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Does hand walking count as work? - soft tissue injury

Took my young horse in for a lameness exam last month and she was lame on the gravel going to the right, not lame at all on the grass, and lame on flexions on the front right the first time. We took x-rays and did flexions again and she wasn’t lame at all. No heat, swelling, or discernable pain anywhere. There is nothing on her rads so the vet suggested to turn her out for the winter and not bring her back into work until next spring. The vet didn’t seem very concerned and said it could have been a mild injury or also growing pains. That clinic doesn’t have an ultrasound but the Dr. didn’t feel strongly enough about it to suggest I take her elsewhere for an ultrasound.

She is currently almost 3.5 so I’m fine with taking her out of work and was going to give her the winter off anyway. But my question is: does hand walking her on trails count as work? I took her on a walk yesterday on a very short and easy trail (1.88 miles of mostly flat). I can’t imagine this will be detrimental to her, especially considered she already lives outside and moves a lot anyway, but I am wondering what the consensus is here?

Any forced exercise is just that.

Hand walking is a great way to gain exposure, and maintain ground manners. I took my last filly on hand walks several times a week, and it paid off major when I started under saddle work. It’s well worth your time.

Hand-walking definitely counts as working the horse. Particularly if the trails have any kind of ups and downs, those all require different muscles and strength. Even on flattish trails, the horse has to pay attention to the footing and it helps develop proprioception.


Yes. It counts. It’s Step 1 of the rehab protocol concurrent with stall rest or following an extensive vacation.

Go get an ultrasound- they’re really quite cheap. My suspensory horse had 0 swelling or heat and looked sound-ish bombing around the pasture, but was 3/5 lame for the vet.

If you have a tear, you may want to know. If it’s a soft tissue tear, you may need to change her turnout to minimal hills or slippery mud, and remove any particularly wild herd mates.

Get the ultrasound. Or turn her out for a year in the flattest and calmest paddock and THEN start handwalking.



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Hand walking is used early in injury situations (as soon as the acute phase passes) in order to stimulate the body to align the new tissue in the direction that best supports the strain of movement. Hand walking provides a period of steady exercise which warms up the body, and creates a low stress that is unlikely to increase the severity of the injury, while still being enough to align new tissue. Hand walking allows the handler to control the surface used during exercise.

Prescribed hand walking seems to most often be in the 10-30 minutes, once or twice a day range. This would not count as work to the vet who directed “no work”. My vet doesn’t count the tack walking I’m doing as “work” either.


If she’s ok to turn out, she’s ok for a quiet trail walk. IF she’s quiet! My vet likes the term “active rest”. Many things heal best with gentle movement. And it will help keep her brain engaged! Ask your vet about the trail walks.

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I agree with this.

Talk to your vet.

There are all kinds of trails and all kinds of horses. Flat trails where you are not walking over rocks and exposed roots are different than trails with lots of terrain and obstacles.

She is very quiet and very well behaved, it’s less like taking a 3yo on a walk and more like taking a dead broke 20yo on a walk lol. I will give the vet a call today, thank you!


She sounds wonderful!

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I’d definitely want an ultrasound vs guessing. What if it’s not soft tissue? You could be making it worse. Or at least not treating it the way you would if the vet had a diagnosis.