For Ebro, this consisted of about two months of complete stall rest with no activity, two months of daily hand-walking, weeks of very easy, slow longing at walk and trot, and finally riding that gradually increased from walking only, to trotting, to cantering. Ebro is essentially back to his previous level of activity, or perhaps even more, as I have really attempted to get him fit and strong. We now go on over two hour challenging trail rides and can school dressage, including lateral movements, for an hour with no issues whatsoever. He moves evenly and is 100% sound. He can gallop, climb hills at walk, trot, canter and gallop, pivot, and climb up and slide down very steep banks. I am pretty confident that he could jump soundly, although I have no interest in jumping him now. As Ebro is a sound 16 year old off-the-track Thoroughbred, after a major injury, I think the best chance of keeping him that way into his old age is to stick to the flat. He does seem to interfere behind and overreach more now than before the injury, probably due to the mechanical and physical difference in his anatomy. This is a very minor issue as I always ride him with front and hind brushing boots and bell boots. The bell boots are the Professionals Choice brand ballistic model and hold up very well to hard riding.
Ebro had significant atrophy of his left rear end after the injury, and became very weak and atrophic in his topline from the stall rest and limited activity. He will always have some visible asymmetry of his rear end and back, but the area is now very well muscled and his topline is improving.
I have been very interested in learning to play recreational polo and think Ebro would be fabulous at it. He is quite compact and handy and has the speed for it. However, the very fast and hard pivoting turns concern me as they would place a lot of stress on the healed injury. I do however, think he would probably be fine and the vet would clear him for it. I've read of horses going on to successfully compete in barrel racing after tuber coxae fractures. I just don't want to take chances, and frankly don't have the time or ideal situation to learn polo on him. I think the Royal Polo Club of Barcelona might offer lessons on their horses and it might be fun to try it out. My own right shoulder and neck injury might actually be a bigger obstacle to my learning polo, as I'm not even sure I could carry or manipulate the mallet. Perhaps a future lesson will serve as humorous fodder for this blog.
I think the key to Ebro's successful rehab is that is was not rushed, and that we built up his strength and endurance very gradually. There was only one time during the rehab that I worried he wouldn't be sound, when he fought with violent kicking with a new horse placed in the paddock next to him. The hipica removed the horse immediately, but Ebro was lame behind after the incident and I worried he had injured the healing fracture again. The lameness lasted only a few days, but it did extend the time we spent just hand walking.
The longing was very low key and slow. The trotting on the longe line was really jogging, and it was done on a very long longe line, not on a tight circle or in a small round pen. I always started on the right, his non-injured side. Obviously if your horse won't go quietly on the longe - especially after prolonged confinement to stall rest - this might not be a good option for you. I did not expect Ebro to go quietly, but he surprised me and it was no issue. If longing is not an option, ponying from another horse at walk and trot might be an alternative.
I really think one key element to Ebro's recovery, is that all initial riding for the first few months was out on the trail. The main advantage of this is that the horse becomes fit and strong on mostly straight lines, so as to build muscle as evenly as possible on both sides. This also results in less pivotal strain from constant turns. I started out walking only on easy, flat roads, then progressed walking up and down gradual hills, and eventually, over the past six months, worked up to steep hills at canter and gallop and more challenging terrain including very steep banks. I also walked him over small fallen logs whenever we encountered them. We did a lot of work with slow, steady climbing to the top of the Collserola mountains at walk which really helped strengthen Ebro's rear end and topline. He appears to enjoy these challenges, as his ears are always perked forward and flopping rthymically to his quick marching pace. It probably reminds him of his cross-country jumping days. In terms of frequency, Ebro is ridden to exercised approximately four days per week now, between me and my friend "German Lady" (name withheld to protect her privacy).
Once I felt that Ebro was physically strong again, I started incorporating short sessions in the ring of approximately 15 minutes at walk, trot and canter. These gradually became longer and more challenging to the point that he can school dressage as we would have before the injury. Note, however, that I school him in the ring only once or twice a week. He is certainly capable of being schooled for an hour or more. I just don't see the point. Competition dressage is not our goal. Soundness and fitness are. I have read and heard that farriers, veterinarians and equine chiropractors often say that competition dressage horses suffer from soundness and soreness issues more than any other group of horses. I suspect some of this may have to do with the fact that many of them are ridden incorrectly for prolonged periods of time, perhaps on less than ideal footing. Ebro is really not a fan of dressage, and so I see no point in schooling him incessantly the way I see many of the horses at the hipica schooled. We usually do W-T-C both directions a few time, some bending work on circles and serpentines, and some lateral work like leg-yield and shoulder in. We rarely go more than 30-40 minutes in the ring. Could he go longer and do more advanced dressage movements? Absolutely. I will likely do more dressage work in collection and extension to continue to build his topline.
One upside of this whole ordeal is that it forced me to do more work with Ebro outside of the ring, and this has turned out to be a huge advantage for him. He is now a seasoned trail horse. He will always be a bit of a high-strung, nutty Thoroughbred. He can't help it, it's in his DNA. He still spooks occasionally. But is is 100% more confident outside and does not even blink and eye at the crazy things we encounter on the trail....mountain bikers whizzing by downhill at 40 km/hr only inches away from us, galloping Spanish stallions ridden straight at us, kids and dogs all over the place, wild javeline pigs. You name it, we have probably seen it in the Collserola.
Despite the setback of the injury, I can honestly say that this has been one of the best riding years of my life! For Ebro, the tuber coxae fracture turned out to be only a minor setback. He is fighting fit again and ready for many more years of sound, happy riding. Note that almost all of his post-injury riding has been done in a Dr. Cook's bitless bridle and a Solutions jump treeless saddle. I have been exceptionally happy with both. I really think the flexibility of the treeless saddle on his asymmetric back has been useful for his rehab. Additionally, he moves much more freely and has more muscle development in the shoulder than he did with his well-fitted treed saddle or any treed saddle I have ever ridden him in.
The pics below show his physical progress. He also suffered from white line disease of the hoof when he was first imported to Spain from the US. The farrier had to debride approximately 1/4 of his hoof wall and it has taken two full years for it to grow out. It was only an issue for riding for approximately two months. A few pics of the progress are shown below. The line that is very prominent in photos is quite unimpressive in real life and the farrier is not concerned about it.
Ebro will have a buddy soon, as I have recently added a new horse to my "string"! But that's a story for another post!
Note: Ebro is not an easy keeper and it is quite difficult to keep his weight on. At the moderate work level he is in now, he eats 2 flakes of grass hay 3 times per day, 6 quarts of low-energy alfalfa-based Havens (a German brand) Basis Sportbrok pellets, 1 quart of low-carb, non-heating (no oats) muesli-based Havens Cool Mix, and 2 scoops of Farnam weight builder. He is dewormed on a regular schedule and has access to a Himalayan mineral block and water at all times. He also gets a week of psyillium mix to help clear any sand he has ingested. I really have not taken the time to read any scientific literature to know for sure whether the psyillium actually works to prevent sand colic, but it's not expensive and it doesn't hurt so there is no harm in using it.
He is blanketed daily now with various weight blankets according to the weather.
After the initial period of stall confinement Ebro has been kept in a very large dry-lot paddock with a bedded box. This has also been a key to his success as he can move around freely. Even on days he doesn't get properly exercised or ridden, he moves around in his paddock. He is never stiff or stocked up the way he is when kept in a stall. If your horse is stalled permanently after this kind of injury, I would suggest that he is exercised in some way every day, even if it's just hand-walking or on a hot-walker.