Unfortunately, in my horse’s case no news is not good news. Back in September 2010, Spiker was having a minor fit at being left alone in a paddock after his friend was taken away for training, and witnesses said as he was galloping up and down a muddy fenceline, he slipped and fell underneath the bottom rail.
Normally, Spiker is a pretty easy-going guy, and truthfully I had never seen him be fussed over a buddy leaving, especially with other horses in paddocks right next to him. The barn staff called to notify me what happened, and naturally I went right up to look that evening.
After a few weeks of stall rest and wrapping, his sore RH leg was not cooling down or becoming less painful, so in came the vet (again). After some digital radiographs (x-rays) and an ultrasound, it was revealed he had torn his suspensory ligament in his RH. He would require 12 weeks of stall rest and wrapping, and then another 3 months of rehabilitation.
Having been through a suspensory rehab before, I knew that patience was a virtue. Rushing the recovery process will result in less than stellar results, and could result in future re-injury. Ideally, when rehabilitation is done correctly the scar tissue can actually make the ligament stronger in some cases. However, a lot has changed with equine medical technology since I last rehabbed a ligament.
A popular option for torn/injured ligaments is Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT). The theory behind shockwave therapy is that it creates “microtrauma” to the area, which quickly and painlessly stimulates neo-vascularization (new blood flow) into the area. The current recommended treatment for ESWT is three treatments that are two weeks apart. The time in between treatments allows for healing to take place before the next treatment. Many vets have mobile ESWT capabilities, meaning they will come to your barn and treat your horse as necessary. Check out this local clinic in the Toronto area for more information, which offers ESWT to local clients.
Sadly, Spiker had to do without this treatment option as my veterinary clinic probably treats themselves to yearly cruises based on the amount of money they have accrued from Spiker’s various injuries, including his eye troubles and joint maintenance. This time, we were going to have to stick it out with good old-fashioned stall rest.
Another new approach to ligament repair is including handwalking (light exercise) into the horse’s recovery much earlier on in the healing process. Horses were formerly confined to their stalls for months at a time, and then eventually allowed light handwalking to start the rehabilitation process. Now, many vets recommend introducing handwalking after a few weeks of rest, to help the horse recover faster with improved tissue quality at the site of the injury.
Currently, Spiker is in his fourth month of injury, and we are up to 15 minutes of handwalking per day. It hasn’t been easy, to get through snowy drives or late night visits to the barn just for handwalking, but it is a critical part of the recovery process.
While I have been following my vet’s advice to get the best results, I also found a great book that has stories of injury and rehabilitation by horse owners, which includes various injuries, different methods of treatment as well as a rehabilitation guideline. (Always consult your veterinarian before trying anything you’ve read in a book or online!)
Back to Work: How to Rehabilitate or Recondition your Horse was a good read that had lots of helpful suggestions on what worked for owners (or what to avoid). The book not only examines the horse, but what it was like for the owners to hear their equine partner was seriously injured, and would miss major competitions.
At this point, I am very tired of the wrapping and handwalking, but hopefully in about 3 weeks we should be up to 25-30 minutes of handwalking, at which point I can get on him at the walk for 10 minutes.
Rehabbing a horse takes time, patience, and if your horse is like my horse, a lot of money. The goal is to get them happy and healthy so the return to work has minimal set-backs. Invest in the time and your horse will be back to competition and ready to go.
(Or you can invest in lottery tickets, which is next on my list….)