Exercises for Minnie

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!


10 thoughts on “Exercises for Minnie

  1. While I understand your friend’s approach to leaving a horse out in the field is the best thing for them – and I do agree – I also think that it’s important that they have regular interaction with their human partners so that manners are maintained so that they can be handled safely. I also think that if there isn’t regular interaction, then there isn’t really a relationship. Having empathy with your horse, as you do, enhances the bond and partnership between rider and horse, in my opinion.

    What you are doing with Minnie makes so much sense to me! Massaging, slight manipulation and walking exercises in patterns to work all of her muscles is fantastic. Not only will it help her physically, but it will definitely help her mentally. Good for you for understanding what she needs. What a beautiful face she has….. 🙂

  2. Wolfie, I actually feel a bit sad for both my friend and her horses, because the impression I get is that my friend feels her horses see her as an unwelcome interruption in their lives, a chore they have to get through in order to get back to where they really want to be, which is in the field. I honestly don’t believe it has to be like that between horses and humans. I agree with you that horses should live in the field as much as possible, and fortunately I am in a position where my horses can live out 24/7 and have access to stables if they want to, but you put it really well: you need regular interaction to maintain the relationship, but also to maintain manners.

    With both my horses, putting them in a field and leave them be just wasn’t an option. Cassie got very bolshie very quickly when she got injured, and it was a real challenge to keep her in line while she could not be worked. If I had just left her alone in the field, she would have become a bit of a menace. And to me Minnie’s depression was just as serious. I think they both really enjoy doing some simple exercises and the attention that goes with it and they come when I call them, even when they are at the far end of the property and it isn’t dinner time.

  3. Both Socks and Jimmy are horses that truly love to work. Jimmy is still young, only four, so if he doesn’t get consitant work he’ll start to act up and misbehave. He needs to be ridden and handled regularly to remind him that he needs to listen and to keep up with his manners. Socks is older, nine, and if she isn’t worked with for three weeks, you can’t actually tell. She’ll be easy to catch, she’ll lift her feet no problem, she’ll remember her manners. In that sense, she doesn’t need to work. But, just like Minnie, I find she gets depressed if she isn’t worked. She loves it. She needs a job. She doesn’t like when I catch her just to groom her and then put her out again. She’s happiest when we go for a long ride. The harder she works, the happier I find that horse gets.

    I am a big believer in letting horses live as naturally as possible, I won’t keep my horses in a stall unless I have to, but I think it’s healthy for them to have interaction with us and to also have a job to do. It seems to keep them happy and sane.

    I’m glad to hear the exercises are working with Minnie! Hopefully they continue to help her improve!

  4. Of course she enjoys it – look at her wee face!

    I think you’re very clever to have come up with these exercises, and I think it’s very interesting that her mane flipped.

    I’m absolutely sure that horses – unless coming out to work means something oppressive – relish the opportunity to leave the herd and get some individual attention and exercise. It’s like a kid in a big family being taken out alone for a treat with the grandparents.

    I’m going to start doing leg circles at liberty in the pasture to see who likes it.

    • June, I love those leg circles! I do them at liberty in my yard, my fields are far to muddy. I do 2 clockwise and 2 anti-clockwise, and then I lower the leg a bit and do them again. I do 12 circles (6 and 6) per leg now, and that amount seems right, but I started with only 2 per leg. It can tell you a lot; how light or how heavy the hoof is in your hand, the height that the hoof is offered at, how big or small you have to make the circles, difference between clockwise and anti-clockwise, do they try to snatch back a foot or not; lots of very useful information on the horse’s body and how they are feeling. I’d be very interested to hear your experience!

      • I was out saying hello to the horses this morning, and Bridget kept offering me her forelegs – as she does, but today she wouldn’t stop. And then I remembered: Oh yes, I was going to try leg circles! So I did one foreleg 2x in each direction, and then the other one she snatched away after 1 1/2 circles. Then I did 2x each way with her RH. She was looking thoughtful, and when I went round to the LH and touched it, she lifted it right up, and I did 2x each way. And then she stopped pestering me with her forelegs. So I think she’s been reading your blog.

  5. I totally think (and feel) that horses like to be with their partners (us) as much as their herd time. Both are important. I love the work you are doing with Minnie..I know how long 2 yrs of healing is!!!!! Sigh….I have forgotten what a normal trot looks like, lol. Oh well; I’m happy for the ground work time, small riding time, and snuggle time!!! I’m sure you are too….not to say we don’t crave what we can’t have with our horses but the ground work builds SUCH an awesome partnership that just will continue on her back as she’s ready.

    • I have always loved groundwork, there is so much you can do even if a horse is lame and it keeps things fresh and interesting and, like you say, it builds an absolutely awesome partnership.

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