reduce the chance of injury recurrence as well.