Believe it or not, most horses enjoy having a job and have a strong work ethic. Even the ancient sway-backed mare in the pasture has the job of providing stability to her herd through her years of experience and companionship. However, things don't always go the way we plan for our horses. Accidents happen, mismatched horse and rider combinations and personality conflicts, situations changes, or the horse is simply not physically or emotionally equipped for the job that was chosen for them. Whatever the underlying reason, rehabilitation of horses for a career change can be a viable alternative to returning them to productivity.
Rehabilitating Horses With Career-Ending Injuries
When a horse sustains a career-ending injury, the question for the horse owner becomes what to do with the horse. Sadly many horses are put down because the cost to rehabilitate the horse is so high that it becomes a matter of dollars and cents. This is not always the case, but it does happen. Other times the quality of life for the horse would be so low that it is considered abusive to keep the horse in such a suffering state. For those horses that make it through their initial injuries and are found suitable candidates for rehabilitation, the road can be long and arduous. Ligament injuries can be some of the longest to heal and may take nearly a year before the horse can even begin work again, and then at a much reduced level.
We have now a wide range of healing modalities at our disposal today which greatly increase the chance for rehabilitation of horses and retraining in new careers. No longer are we limited to just a few traditionally accepted alternatives for our horses' care. Mystery ailments that traditional veterinary medicine didn't seem to help can often be resolved through these alternative modailities, offering hope to horses that otherwise would have been put to pasture or worse. Most rehabilitation programs now are going to include in their treatment plans a combination of traditional veterinary care, equine bodywork such as massage or TTouch, chiropractic and/or acupuncture, and depending on the nature of the injury may include hydrotherapy using the water treadmill or swimming pool. The advent of this technology has greatly improved both the recovery rate and time of injuries that previously would have ended a horse's life, let alone its career, and is widely accepted in the veterinary community. Incorporating the use of a pool provides the added benefit of supporting nearly 60% of the horse's body weight while at the same time allowing greater range of motion than hand walking would allow. The horse is allowed to burn off some steam and slowly begin to utilize the injured limb without causing undo strain and re-injury. The greater range of motion allowed by the support of the water minimizes the development of scar tissue and increases circulation to the damaged tissue, promoting the healing process.
Homeopathy is also becoming a much more accepted and widespread form of therapy in both the training barn and horse rehabilitation centers. The use of herbal remedies and essential oils has a long and rich history dating back thousands of years. Homeopathic remedies can be used not only to heal wounds, but to aide the emotional recovery of the horse as well. Many herbs are known to have positive benefits on the emotional state of animals and people. For horses on complete stall confinement, depression and anxiety can seriously impede the recovery process. The use of homeopathy gives horse owners a natural alternative to traditional sedatives, tranquilizers and other drugs.
Overcoming Emotional Trauma Using Horse Behavior And Communication
With the recent surge in horse rescue cases throughout the United States, many horse rescue facilities are finding themselves inundated with more horses than they are prepared to handle. Many of these horses have come from abusive situations and have deep emotional scars that limit their adoptability. Some of these rescues are partnering with natural horsemanship trainers to help them identify horses that are well suited in disposition to be adopted out with minimal retraining and those that will need more extensive help. Using the philosophy of natural horsemanship, these professionals study horse behavior and are experts at discovering the motivations behind particular behaviors displayed by these troubled horses. They then develop appropriate training programs that allow the horses to maintain their dignity and learn to interact appropriately with humans.
The Houston Police Department has learned the benefit of incorporating natural horsemanship into their mounted patrol units' training program. Sergeant Leslie Wills has been a Houston Police Department Mounted Patrol Officer for 13 years. She has been studying Parelli Natural Horsemanship for a number of years now and has extensive experience with dealing with troubled horses that have been donated to their department. She is charged with training both police horses and mounted patrol officers. See "The Making Of A Police Horse – Nacho's Journey" to learn more about Leslie and her partner Nacho.
"Everyone sees our horses at Houston Police Department Mounted Patrol and thinks they are the bravest and most courageous horses they have ever seen and they all want their horse to be like our horses. The funny part about it is that the horses that are at our barn and are now super brave Police Horses, are their horses, or were their horses at one time. Over ninety-percent of the horses at The Houston Police Department Mounted Patrol were donated to us for one reason or another. Sometimes a child goes off to college and the parents are stuck with a horse and don’t know what to do with the horse, or the person simply has too many horses, or just does not have the time to spend with the horse that they know the horse deserves…Sometimes though I get a call from an owner that is completely frustrated and scared of their horse and are at their wits end of what they are going to do. They have sent their horse to so-called trainers that say they can ‘fix’ the horse, but the problem gets worse…I have dealt with and rehabbed many emotionally damaged horses, but I have to say that Parelli Natural Horsemanship is the true savior. Parelli opened the door for me and made me realize that it was okay to have fun with your horses and not use mechanical means to get them to submit, but use ‘Love, Language and Leadership’ to create a true partnership with our horses."
Horses are being successfully rehabilitated and retrained for new careers every day. There are so many opportunities for these horses to lead very productive and happy lives as trail mounts, police horses, pasture companions, dressage horses and so much more. The possibilities are endless for those willing to delve a little deeper into a horse's psyche or look to some of the many healing modalities available to them. Every horse should have a job, but not all jobs fit every horse. Understanding the physical AND emotional capabilities of the horse can help ensure a proper fit for both the horse and the human.
Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools. She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses. She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the "whole horse".
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