It is nearly two years ago that Minnie first pulled her tendon. Most of that time, she has been on “rest”, apart from a couple of weeks this spring when we started a rehabilitation programme after the vet declared the tendon healed. Then she got a suspensory ligament injury in the same leg, and Minnie was back on “rest”. Two years. Two years of waiting, of giving her time to heal, two years of hope when she improved and despair when there were set backs and her condition deteriorated. It’s a long time, but still I find myself unable to give up on her. About a month ago I was very worried about her, because her hind legs were getting very stiff. It started with her left hind. It became harder and harder to lift her leg to pick out her hoof and I was unable to trim properly because I couldn’t bring the leg forward and up. In the end lifting her leg became nearly dangerous, because she would almost keel over and violently hop about to try and find her balance, trembling all over. Then her right hind started to seize up as well and it got to the point where I was practically scared to lift her feet, because I was afraid she might fall on top of me.
I started to massage her, trying to loosen up her muscles along her back and hind quarters. Initially I didn’t think it was doing any good, but Minnie enjoyed it and it helped her relax, so I continued. After a while, I found that I could pick up her hind feet if I put the hoof on the toe first, wait for Minnie to rebalance herself and then I could slowly lift it enough to pick out her foot without the trembling and panic. It was only one or two inches, but it was a start and it gave me the idea to do some leg circles with her.
I got the leg circles from Linda Tellington’s Ttouch and I do both front and hind leg circles. Linda Tellington has many uses for leg circles, but the benefits that I was interested in were: “improve suppleness and flexibility, relax and release tension from tight shoulders, neck and back muscles, even out and lengthen stride.” To do a leg circle with a front leg, you support the fetlock joint with the hand closest to the horse and with your other hand you support the hoof, with your thumb on the bar and fingers around the front of the hoof. You then make small, horizontal circles by moving your pelvis and knees instead of your arms and you put the hoof down about six inches behind the other hoof to release the shoulder. For hind leg circles, it is the same, except you support the hind leg above the fetlock joint and it is important to start the circles at the height offered by the horse. You can also draw the leg forward and do circles under the belly.
Do horses like our company and attention? I think so, but I have a friend who thinks that’s rubbish. She thinks horses are happiest if you leave them alone with their mates in a field and when I told her I felt Minnie was getting depressed she didn’t believe it. She has horses herself and she says they would be overjoyed if she left them in a field forever. But Minnie is not like that and I felt her depression very strongly. So, even when she was very lame, I would give her time on her own. Usually, I would take her for a bit of hand grazing, as a good groom is something Minnie definitely doesn’t view as a treat.
At the moment, Minnie is neither sound nor really lame. I think the leg circles are helping to loosen her up, in fact I am so impressed with the leg circles that I am doing them with Cassie too now, but Minnie is still very stiff, so I have put up some exercises in the picadero for her and we have been doing these for the last few days.
I put six poles down in an S-bend and I lead Minnie through this. First I lead her both from the left and from the right side. Then I will walk backwards myself, stop on the straight parts and let Minnie do two steps back, walk on through the bend and stop and back on the next straight. So it’s bend, straighten and back up. She is using all her muscles without putting any extra strain on her legs and she also tends to lower her head and lengthen her topline as she goes through it and she really concentrates on her body. Interestingly, some of her mane has now flipped over to the right side of her neck and Minnie has always had all of her mane on the left side since the day I got her!
The other exercises we do involve the cones and I vary the way I put them up. In a straight line we just walk a serpentine through them. I can put them in a triangle so we can do a clover leaf pattern. Those exercise are relatively easy, Minnie just follows me or stays at my shoulder, so to give her more confidence in herself I have also taught her to walk a figure of eight around two cones on her own while I stay on the outside and just direct her. That was hard for her at first and it made her very nervous, but she worked it out very quickly and now she can do a nice figure of eight without stopping in the middle to ask for reassurance. I think the exercises are good for her and if they don’t improve her body, at least they help to engage her mind and to give her a purpose. And it is something we can do together that is a bit of fun. I’m sure Minnie enjoys it!