Riding and competing in any equine sport is nerve wracking, fraught with massive highs and devastating lows. The road to every ribbon is paved with hours of work, brainstorming, strategising, falls, fails, set-backs, personal struggles, financial struggles, and so much more.
The good news is that you are not on that path alone. Equestrian sports are a team sport like no other! Your equine partner is number one, and then helping you train and improve every day is your trainer. Your vet, farrier and nutritionist all play a role in keeping you on track for greatness.
But there is another professional in your corner who can smooth the hiccups along the way and help your horse improve performance, recover from injury faster and more effectively, and help prevent injuries in the first place – your Vetrehabber.
Let’s dive into some of the areas where your Vetrehabber can make a major difference to you and your equine partner.
I often feel that ‘enhancing performance’ is used too easily, too broadly, and to sell us stuff. So, let me tell you how your Vetrehabber is going to impact your horses’ performance for the better:
- Natural asymmetry. All horses, like all people, are naturally asymmetrical, with a stronger and a weaker side, leg, etc. This asymmetry is natural, but in the athlete it is a distinct disadvantage. You need, first and foremost, to understand the natural asymmetry of your individual horse before you can correctly address and improve it. Your Vetrehabber will help you do this, identifying areas in your horse that are weak or overused, as well as movement patterns and tendencies that will not benefit you in your particular discipline and may eventually lead to injury.
- Strengthening. Once the areas of weakness are identified, a targeted strengthening programme will be developed for your horse. Strengthening will include the core musculature, which will in turn improve the movement patterns and functionality of your horse, and reduce their risk of injury.
- Suppleness. As an athlete, your horse is likely to suffer from areas that are tight, overworked and painful. Together with improving your horse’s general straightness and symmetry, your Vetrehabber will help improve your horse’s suppleness, allowing them to use their muscles in a more economical and correct way.
- Neuromotor control. Your Vetrehabber will work to improve your horse’s proprioception, or his control over his body and limbs. This means that he will be more aware of and able to adjust to where his limbs are in space in relation to his surrounding environment, reducing the chance of injury and leading to more precise, correct control of their limbs.
- Pain reduction. ‘No pain, no gain’, we like to tell ourselves. In any conditioning and training programme, your horse will go through times of pain as they adjust to the new workload, just as you will. This is normal and healthy. However, if your horse has abnormal movement patterns, areas of weakness, stiffness or abnormality, this pain will be worse, and in the long run will be detrimental as it will lead to injury. By addressing not only the cause of the pain, but also the pain itself, your Vetrehabber will help your horse fly through their training programme!
If you have experience with one of your horses being injured in the past, you know that it is something you would like to avoid at all costs. Not only is your partner in pain, but neither of you can continue to work towards your goals, and you may not know if you ever will again. In addition, the entire recovery period can be lengthy, costly and feel hopeless.
There is a great deal that your Vetrehabber can do to help you prevent this from happening in the first place.
Injuries may be traumatic in nature, or they may be caused by overuse. Simply put, this means that an injury can occur due to trauma – a kick, a fall, etc – or can occur over time as soft tissue structures are stressed, fatigued and worked in these conditions over and over again. This can cause microtrauma to the tissue, which builds up over time until a full-blown injury results.
When it comes to a traumatic injury, there is obviously only so much we can do without wrapping our horses in bubble wrap. That being said, every one of the performance enhancing points above will help your horse become more agile, quick and clever with their bodies, helping them to prevent a fall, a kick or any other strange horsey occurrence. This is likely to reduce the chance and the severity of injury, if it happens at all.
When it comes to overuse injuries, the input of your Vetrehabber will be golden. Overuse injuries occur as a result of your horse’s natural asymmetries, your working environment, your horse’s movement patterns and their fitness level. In an initial assessment, your Vetrehabber will already be able to identify structures that could be at risk. Through regular treatment and assessment, they will come to know your horse’s body so well that the moment something out of the ordinary happens, they will detect it and address it, together with other members of the veterinary team when necessary. This means that before your horse is injured, before they become lame, you will already know that something is wrong. You will be able to pro-actively help your horse recover, which will mean a much faster recovery and a much more successful outcome in the long run.
Recovery from injury and return to action
If the unthinkable ever happens, and a serious injury occurs, it is natural to feel confused and overwhelmed. Your Vetrehabber will play a role, not only in the physical recovery of your horse, but also in your ability to see the situation clearly and holistically, to make rational and well educated decisions, and to persevere through the full rehabilitation of your partner.
Every injury and every phase of healing comes with its own set of differentiating parameters, known and unknown variables, and clinical decisions that need to be made to help your horse recover as well and as fast as possible. That is what your Vetrehabber is there for. They will decipher and explain the jargon that your vet might throw your way, point you in the direction of alternative ideas or treatment options that might be available, and optimise each step of the recovery process – through hands-on work, the use of electrotherapy modalities, advise on environmental management, changes that need to be considered, and much, much more.
What is holding you back?
For every equine sportsman and -woman I know, our horses are our number one priority. Yes, we want to win. Yes, we want to push ourselves to our very limits. But more than anything else, we want to do it with the most incredible partner in the world.
When you consider the value that a Vetrehabber can add to the wellbeing of your partner, to the efficiency of your training schedule, and to your understanding of your partner, then the addition of a Vetrehabber to your competitive support team is an obvious advantage.