Friday, March 6, 2015

Extended Pasture Rest

I'm a big believer in the healing properties of rest.  The following personal success stories with our horses have me convinced.  If you want to read more about any of the horses below, scroll to the bottom of my blog where there is a cloud of words.  Click on the name of the horse and it will take you to all the blog posts tagged with that horse's name.

1.  Kalvin:  A number of years ago we were asked by our trainer to rehab/board a horse.  Kalvin was a huge dark bay who had progressed to Prix St. George in dressage when he came up lame.  The lameness came and went and it took many months and many specialist before the owner found the problem; a hairline fracture in his foot.  The owner was told he would never compete in dressage again.  The specialist suggested six months of paddock rest to see if he could become pasture sound.  Kalvin lived in our paddock at Aspen Meadows for six months, sharing a fence line with the rest of the horses who were in a larger adjacent area.  At the six month mark, we moved him into the larger area with the rest of the horses where he floated around, demonstrating the impressive gaits that got him to PSG.  His owner drove up the mountain faithfully, once or twice a week, and gave him a bath, a grooming, and played with him in the arena doing groundwork at the walk.  After a year of rest, he seemed perfectly sound and she started doing light riding in the arena.  He remained sound.  She moved him a few months later to the therapeutic riding school where she works as an instructor so she could be closer to him.  ...they are back in the competition arena, doing great.

2.  Jackson: Concussion laminitis, thin soles, mystery lameness... my stellar trail horse and dressage project (he is as crooked as is possible) kept coming up lame and after battling abscess after abscess, I decided to retire him.  Jackson has been on pasture rest the longest of these case studies -- four years.  I tried pads on him and many special shoes before making the retirement decision.  He was so young, only eight.  Nothing helped.  Finally, in an attitude of "it couldn't get any worse," I pulled all of his shoes and just let him be.  We took x-rays every year and over the course of the first two years, he showed very slight rotation.  It wasn't enough to expect a problem but horses each have their own very personal pain threshold.  Jackson did okay down at Aspen Meadows but not great.  He remained very gimpy when turning and winters continued to be a series of abscesses.  When we relocated to Northern California, our farrier down south recommended putting him down.  He didn't think Jackson would be able to tolerate the  eleven hour trailer ride, Jackson would never be sound, and I was "throwing good money after bad."  Truth be told, the comment made me really angry.  Jackson tolerated the trailer ride fine and, other than being harassed by Winston, he was the same.  Jackson ended up in the donkey pasture where Winston and Mufasa couldn't torment him.  The first winter was the same as always, a series of abscesses.  X-rays showed no changes.  This winter I decided to put trail boots (hard rubber tennis shoes for horses) on all four hooves.  His hoof walls aren't the greatest but it's his thin soles that do him in.  When they get wet in the winter, they get soft.  When they get soft, he gets stone bruises from pebbles.  The stone bruises lead to abscesses.  Now he clomps around, happy and abscess free.  Lately, he's been trotting and even cantering around the pasture.  I'm going to talk to our farrier next time he comes about some sort of pads or other protection for his soles.  He wants to be ridden and I think I will be able to do that soon.  (big grin).

3.  Flash:  Brett's mounted patrol partner and trail buddy became more and more uncomfortable when being ridden.  A thorough work up revealed arthritis but nothing definitive -- no torn anything, but definite discomfort in his hind end.  Brett tried hock injections and Adequan but nothing helped.  Two years ago, Brett made the difficult decision to retire Flash, who was 16 at the time.  Flash maintained his alpha status in the herd but he didn't partake in the gallop fests enjoyed by the others.  He walked slowly and deliberately.  Sometimes, he just stood quietly under the trees all day.  A few months ago, we noticed a change -- right after his recovery from tick fever.  He has pep in his step: he runs with Mufasa, he rears and bucks and walks with purpose.  Brett is thinking about hopping  on him one of these days.  He won't ever go back to full work but, like Jackson, we think he may be sound for light riding.

4.  Pistol: Okay, she didn't come to us lame.  She came to us perfectly sound -- and very over-weight.  I was concerned about her gaining more weight, just hanging around in the pasture with Lucy and the goats, eating hay and nibbling on the grass.  Instead, she has dropped to a respectable weight and no longer looks like she is in foal.  She runs around with Lucy on cold mornings.  When she first came, it was difficult for her to trot more than once around the small arena.  She's much more fit now -- on pasture rest with infrequent rides by myself or Camille.  I mean, really infrequent.

Of course, I know that not everyone has access to pasture the way that we do.  We came from Southern California where small paddocks are a luxury.  Don't even think about pasture.  It doesn't exist.  But now we have that luxury and the horses are reaping the benefits. It seems to take at least a year, sometimes a lot more, for healing to occur and I know that is an expense not everyone can afford.  But if you can, it is worth trying.  We are 3 for 3 on lameness and even Pistol is reaping the benefits.


  1. If you can afford them, you might want to consider easy boot shoes - they're rubber shoes so it'd be a bit like putting the trail boots on all the time.

  2. Then there is Brett, a very very old work horse who could really benefit from "pasture rest"; however, he has to maintain the pastures while the others rest. Some horses just never get a break.

  3. Why not ride him in the trail boots? They are designed to be ridden in and he seems to like them.

  4. There is actually a pretty strong argument that your success is not rest, but actually more time moving naturally. Do you read this blog Heather

  5. I'm 100% with you. With a decade or so of working in the horse industry, I see quite often the difference in overall soundness between stabled horses, and horses allowed 24/7 pasture.

  6. We retired my 19 year old Paint, who had been intermittently off for about 6 months. He remained barely pasture sound for about 2 years, and then he was fine. He went back to light work for another 3 years before we decided to retire him for real.

    Time and pasture turnout is definitely a great healer!

  7. Great post Annette. I expect to see you, Jackson, Brett and Flash in the very near future. I agree with the comment above, regarding soundness and turnout. I'm going to have to check out that blog mentioned above.

  8. I totally agree...pasture rest is best. Not sure what boots you've been using on Jackson, but the Soft Ride boots are great! We used them on a horse with mystery lameness. He's now sound as can be. We also ride in Renegades. So glad to her your horses are doing so well.

  9. I enjoyed this post so much. I think all of us who have followed you for some years are very fond of Jackson and so hoping he would get better some day.

    Thank you for your support during this difficult time in my life.


Thanks so much for commenting! I love the conversation.