Rehabbing Your Baby Dragon: Reader Q&A

Seana shares her rehab schedule for readers’ benefit.

Photo courtesy of Seana Adamson.

Photo courtesy of Seana Adamson.

Disclaimer: always consult your veterinarian when you suspect a major injury. Your veterinarian will work with you to develop the best rehabilitation regimen that fits your unique horse and individual situation.

I received this question last week and thought it would be a good addition to the “How to Rehab Your Baby Dragon” series:

Dear Seana,

Thank you for your series on rehabbing your baby dragon. I have a horse that has had the same injury, and has been through six months or stall rest and hand walking. We have limited veterinary resources in our area, so I was wondering if you could share your rehab protocol. How do you work through the legging up process over the next six months?

Walking in Wisconsin

Dear Walking in Wisconsin,

I feel your pain!! But congratulations on surviving the first six months. That’s huge.

First of all I want to stress that I am not a veterinarian, so please check everything I say with your own vet and your trainer (if you have one) to make sure it is appropriate for your unique situation.  Every injury is truly unique so recognize my suggestions are meant very generically and likely will need to be tweaked to fit your own situation. Another good resource is Dr. Carol Gillis who is based in Aiken, South Carolina. She specializes in diagnostic ultrasound and has a number of excellent articles on rehabbing tendon and ligament injuries.  You can easily find access to her articles with an online search of her name.

As a dressage and eventing trainer I have been rehabbing equine injuries for over 30 years. Below you will find my “One Year Ligament Rehab Schedule”, but first there are a few more important points.

1. Try to evaluate why the original injury occurred, and if possible make adjustments to help prevent reoccurrence. This may include changing shoeing angles or shoes, cross training to reduce repetitive motion injuries, or in my baby dragon’s case being much more attentive to what is happening in the stable.

2. After the first few months of healing use varied terrain during hand walking so that the injured area is moving in a full range of motion.  The danger here is that the rehabbing horse goes from a flat stall, to a flat arena or track, and then back to a flat stall. The damaged tissue is never shown how to become resilient to a variety of positions. Walk both up and down hills, and eventually even on unlevel ground (not TOO unlevel!). Do try to avoid rocks.

3. Be methodical and observant every day. If you start walking on unlevel ground and your horse takes a funny step then back off the unlevel ground and stay flat for awhile. If your horse was fine with a two minute trot but starts looking funny when you up it to three minutes, then go back to 2 minute trots for a few more weeks before you increase it again.

4. Once you begin your trot work it should be done in intervals. The first month you will be trotting for 2 minute intervals. Between each interval you will walk for 3 minutes. The goal is to create a wave of stress (the 2 minute trot), followed by a recovery opportunity (the three minute walk).  The three minute walk interval allows the horse to partially recover, which decreases the chance of reinjury.

5. A little digital stop watch on a lanyard comes in very handy!!

The One Year Ligament Rehab Schedule or How To Rehab Your Baby Dragon In 12 Terrifying, Monotonous, Excruciating, Boring and Exciting Months.

Month 1 and 2: Stall rest, but ideally not in a stall! Make a tiny outside paddock where your horse can be out in the sun.  I have never seen research to this effect, but I wonder if sunlight improves healing through vitamin D synthesis, which is critical to so many aspects of metabolism and healing.

Month 3: Start walking for 5 minutes (at least 5 days per week). Add 3 minutes of walking per week. By the end of the month you will be walking for around 15 minutes per day.

Month 4: Add 5 minutes of walking per week. By the end of the month you will be walking for about 35 minutes per day.

Month 5: Add an additional 5 minutes of walking per week. By the end of the month you will be walking for close to an hour each day. Up the intensity. Walk as quickly as you can. Try to find varied terrain.

Month 6: Start lightly jogging on straight lines only for one minute in each direction. If all goes well add one additional minute the first week, for a total of 2 minutes trotting.  Continue to add 2 minutes of trot each week. By the end of the month you will be trotting for a total of 8 minutes.  The trot work should be done as four, 2 minute intervals of trot, with a 3 minute walk break between each 2 minute trot segment. Total time working should be approximately 45 minutes, with walk work making up the majority of the time.

A nice shorthand way of writing this is as follows:
Week 1: 2×1 min trot (trot 1 minute, walk 3 minutes, trot 1 minute)
Week 2: 2×2 min trot
Week 3: 3×2 min trot
Week 4: 4×2 min trot

Month 7
Week 1: 3×3 min trot
Week 2: 3×3 min trot
Week 3: 4×3 min trot
Week 4: 4×3 min trot

Month 8
Week 1: 5×3 min trot
Week 2: 5×3 min trot
Week 3: 4×4 min trot
Week 4: 4×4 min trot

Month 9
Week 1: 3×5 min trot
Week 2: 3×5 min trot plus 1×3 min trot
Week 3: 3×5 min trot plus 1×3 min trot
Week 4: 4×5 min trot

Month 10
Week 1: 4×5 min trot
Week 2: 4×5 min trot
Week 3: 4×5 min trot
Week 4: 4×5 min trot plus 1×3 minute trot

Month 11
Week 1: 4×5 min trot plus 1 min canter. Begin riding LARGE school figures such as circles, serpentines and bending lines.
Week 2: 4×5 min trot plus 2 min canter
Week 3: 5×5 min trot plus 2 min canter
Week 4: 5×5 min trot plus 2 min canter

Month 12
Week 1: 4×5 min trot plus 2×2 min canter
Week 2: 4×5 min trot plus 2×3 min canter
Week 3: 4×6 min trot plus 2×3 min canter
Week 4: 4×6 min trot plus 3×3 min canter

Your horse should now be ready to begin a normal training program. I am currently at this stage with Eragon, my baby dragon, and I expect it will take another 3 to 6 months of work to come close to his condition prior to injury. Ligament injuries take a very long time to heal. Some estimates say that healing continues for almost 2 years. So take your time! Remember that if you don’t do enough today you can always do more tomorrow, but if you over do it today you can be finished for months, years, or forever.

Catch up on the rest of Seana’s adventures in rehabilitating her “baby dragon” with the following articles (in order):

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

Seana Adamson

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