As equestrians of every discipline, we tend to be athletic people. Whether riding is your only sport or you like to do other things, too, or maybe you got into an accident, sometimes the reality is that we get injured. Not the horses (for once), but the humans. Horseback riding is such a sport that even slight injuries can render us unable to ride, mostly because of safety reasons. Riding something with its own mind and a large body can do some serious damage if you’re not in the condition to do it. Consider it like operating heavy machinery that can say no if it wants to!
As a horse owner, it can feel like when we’re healthy the horse isn’t, and when they’re healthy we’re not. Sometimes it’s even both. But when we’ve put ourselves out of commission and our horse is still good to go, we have a responsibility to make sure that our horse gets their attention and their exercise, and that the quality of care doesn’t suffer. If you’re at a good boarding facility, never fear, you have a support system. There are people that take care of and give affection to your horse when you’re not around already, and bonus: there are usually other riders around, or at the very least experienced handlers to get your horse some exercise. Sometimes these things cost extra, sometimes they don’t, but either way it’s worth it to keep your horse healthy, happy, and sane.
Unfortunately, I’ve had a couple of experiences in this area. When I first got Moose I had to have surgery, so I wasn’t supposed to ride for about six weeks. I may have ridden earlier than that, but I don’t recommend it. Here was my brand new (and obviously gorgeous) horse that I had searched so hard for and I couldn’t even ride him. Time seems to go by much slower when you can’t ride. At that point I wasn’t really comfortable having anyone else work him so he sat for a little bit while I recovered, but we got back to work pretty easily when we came back to Michigan shortly after.
A year or so later I ended up hurting my right shoulder pretty badly (a leftover injury from high school crew). At the time, Moose was boarded at the horse training school I was attending and was actually being used for classes, so he got plenty of exercise. Fortunately I was still able to be on campus observing classes so I could keep an eye on him and give him the affection that he’s used to.
A few months ago I hurt my shoulder while walking a dog and ended up tearing my labrum, but this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. My right shoulder has been injured multiple times over the past ten years and it finally gave out. Shortly after that, Moose was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, and even before that I haven’t really ridden him since September because of his body condition. Moose had been steadily improving this summer as I had been getting steadily worse, so I finally had surgery a few weeks ago. Everything went great and although the recovery has been difficult so far, keeping my body intact for the sake of working with horses was worth it. Moose has continued to improve as I improve, and it looks like we’re both going to be ready to go back to steady work around the same time. In the mean time, I visit him one or two times a week (I can’t drive yet), and he gets some treats, as much brushing as I can handle, lots of fly spray, and kisses. He seems to be enjoying the laid back life, but our barn manager sent me a video of him running around and playing so I know he has no excuses once we get back to work!
I’m fortunate that I don’t have to worry about my horse when I’m not around. He gets excellent care where he is and he has a buddy who likes to play. But, if you have horses on your own property and don’t have barn help it can be really difficult when recovering from an injury or a surgery. A good place to start is always people you know, or people they know; word of mouth can get you someone reliable fairly quickly, although you will have to be prepared to pay for their services. If you have horses with special needs this can pose a potential issue as well.
Not every caretaker is also going to be a rider, so it’s important (although a lesser priority) to find someone to exercise your horses while you’re recovering, especially if you have hot horses. For green horses it can be a good idea to either send them to a trainer or have a trainer come to your property to make sure that your horse is progressing in a timely manner, if that is important to you.
At the end of the day, taking care of yourself will help you take better care of your horses. Forcing yourself to work or ride when you’re in pain or recovering will not make you a better horse person but will keep you from being able to continue for as long as possible.