After a period of stall rest, a graduation to hand-walking can be a welcome change for a horse. For the handler who has to walk him, however, it can be quite a challenge. A horse who has been cooped up can greet his relative freedom with such enthusiasm that he reinjures himself or hurts the person trying to walk him. To keep everyone safe, follow these guidelines:
1. Plan your walks for quiet times. Don’t walk the recuperating horse while others are being fed or turned out. Wait until things are calm and even boring around the barn.
2. Walk in a location with good footing. Slick or deep spots, divots or debris can trip the horse or you. A riding arena is typically a good choice for hand-walking.
3. Have a plan. Ask your veterinarian about the amount and type of walk- ing that will benefit your horse. For example, are circles helpful or best avoided? Plan out your sessions using this information.
4. Leave your cell phone alone. You’ll want to devote your full attention to your horse. Pocket your phone or leave it in the tack room as you walk him.
5. Wear gloves and hard-soled shoes. These will protect you if your horse becomes unpredictable and/or difficult to control. For even more security, you could also wear a helmet.
6. Don’t let him graze. Hand-walking is a different prescription from hand grazing. If your veterinarian wants the horse walked, keep moving. In addition, grazing puts a horse in a different mental state, where he’s less focused on you and potentially more reactive and “spooky.”
7. Talk to your veterinarian about sedatives. If you worry your horse will be unruly, ask your veterinarian about using sedatives. Riding a sedated horse is dangerous, but most can be hand-walked safely on a low dose.