Steady does it…

You know that wonderful moment when you first get back on your horse after they have been off work. Yes, that one… You want to get on, ride all day, gallop across every field, half-pass from corner to corner, do endless simple changes, jump every fence…but you can’t, can you.

And neither will we be able to. The lockdown restrictions won’t just disappear and the world will snap back to how it once was. They will gradually relax, gradually we will have more freedom, more liberty, more opportunities. We have to be patient, almost I suspect, more patient than before. After all the self-control required to simply ride your horse for 5 mins after not being able to ride for 6 weeks of box rest, is far greater than simply not riding at all.

When you are rehabbing a horse after injury, or box-rest, you start with walking, then gradually introduce a few trot steps,and then a little more trotting and then a few strides of canter. You build up the time minute by minute and the energy levels each day and in time you are able to do everything you want.

But if you miss out the painstaking steps of building fitness and stamina for fleeting pleasure, your fitness has no longevity, it will let you down, you will re-injure, you must take it steady, you must build up gradually. Then in time you will be galloping across that field, attending that show, jumping those fences or simply hacking down a dappled country track.

And we must do the same. If we run around like lunatics doing everything we run the risk of putting ourselves back to square one, and that would not be a good thing! But if we build slowly, follow the advice, we should be able to rebuild our “fitness” and soon be out and about enjoying the world again…

Box rest tricks

If your horse is on box rest you are advised to give him plenty of things to play with. Mirrors in his stable, radios to listen to, turnips on ropes to provide him with things to chew. We need to treat ourselves in the same way. We need things to do, music to listen to, food to chew on, games to play. We need to keep ourselves occupied, stop ourselves from developing stable vices. Our brains need entertainment, our minds need stimulation.

We are at least allowed out for a walk every day, some horses on box rest are not even allowed out for a small in-hand walk. Though if you have a horse that is struggling with box rest it may be worth talking to your vet about walking him in hand once a day. Sometimes the psychological benefit of a daily walk will be worth the small stress placed upon the injury.

In the UK we are allowed a daily walk, other European countries are experiencing a more severe lockdown, sometimes without a walk. I fear I would rapidly begin cribbing and weaving if we were not allowed out for a walk everyday.

Remember just like horses all people will adapt differently. Some will be perfectly happy in their stables with lots to eat, and television to watch. Whereas others will be pacing around their stalls, kicking the walls and threatening to bite vast chunks out of their humans. If you are in the second category, that is okay. It is okay to not be coping, it is an unnatural situation. But if you are coping on box rest, that is fantastic, just remember we are all different, we all cope with things differently. Our horses are all different, they all cope with things differently. A laid back cob may be perfectly happy in his stable, whereas a over-excited youngster may find it very difficult to cope with.

We will all get through this. In our own ways and using different techniques and tricks. We will all cope with it differently, and some better than others and that is just one of those things.

Box rest for humans

I have much enjoyed the analogies comparing box rest for horses to self isolation for humans. I wonder how many people after this will feel slightly more sympathy to their confined horses! Hopefully we will remember the lessons learned during this time and make more of an effort to entertain our box rest horses in the future. We, after all, have television, internet, books, magazine, craft, a whole world of entertainment at our fingertips. Our horses have four walls and we wonder why they develop stable vices?

Indeed I see the attraction of weaving or crib, or eating my bedding and I have a whole house to wander round in, with endless different forms of entertainment. Knowing how much I look forward to my daily exercise, I can only imagine how much a horse would enjoy their walk in hand time during the day. Most horses on box rest are allowed some walking in hand time.

There is no point mending your horse’s tendon only to have created stable vices in the process. Similarly it is vitally important for us to look our mental health during this time. Anyone with existing mental health issues will be struggling at the moment. If that’s you, it will get better, it’s okay to not be coping, it is harder for you. If you know anyone with mental health issues, please check in with them, they are probably not okay.

Remember it’s not a competition, everyone will be having vastly different experiences during this time. A nurse working all hours with no family will be having an entirely time to a family stuck together in a house with small children. These are not comparable experiences, but they are happening at the same time as a result of the same scenario. All we can do is the best with the time that is given to us. Take care of yourself and those around you.

When being kind isn’t enough…

Being kind is important, vey important. But kindness alone isn’t necessarily enough. Trying to be kind to our horses is often at the forefront of our mind, but sometimes the decisions that we make may have to be wise rather than kind. Imagine your horse is lame and needs to be on box rest. But he doesn’t like box rest. To recover from the injury, he will need to be temporarily unhappy in order to achieve long term happiness. As humans we can understand this, but the horse with no concept of acting now to achieve something in the future will just be unhappy.

This dilemma is summed up beautifully by a story from the Dalai Lama. A student came to him with this story:

“My cat had a flea. But I didn’t want to kill the flea, so I didn’t. Then the cat got more fleas. Then the cat had a reaction to the fleas. So, I took the cat to the vet, and the vet had to treat the cat, and kill all the fleas. What should I have done?”

The Dalai Lama replied: “You were trying to be kind, but you forgot to be wise. To be wise, you should have killed the one flea. By trying to be kind, you caused more pain.”

The same applies with our horses. In some cases, the short-term kindness won’t lead to long-term happiness. Sometimes keeping your horse on box rest even though he is unhappy is worth it for the long-term benefit. The combination of wisdom and kindness means that we retain clarity of our long-term goals, without falling into the trap of seeking short term happiness.

The best we can when we are forced to put our horses in situations that aren’t ideal for them, is to make the best of the situation. So, if your horse is on box rest, find him something to do in his stable. If he is turned out by himself, to stop him racing around the paddock, see if you can find him a horse to go in the next-door field. Make sure you look beyond the short-term kindness to the long-term benefits.

Keeping your horse on box rest

Box rest can be a very stressful time for both you and your horse. Often the box rest has been created by an accident or injury. So, you have the worry over that, and how the injury will heal, as well as the worry about how your horse will cope with being on box rest as well. Remember box rest is a turn of phrase, it does not necessarily mean that your horse can never leave his stable – make sure that you discuss with your vet what the limitations are. Horses, just like us, are individuals and you know your horse better than anyone. If you are concerned about how your horse will cope with being on box rest, please talk to your vet.

One of the main concerns about box rest is that your horse will be inclined to put on weight, which won’t help if he is trying to recover from injury. Balancing out restricting feed with preventing gastric ulcers can be a tricky balance. Make sure that his bedding is comfortable and is not causing him to stand at a strange angle thereby placing more strain through his joints.

Keeping him mobile is a massive part of his recovery. There are various ways that you can do this. Simple mobilisation stretches are a great way to encourage gentle movement, as are baited stretches, provided that they are appropriate for your horse. Walking in hand can be an excellent way to help keep your horse healthy during box rest. Though discuss this with your vet and consider the nature of your horse. If he is going to be rearing and spinning while being led out then it probably won’t help his recovery!

Massage or grooming will be of great benefit to your horse. In the old days all grooms would strap their horses every day, essentially giving them a massage and giving the grooms the opportunity to know their horses inside out. In our fast-paced modern world, we consider grooming simply flicking the mud off so the tack doesn’t rub. If your horse is injured and you can’t ride, you can spend that time massaging and grooming him. This will improve your relationship with your horse, as well as helping him to heal.

Box rest can be difficult. Spending some time working out things to keep your horse entertained and building in mobilisation and massage time into your day, will help you to keep him happy and healthy during his recuperation period. Just remember that when you start riding again he won’t be as fit as he was and to start slowly and build up the work in small increments.