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Tales of Taco the Wonder Horse and his ammy rider on their way to a Training Three Day

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Five Stages of Lameness Rehab

Readers of Team Taco might be familiar with the Kübler-Ross model of five stages of grieving. Originally developed by sport horse veterinarians for helping their clients through the process of lameness rehab, the model was adopted by the psychology community to be applied to terminally ill human patients and grieving loved ones.

Here, however, I resurrect the theory as it was first designed.  It is important to remember that not all owners will experience all stages in the order in which they are presented.  Indeed, swings from anger to acceptance to denial are not at all uncommon.  All rehabbers, however, can expect to experience at least two of these stages.

1. Denial
Riders, upon hearing the news of a horse's season- but not career- ending injury, are often oddly cheerful.  This is temporary.  They may make comments such as, "it's only a 20% tear, thank goodness-- he'll get better in time for that fall destination event!" or "I'm really OK with this because I needed more time to take up scrapbooking/ knitting/ spelunking," or "think of all of the flatwork we can get done!" The horse's mane remains pulled and the tail clipped and banged.

2. Anger
As the reality of the horse's injury becomes evident, the formerly cheerful rider becomes rageful and bitter.  "But he was so fit-- how could he have pulled that?" "What on earth was he thinking, screaming around the corner of his pasture like that?" "Why do I get all the accident-prone ones?" This is the stage during which the rider or owner is less-than-perfect company, due to tiresome self-pitying and indignant tirades.  He or she might respond disproportionately to the slightest setback: for example, one particularly disturbed rider was reported to have lost most of her hair because she tore it out upon hearing that her rehabbing horse trotted two steps and then bucked in place-- twice-- in his tiny outdoor pen.

3. Bargaining
This stage seems entirely reasonable at first.  In exchange for money, the rehabber obtains a diagnosis and treatment plan from the veterinarian, stall toys for the horse, and extra services such as hand walking, wrapping, wound dressing, stall cleaning, and cold therapy.  As time goes on, the rider begins to believe that the more money that is thrown at the injury, the faster it will heal.  Expensive consulting veterinarians are brought in to perform expensive treatments.  Fancier toys are placed in the stall, and failed attempts are made to pay others to ride the pent-up mount on her rodeo sessions controlled exercise rides. Meanwhile, the horse heals at her own damn pace (see Anger, above).

4. Depression
Eventually our rehabber comes to the realization that the season is definitely over, the horse is bored out of his skull in the stall and there is nothing she can do about it, and she is broke.  She might observe friends driving off to competitions and returning with stories of adventure, or find herself obsessively checking the competition organization's website for next year's show dates, and find that both leave her numb and unfulfilled. Responses might include endless Facebook and horsey bulletin-board surfing, considerations of quitting riding, ice cream and cookie binges, or the refusal to get out of bed.  The horse's mane gets long and shaggy and her tack grows mold. It is important to treat the rehabber with sympathy and understanding at this time, and not try to talk her out of this difficult, but all-important stage.

5. Acceptance/ Resignation
This is the crucial stage in which the rehabber comes to the understanding that she must rehab the horse step-by-step, literally.  She purchases a new stick of Sadl-Tite, puts the horse on a calming supplement, and surrenders to the simultaneous boredom and excitement of thirty minutes of walking a fresh horse on straight lines in a lovely November cold wind breeze. When she is bucked off, she dusts herself off and catches the horse, carefully examines the injury for signs of relapse, then gets back on. Eventually, the horse returns to full work, and the rider's mental state begins to heal too.  Only residual effects remain, such as panic attacks over imagined swellings in the injury area, and a somewhat annoying habit of recounting the story of the injury and treatment for any hapless interlocutor. 

*With a nod to Not That Kind of Doctor!


Annika Kostrubala said...

Excellent observations. Clearly, I am stuck at a few of those stages, and have the wisdom to share advice to avoid a few of them. Well Done, ma'am.

eventer79 said...

OMG, brilliant. Is it possible to be stuck at all the stages at once? Although I think I'm mostly on anger/depression right now, LOL. Are you trying to tell me that throwing money at it does NOT make it heal faster???

Anastasia said...

Annika, thank you for helping me survive these stages!
And yes eventer79, it is very possible-- even probable-- to be stuck in two or more stages at once.

Suzanne said...

Amen Sistah! Amen!

And it works for bodily injury to rider...


Thank god we're not alone!

Andrea said...

Welcome to my life! This is brilliant!

Gabriella Elise said...

Lame horse - story of my LIFE! Unfortunately, it's been two years and I think I'm just getting to the Acceptance stage! Arrarrrugh!

Lauren said...


Brooke (FBX Adventures - In Parenting) said...

Hilarious. How about the "throw in the towel stage" for those horses that no amount of voodoo, witchcraft, step by step rehab program, medicine, massage, chiro, stem cells, supplements, ice, heat, wrapping, shock wave, specialist, and $$$$$$$$$$$$$$ will fix? I also refer to this stage as the liquor stage.

Anastasia said...

Ah, yes, DM-- I have heard about new research indicating that there is a Throw in the Towel/ Liquor Stage. Perhaps you might write up the results of your case study for the benefit of the larger community?

Dom said...

Going through that cycle myself right now.

SallymetHarryHorse said...

so true! we've all been there!
though this time i'm lame and he's just dandy...typical :-)
we're now following your lovely blog!