Just like humans, injuries large or small take time to repair. And, just like us, when an older horses picks up an injury it too can take an increased amount of time to recover.
I recently had this experience with my own 22 year old Arab x Connemara. He has always been kept in a reasonable amount of work but due to time constraints and restrictions in lockdown his workload had dropped to around twice a week.
Saturday morning, around 4 weeks ago, I had gone down for our usual Saturday morning session. My boy walks out fine. I walked him round the arena to warm up and thought maybe he was a little short stepping on his right hind but put it down to him just getting out of bed. But, when I introduced the trot, it was like he only had three legs. Eek! He didn’t seem overtly in pain and he wasn’t reluctant to trot, he just couldn’t.
I took him up to the yard to give him a work through to locate the problem. Nothing obvious in the hoof or lower leg and I couldn’t see anything much in his back. The way he moved didn’t look like a hoof or lower leg lameness. It looked to me like it was coming from his stifle or hip.
If there is one thing this horse doesn’t have a problem with it is communicating his dislike for something. I gently rested my hand over his stifle and snap, up came his leg. There was also some reactivity around his tuber coxae (false hip).
I used my Magnetopulse, which delivers pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF), over his right hindquarter from sacrum to stifle to bring fresh blood supply to the area, relieve muscular tension and ease any pain.
I’ve been very lucky not to have experienced many prolonged injuries with this horse and I (naively) expected that a few days of rest from hard work and PEMF therapy twice a day, would see a return to his usual spritely self. However, after 6 days he was still showing significant lameness and it was obvious that this “tweak” was more than just that. It had run deep and pulled through a chain of muscles, fascia and probably ligaments in the region of the pelvis.
I continued gentle, unridden work, range of movement exercises and post work stretches for a further three weeks. Finally this weekend, four weeks on from sustaining the injury, he is looking much more level and his movement patterns are returning to normal.
It took me back to my student days, learning about the stages of repair. I think all too often we underestimate just how long it can take for injuries to recover both for ourselves and our animals. While on the surface the injury may appear to have resolved, underneath there are a whole host of processes taking place to reproduce, remodel and repair the tissues that have been damaged. Did you know that it can take up to 12 months for the remodelling process to complete and for the tissue to be at pre-injury strength. As a physiotherapist it is essential that we understand and are able to interpret the stage that an injury is at so that we may provide the most effective therapy at that time and therefore ensure the speediest and strongest recovery possible.
Having said that, I believe the morale to this blog is; exercise is key. I feel certain that had my horse not been effectively out of work this injury either wouldn’t have occurred or would have been much less serious and his recovery would have been much speedier. And I have been slapping myself on the wrist ever since for not trying to make more time for him. But, no one is perfect, not even physiotherapists.