Colic surgery that opens a horse's abdominal cavity requires an extensive recovery time, where the horse is generally kept as still as possible in a stall to allow his muscles to heal. Though necessary, this confinement causes a horse to lose muscle strength and tone, and makes the return to an athletic career even more drawn out. In addition, horses have an increased risk of injury when they are put back in work because of the loss of muscle tone.
A study done by Michigan State's College of Veterinary Medicine investigated if core abdominal rehabilitation exercises (CARE) performed for one month after colic surgery could influence a horse's return to work. The CARE stretches use a treat to encourage the horse to bend and focus on the neck, thoracolumbar and mid-thoracic spine. The muscles that stabilize the joints work in tandem with the abdominal muscles to build core and muscle strength.
Researchers Susan Holcombe, Tara Shearer and Stephanie Valberg used the CARE stretches on 11 horses that had had colic surgery 30 days before; 51 horses that had colic surgery in the same time frame did not perform the care stretches and served as controls. All horses used in the study were in work prior to surgery as show jumpers, driving or dressage horses.
Post-operative care after a colic surgery with no complications is 30 days of stall rest with hand walking two to four times a day for less than five minutes. Horses in the study that developed complications at the surgery site were confined for an additional four weeks after the complication was resolved; these horses also wore a hernia belt. Once the mandated stall rest was completed, the horses were turned out in a small pasture for four weeks and could begin under-saddle work six to eight weeks after the surgery. Jumping and galloping were reintroduced into the training program 12 weeks after surgery.
The horses that had done the CARE stretches were able to return to full training in 6 to 10 weeks after the colic surgery; the horses that did not use the CARE program returned to full work in 8 to 17 weeks. Nine of the 11 owners or trainers of the horses that used the CARE stretches noted that their horse's performance improved; only four owners or trainers of the 51 control horses felt that their horse's performance improved after colic surgery.
Read more at EquiManagement.
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