The road to rehabbing a young, high-energy horse has not been easy, but it’s been informative: Seana Adamson follows up on last month’s adventure with five things she learned in the handwalking process.
If you are new to Seana and Eragon’s story, catch up on past installments: “The Long Road Back: How to Rehab Your Baby Dragon,” “Rehabbing Your Baby Dragon: The Second Month” and “Rehabbing Your Baby Dragon: Adventures in Handwalking.”
Here are five ideas about hand walking that may help you avoid dying of boredom:
1. Do whatever you need to do to keep yourself as safe as possible.
Nothing is more important than surviving your horse’s rehab without ending up with an injury of your own. My last installment made much fun of the shenanigans we experienced when rehabbing a baby dragon. My lovely six-year-old showed some amazing airs above the ground, and my new hand walking attire hopefully elicited a few chuckles. However, all joking aside, this rehab stuff can be very dangerous to the fragile human on the ground. I personally know of shattered bones and amputated digits that have resulted from this activity. I’m guessing you wouldn’t have to look too far to find cases of even more serious injury or death.
It is hard to stay vigilant during 45 minutes of walking in circles. Every time I find myself wandering mentally, I remind myself that I could die at any moment if my baby dragon jumps sideways and lands on top of me. Since starting this series I’ve had numerous people share their survival techniques. They range from massive sedation (of the horse, not the human!) to chains in the mouth. I cannot judge. If it makes you feel safer, then do what you need to do.
2. That said, hand WALK. Do not hand saunter, hand shuffle or hand meander.
If your horse is sound enough, make him or her march! Challenge yourself to cover as much distance as possible in your allotted time. Try to get a workout in for both you and your horse. If the vet says it is okay, then find a gentle hill to climb. Get your pulse and respiration going, and do the same for your horse. Hand walking too slowly, or consistently walking in short side reins can permanently shorten the stride of a big-moving horse. Keep the walk as big and loose and free as possible.
3. Walk on both sides of your horse.
It’s amazing how conditioned we are to doing everything from the left. No wonder so many horses bulge through their right shoulder. I was stunned at how much my own balance changed when I walked on the right side of my horse. My left arm burned from holding the lead rope rather than swinging by my side. I felt uncoordinated and clumsy. What a great time to work on symmetry in ourselves and our horses.
4. Many accounts of rehabbing an injury describe the positive changes in the relationship that occurred during the rehab process.
Indeed, work from the ground can be very powerful. You can clearly see your horse’s facial expression, and can work on any number of exercises around foot placement, square halts, piaffe and even softness to your hand. My baby dragon is very sensitive to the whip: part of our daily hand walking routine is to combine touches with the whip with pieces of sugar. It has been a perfect time to work on piaffe and square halts.
5. It’s okay to skip a day if the conditions are challenging.
If you don’t do enough work today you can always do more tomorrow. But if you go over the top today, you could be set back by months or even years. So if the wind is howling or the neighbors have set up a bounce house next to your arena it is okay to take a day off.
Keep it safe! Keep it fun! Go walking!
Seana Adamson Ph.D, is a psychologist specializing in Sport Psychology for equestrians. She is a United States Dressage Federation Gold Medalist, has been training dressage horses and riders for over 30 years, and is the author of “Memorize That Dressage Test: A workbook of mental games to improve focus and flow.” Learn more by visiting seanaadamson.com.