While hearing the word “grounded” might draw up horrible memories of being stuck in your room as a kid as punishment for bad behavior, grounded to an equestrian can sometimes mean something much worse. It’s that dreaded time post injury (or illness) when your doctor tells you “nope, there is no way you’re getting on a horse anytime soon”. While I’ll be the first to admit I’ve disregarded that statement from my doctor on several occasions, sometimes you don’t have a choice … and it sucks.

Whether it comes as a result of equestrian related injury or just bad circumstances out in the “real” world, all equestrians have likely found themselves in this situation at least once in their lifetime. So how do you deal with being grounded and still get your horsey fix?

Being relatively injury prone I’ve come up with a few coping mechanisms for how to clock some horse time during the healing process, without completely disregarding doctors orders. Obviously, depending on your level of injury some of these ideas aren’t going to work so well. It’s always best to consult with your doctor and come up with a plan where you will remain safe and be able to heal without causing more injury (being grounded longer than you need to because you disregarded doctor’s orders isn’t fun — I speak from experience).

Option 1: Good Old Fashioned Horse Time

Healthy enough to walk and be safe around your horse? Then you have a few great options open to you. If your movement and/or interaction level needs to be minimal, and its a nice day out, head to the paddock and clock some “observation” time. It can actually be quite relaxing to just sit in the pasture and watch your horse be a horse. Enjoy the sun, the sky, and watch your horse be himself … sometimes it can be quite entertaining. Not comfortable sitting in the field, grab a lawn chair and sit outside the fence. I’ve also had some people recommend this as a good “journaling” time, a time to just reflect and write down any thoughts that come to mind. Horse’s are said to be great mirrors of human emotions, so who knows, you may just learn a thing or two.

Want a little more face to face horse time? Grab your horse and your grooming kit. It’s a low stress exercise that can keep you moving while not placing extensive strain on your joints, and it’ll be a great bonding exercise for you and your horse.

And lastly, if you need to build up your strength, but are still not sound enough to hop in the tack for ride, go for a walk. Clip on a lead and take your horse for a wander down the barn driveway, or go for a hike if there are trails available. This is also a great bonding exercise, a great exercise for you and your horse, and its a chance to work on (or reinforce) some basic leading and ground manners (if necessary). It’s also surprisingly relaxing.

P.S. If none of the above satisfy your horsey craving (or are a bit to labor intense for your injury), horsey photo shoots are also tonnes of fun and relatively easy to do. Shine up your horse (have someone help if you need to), get a friend to grab a camera, and head outside to snap some nice shots in the sun!

Option 2: Ground Manners? We got tons.

If your still on the mend but have the go ahead to be a bit more active, but still don’t have saddle time clearance, take the time to work on your horse’s ground manners. Even if his manners are pretty good, this is a good chance to reinforce those model mount ground rules. Work on walking calmly on the lead at your shoulder, stopping when you stop, and generally being civil while out and about on the lead. For some horses, this is a pretty simple exercise, for some (like those constant space crowders) … not so much.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can try teaching him some tricks. If you have a strong bond with your horse, its actually pretty simple. Of course, don’t charge in full tilt and get yourself injured again, but try some simple tricks as a way to keep your (and your horse’s) mind active. There are tons of great books and online resources you can use to teach your horse some spiffy new tricks. When I was off with a knee injury this summer (for 4+ months), my coach was nice enough to allow me to experiment with trick training my lesson mare. While it’s still a work in progress (which I’m continuing even now that I’m post-injury), its actually been a great confidence booster and relationship builder with the mare I ride. I’ve taught her how to target objects, and am starting to work with her without a lead in the arena, she will follow me at the walk and trot and stops when I stop. The “trick” training ground exercises where a great opportunity for me to continue to work and bond with the mare I ride, and keep both of us working together as a team, even when I wasn’t given the all clear to ride.

Option 3: Hello TV

If you really are grounded, like stuck in bed and borderline cabin fever grounded, pull out those old DVDs, load up some Netflix, or grab a good book (it may be dusty, but you know you’ve got to have a real feel good horse novel kicking around somewhere). Sometimes you have to take what you can get, and if you aren’t able to hang with the real thing, watch it on TV (or read about it!). It’s not a perfect solution, but hey, it can help in the short term.

And if your really desperate for that barn and horsey smell, take that slightly still horse smelly, not so clean, saddle pad you’ve got kicking around and use it as a pillow while you sleep your post-injury, slowly recovering, horsey dreams (okay, a bit extreme, but desperate times right?).

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