The Horse

OCT 2018

The Horse:Your Guide To Equine Health Care provides monthly equine health care information to horse owners, breeders, veterinarians, barn/farm managers, trainer/riding instructors, and others involved in the hands-on care of the horse.

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46 October 2018 The Horse | She generally recommends starting a horse with light weight in the surcingle and increasing that little by little over time as the horse progresses. "This technique is more gradual, safer, and more easily brings a horse back to work, compared to throwing a 30-pound saddle and 150-pound rider up on the horse's back all of a sudden," she says. "Ponying a horse is better than asking for repetitive longeing. A horse on a longe line often can get wild and out of control; ponying behind another steady horse tends to lessen the frequency of unpre- dictable episodes." Because physical therapy programs are intended to build a horse up gradually, they typically don't stress the cardiovascu- lar system much. However, when training a horse back to progressive work de- mands, you can monitor his heart rate to gauge his immediate response to exercise. Place a heart rate monitor on your horse before he works. Look for a target heart rate of 130-150 beats per minute (bpm) to achieve aerobic conditioning (long, slow distance work) during the session. Also use the monitor to track how quickly your horse recovers to an expected heart rate of 60-64 bpm post- exercise. It shouldn't take longer than 10 minutes—preferably only two or three— to reach your target recovery heart rate. You might also perform in-hand hill work at the beginning of your horse's con- ditioning program. Johnson recommends starting with an initial grade that isn't too strenuous, then adding increasing grada- tions of difficulty over time. Warmup and cool-down sessions are hugely beneficial for a horse's mental and physical well-being, says Johnson. Tissues begin to warm up, stretch, and become more elastic at the walk and slow trot. She says she includes five sets of core-strengthening exercises during both warmup and cool-down. Do these slowly and in a controlled manner. Muscle Exercises Most human physiotherapy work has been done on several aspects of core strengthening, including the multifidus muscles along the spine, which help stabilize the vertebral column. In humans, improved multifidus strength has been shown to reduce the risk of osteoarthritis or sports-specific injuries. Physiotherapy for horses can also focus on aspects of core strength, including the propulsive hind-limb muscles, forelimb strength/ stability, and core abdominal engagement. Johnson says these muscle exercises are like Pilates for horses and can be per- formed in-hand. "We've seen good success using these exercises to augment regular veterinary therapeutics," she says. "Of 20 different exercises, some of the most common we use include sternal lifts, lumbosacral tucks, and caudal and lateral tail pulls to improve hind-end stability. Abdominal lifts help to strengthen the topline and encourage core abdominal strength." (You can learn how to perform these at Other physiotherapeutic exercises focus on improving neck and back flex- ibility and strength, as well as joint range of motion. A piece of equipment Johnson says she finds extremely effective for strength- ening the hindquarters is an elastic resistance band system. She says using this band elicits a change in the kinemat- ics of the horse's body (how it moves) and increases his proprioception (awareness of where his limbs are in space). The elastic band provides passive restraint on trailing limbs and helps the horse engage his hindquarters and stay in a "frame." She finds that this is especially helpful for horses recovering from stifle injuries, par- ticularly of the menisci (the cartilaginous discs that facilitate frictionless move- ment of the stifle joint). This is because meniscal injuries tend to occur when the stifle is in full extension; the band helps limit the extended position during which meniscal injuries can occur. If available, an underwater treadmill can help strengthen horses' muscle timing and motor control when they're worked at a controlled walk, says Johnson, adding that this is an especially useful strategy for horses recovering from limb injuries. Horses can also gain cardiovas- cular conditioning through underwater treadmill work without stressing healing musculoskeletal tissues. It's important to condition and ad- dress all muscle types, including cardiac muscle. "The heart is often overlooked, as it is difficult to assess," says Liberman. "Cardiac auscultation (listening with a stethoscope) at rest, at recovery, and after SPORTS MEDICINE Walking on an underwater treadmill can benet horses' muscle timing and motor control. COURTESY DR. SHERRY JOHNSON Interpreting Prepurchase Exams on Idle Horses It is not unusual when horse-shopping to find a potential prospect that has been out of routine work for any number of reasons. Conducting and interpreting a prepurchase exam on these horses can be tricky. When brought back into steady work, a horse that has not been in regular training or exercise for many months might begin to show signs of problems. Sherry Johnson, DVM, co-founder of Equine Core, advises buyers to obtain full medical record disclosure in these scenarios. Ask the seller for complete transparency as to whether the horse has had a previous injury and, if so, what it was and how it was managed. She has concerns about horses that a buyer expects to take to a higher level of performance than what he is currently trained for and able to do. Get as much information as possible to make an informed decision.—Nancy Loving, DVM

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