With modifications, of course…
I tried an experiment a couple of weeks ago. I have long been in the habit of giving Bars’ front legs a little stretch before final girth tightening, mostly to make sure we don’t have any folds of skin stuck under the girth—ouch! On occasion, when he’s seemed particularly stiff, I’ve given all four legs a stretch. More recently, as we’ve been getting back into shape, I’ve been more consistent about stretching all four legs, but wondered if it really helped. So, one day, I just got on and rode with no stretching…and he stumbled about five times more than he had the ride before and the ride after, both with stretching, so…I guess stretching is now a regular thing.
More consistent stretching is just one of the modifications we’ve had to make over time. Between having injured both rear suspensory ligaments (because he’s a klutz) and having developed arthritis in his hocks, his back legs are a little stiff and wobbly. A long time ago the great Kerry Ridgeway, DVM, one of the founders of equine sports medicine, gave me a piece of advice for horses with these injuries: “Ride up, walk down.” Meaning, ride up hill, and when it’s time to go down, get off and walk. I’ve done this for years and it’s saved us a lot of white knuckling down hills….
Since Bars had such a rough winter, his legs are a bit stiffer than before, his arthritis is a little bit worse, and, as of his last checkup, his cataracts are also a little bit worse. All this means that I have to ride more supportively and actively. No passive passenger riding with an elderly horse! I have to keep an eye on the footing and raise myself out of the saddle more often than I used to, preferably without adding extra weight in the stirrups. (try it sometime, I dare you!) I also am very careful about when and where to give him a loose rein. He’s always been a bit of a goofball, but a supporting hand on the bit has helped him pull himself up from many front end stumbles (because he’s a klutz). His back end stumbles are generally due to stiffness, and lifting myself up and forward often helps him get righted.
We’ve tried some other experiments recently, too. There are places on the trail where the footing is really chewed up from people riding on it when it was wet, and it’s dried into all kinds of ridges. We have to go slowly and carefully over such footing, and Bars has never in all his days been good at either of those things. But a short halt before and following such terrain seems to help. Same with crossing creeks, which he tends to rush through—after telling me all about the Invisible Horse Eating Crocodiles, of course.
More recently I’ve been trying a short “massage” of his back legs after riding in hopes of easing the stiffness and loosen up the scarring from his injuries. It seems to be helping—either that or the last two days someone has been feeding him zippy pills.
I expect we’ll have to make additional modifications in the days to come. You bet I still ride him.