Bringing a Horse Back from Injury or Layoff

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I bought Caveman four years ago when he was five and I had super-high hopes for him. He’s a real neat horse. I liked him so much that I didn’t want to ruin him, so I just wanted to wait until he was mature enough to rodeo on him.

Then he showed up crippled two years ago and we still don’t know what happened to him. I laid him off for six months and he was still crippled. So we left him off for more time and now it’s been about a year-and-a-half. I couldn’t ever get him sound, so we did an MRI and it showed that he had the start of ringbone and a touch of navicular, but no tissue or cartilage damage.

The horse is only 9 years old, but my plan for him all along was to be able to start rodeoing on him this year. I went ahead and got him nerved so that he would be sound so I didn’t have to deal with issues of him being lame. I have probably two years to use him and we’ll reassess after that. He could go on or he could be done as a rodeo horse. So I thought, Shoot,
I better get back to riding him. My original plan was to swim him, but that was too expensive, so I just thought I’d ride him and bring him back.

Week One

Make a Plan

Week 1—20-30 minute walk/trot sessions

Week 2—30 minutes of walking and trotting with light loping

Week 3 —30 minutes of trotting and loping with some machine work

Week 4— 30 minutes of warm-up and very slow live action

Right now I’m trotting Caveman every day for a week. Every two or three days I’ll go a little bit further with him to try and get his air back.

When I start any horse back, I’ll walk for maybe five minutes and then I’ll take off trotting for probably 20 minutes at first, and then I’ll walk them and cool them off. So a total of 30 minutes of riding. After two or three days, I’ll probably trot them five minutes further. I always walk them and cool them out and let them stop blowing.

Week Two

I’ll probably trot them for 10-15 minutes and then lope them just a little bit and then gradually pick that up a little more and cool them out every time before I put them up.

Every horse—depending on how long they’ve been off and what kind of shape they’re in—will tell you how long to go. To me, esepcially in the winter, when they start to break a sweat, they’re probably good. You don’t want to kill them off right at the beginning.

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Week Three

The main thing is, for the first month, don’t run anything on them except maybe loping behind a machine or something where you’re not really doing anything except exercising him and messing around with your roping at the same time. If anything, I think that gives people something to do rather than just being bored just riding.

During this process, my vet told me an interesting thing, and they’ve done studies on this. If you leave a horse off a month, they don’t lose any muscle tone or conditioning. If you leave one off for a month, you don’t have to do a month’s worth of riding to get them back in shape

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Week Four

 Week FAfter a month, I plan on roping steers on him. You can start going to cattle on them, but don’t go to asking them for everything right off the bat. Don’t see much out of the chute, just come out right behind the steers and let them make some runs and try to stay away from steers that run super hard. Stay on medium or slow steers.

That way your horse is exerting energy,
but he’s not going full throttle. He’s having to turn them off and work his body and everything else. I might do five steers a day that way for a week. I’m gradually being able to tune on him at the same time of getting him in a little better shape. I’ll do a week or two of that and then try to start going faster on him.

Hopefully he’s going to be ready. My horse, Caveman, has been to rodeos and ropings and now that he’s got some age on him, once he’s in shape, I’ve got high hopes for him.