In most circumstances, a horse that has been confined for an injury or following certain surgical procedures still might need to get out for short periods of controlled exercise to keep his body limber and to relieve boredom. This is where hand walking comes in as part of your horse’s rehabilitation program. Here are some tips to ensure that this chore is safe and effective. Some of these things need to be done when your horse is healthy in preparation for a time when he might be harder to control after being cooped up in a stall.
- Not all horses are amenable to being led quietly, so it is always best to know your horse’s temperamental tendencies before stepping from the stall with his huge bulk at the end of a lead rope. When necessary, bridle him with a bit or use a lip or nose chain to exert control as needed. You certainly don’t want him running over the top of you or for him to break away and re-injure himself, or worse.
- Ask for help if you feel your horse is too much for you to handle alone.
- Teach your horse to walk alongside you with you next to his shoulder. If he spooks, this is a safer position for you to react, protect yourself, and apply control. A horse walking directly behind you is more likely to run you over if he bolts or spooks.
- Teach the horse to walk at your speed with you leading him, not him leading you. He should stop when you stop, turn when you turn, and he should be respectful of your space.
- Keep his attention so he is aware of your presence and position at all times.
- When holding the lead line, give him just enough slack that his head isn’t totally restrained but not so much that you can’t control him at a moment’s notice.
- Walk the horse in an area with limited (preferably no) activity so he isn’t anxious, startled or distracted. Avoid walking him during feeding times at the barn.
- Walk him in an area with flat and level footing with minimal rocks and obstacles.
- Follow your vet’s recommendations and ask questions if you aren’t sure of the exact directions.
Remember to be patient with the process. Rehabilitation of many injuries can take many months. Your diligence in applying gradual increases in hand walking exercise will pay dividends by improving your horse’s progress and getting you back into the saddle as soon as possible.