Whilst many riders find lunging to be the thing you do to get the beans out of your horse at a competition it’s also a crucial step to any rehabilitation program. Many professional riders use lunging as a way to slowly and gently bring their horses back into work after an injury as it not only allows you to control the energy levels and size of the circle but also means you can closely monitor your horse’s stride and movement. Here Animal Therapeutics Director Jo Schneider shares the lunging program she used to help rehab her horse Rollie through his Kissing Spine injury.
The ground rules
Initially if there is any instability present I keep lunging to a flat area (ie an arena) and keep the circles at least 18m diameter. My focus is on keeping him straight where possible (note that straight on a circle means bend matches the circle curve) and aiming for good longitudinal stretching. I’m looking for his nose reaching down and out as close to the ground as possible, with a nice open gullet and his neck coming out nicely from the shoulder. I’m aiming for movement and transitions with no shortening of the neck. Although bear in mind we’re going for improvement not perfection here as this is difficult for your horse.
Once there is enough strength and stability I like to vary it up a bit both for his sanity (and mine) and to use his body differently. To do this I increase the intensity on the arena through smaller circles, spirals, more transitions within and between the gaits, as well as adding poles and cavaletti. I also like to take him out of the arena which is good for both mind and body (horse and trainer!).
In the paddock
I use uneven grassy surfaces (not slippery!) and varying levels of incline (gradually increasing) to encourage him to use his body differently. The use of uneven surfaces is really beneficial as he is so busy thinking about hoof placement that he let’s go of some body mechanisms that have developed ie where he used to ‘hold’ because it hurt, it may not hurt anymore but his muscle memory and habit is to hold still. The uneven ground helps to see if this movement is real or from memory.
As his strength develops I like to find patches of grass that are longer so he has to lift his legs higher to work through it – again this creates a natural way of pushing his capabilities and muscles and gradually builds strength. It is important to let him lead me though and I don’t push him too hard and make sure the muscles he needs to use are feeling strong enough before asking. If I listen he tells me what he can handle.
Trot poles and cavaletti
Trot poles and cavaletti are another great way of developing strength and encouraging the body to move evenly when it hasn’t for a while (for any reason). I use these on the arena as part of his lunging program once I feel that his body is ready for the extra ‘stretch’ and effort that may be required. When starting I just incorporate slowly rather than making the whole session over poles and I watch for things like even head carriage over them and his reaction after the sequence. Sometimes I have found that issues have shown over grids like this which I haven’t noticed previously as they dont allow the horse to restrict their own movement and stride length (that’s the benefit) but if he has looked sound and comfortable because he’s slightly holding himself back, then you might see some symptoms emerge when you take away his ability to do that. The good thing is that you are creating an environment where he has to both think about where he puts his feet, and creates an even stride length.
I did also think about putting in a water treadmill since we are fortunate to stock the best in the world with Activo-Med, but I didn’t really have the facilities to place it in either so this was a big job. I have seen AMAZING results with these in our clients yards in other states so if someone from South Australia wanted to put one in you would have a customer with me!
Water treadmills have got to be one of (if not, the best) way to rehabilitate a horse with soundness issues. The buoyancy of the water protects the joints and soft tissue while the height of the water allows you to control;
- How much resistance is on the horse’s legs and core and
- How much they lift their legs up to step through it.
The nature of the treadmill means that the horse is forced to step evenly both in terms of pace and stride length and interestingly veterinary studies have shown that the walk is the best pace to undertake this rehabilitative work as it works the most muscles possible as effectively as possible without adding any unnecessary strain. Essentially it’s an incredibly effective whole body workout with the least amount of impact to the horse. Anyway that’s me convincing myself I need a treadmill again… maybe one day!