We’re 30 days into our 6 month rehab, Forrest and I, and with the exception of the odd karate-chop during these windy, wintry days, he’s been an awfully good patient. So far, I have been able to shake my head to those who have asked, “You’re giving him Ace, right?” to keep him contained and to prevent retweaking his injury.
I can’t guarantee this will work for everyone else, but what has been working for me and this thin-skinned, spook-prone OTTB is to try and keep his routine as close to what it was before he entered rehab. For example, Forrest used to be turned out, every morning, weather permitting, into the large field with his breakfast hay, his stablemates nearby in the paddocks. Obviously he can’t be given that freedom, however, he does still go out into his ‘Rehab Paddock,’ directly in front of the barn where he can have a nice roll and eat his breakfast.
For sure I test the waters before turning him out: I turn out the other horses, first, with their favorite alfalfa-mix hay. This yummy hay almost guarantees no one is going to take off bucking and bolting–it’s breakfast, they’re hungry, and all they want to do is eat. I watch for a few minutes just to make sure everyone is settled and then I turn Forrest out. If I hear a “Hey, look, it’s a deer!” snort, along with flung-up heads and flagging tails, common sense dictates not to turn Forrest out at that time. From my vantage, inside the barn as I clean stalls, I can keep an Eagle-eye on my boy and be ready to bring him straight in if I see him begin to percolate with excitement. With five horses, it takes me an hour and a half to feed/muck/scrub water buckets/sweep the aisle, so this means Forrest enjoys all that time in the weak winter sun and decompressing in a natural ‘herd mentality’ state alongside the other horses.
Directly after he is brought in, we begin our morning hand walk of 20 minutes. The fact that he’s all nice and warm beneath his blankets (he lives in a Back on Track sheet, which gives the added benefit of keeping his back muscles warm which I also heartily believe contributes to his relaxed state) does indeed help his comfort level as we begin our twice daily jaunt up and down the driveway. It’s easy for Forrest to be put on the back burner during the rest of the day when I’m teaching and riding other horses. So I go out of my way to spend time with him, either grooming or giving him a massage, so he doesn’t feel left out.
And he’s still getting a bit of training! One thing about his confinement that has been useful is the attempt to desensitize him–Forrest has always perpetuated the “Crazy Chestnut OTTB” stereotype by freaking out at anything new. And like most horses, anything crinkly, like the dreaded plastic grocery bag, sends him into orbit. So one thing I did was bring in an empty water trough and line it with a clear plastic and place it in the barn aisle. Forrest spent the first day hiding in the corner of his stall but upon watching the other horses stand calmly next to it in the cross ties or be led quietly past it. He was brave enough to examine it from his doorway and, soon after, paid no attention to it–even dozing while the breeze crackled it throughout the day! That is an enormous accomplishment for this redhead!
Dr. Gillis has just recommended increasing his hand walking five minutes, once a day, so we will continue walking 20 minutes in the a.m and 25 in the p.m. Come early March, she will ultrasound his stifle again to monitor his healing. Until then, onward and upward!