Case Study: Julien Moreau - Young Jumpers and Tendon Rehab

What is the hardest part of rehabbing a horse from a tendon injury? Julien Moreau, a manager at Equine Tendon, will tell you that it’s allowing the horse to move, but keeping him quiet and sensible enough to not further aggravate the injury. Julien would know. He has his own Toronto-based business training and producing young horses for high level pros in Canada and the US, he is also a manager at Equine Tendon, a specialist organization with branches worldwide, run primarily by vets which offers soft tissue management services and advise to owners managing and rehabbing soft tissue injuries.

Tendon rehab using CBD

Weeks or even months of box rest may still be a common treatment for tendon injuries, but Julien explains that not enough movement can lead to the development of scar tissue, which weakens the tendon. However, he adds, “The horse cannot go crazy.” And we all know that a young or fit horse, off work and on some sort of restricted turnout or no turnout, is quite likely to do just that.

Traditionally, a rehabbing horse might have been given acepromazine (Ace), domosedan, or even reserpine (Serapine), a human antipsychotic. But these drugs all have risks and side-effects. The horse is doped up, wobbly, and could cause himself further injury by not fully being aware of where his feet are. Colic has been associated with reserpine, while Ace should not be given to stallions because it can cause penile paralysis. Sedated horses can also suddenly panic because their brains aren’t working properly. 

This is where Equilibrium comes in. Julien says it has been a game-changer for rehab cases. “It keeps the horse cool but not sedated,” he tells me, making the controlled movement necessary for tendon repair (and other types of rehab) much easier and safer for the handler and for the horse. He gives me an example of a yearling that had surgery and was going crazy when on restricted movement. When he gave the yearling Equilibrium, it was able to graze quietly and normally.

It has also proven useful for introducing rehab horses to the treadmill. Some horses freak out when they first meet the treadmill and either go too fast, try to jump off, or stop, all of which makes it harder, but Julien found that a dose of Equilibrium made them “cooler in the brain and they could understand quicker.” And he did not have to medicate them every single time they went on the treadmill. He found that after three days, the horses understood the routine and no longer needed Equilibrium.

Show Jumper

With the correct amount of controlled exercise, healing outcomes for tendon and ligament injuries improve significantly. This is true of both humans and horses, but unlike human patients, you can’t tell equines that galloping and bucking on the lunge line or in the paddock will set back their recovery. Julien believes that Equilibrium helps the horses feel less stressed and frustrated, keeps their heads cooler, and that makes them easier rehab patients, improving the odds of recovery.

Julien has also found Equilibrium invaluable for his other business – backing and producing youngsters. Some horses cope with the breaking-in process better than others. Out of twenty young horses last year, he had two tricky ones. And in these cases, Equilibrium can really help. He explains that he had one horse “that was very sensitive. Spooked at his own shadows. It was hard for him to relax and understand the job. He didn’t have ulcers, and painkillers didn’t work. It was all stress.” Then he tried Equilibrium and found that the horse was far more focused. Here, Julien reiterates that it isn’t a sedative and doesn’t dope the horse up. He feels safe riding a horse who is on it. “The horse is still reactive, still hot. But it helps the horse clear his mind.” The difference is that the horse is not anxious or panicky. That means it can learn whatever the trainer is teaching. Anxious horses don’t learn very well, and some horses get quite wound up when being introduced to new things.

Equilibrium is a tool, Julien stresses, but obviously not a replacement for horsemanship. When he has a challenging youngster, he makes a plan for how he’ll utilize Equilibrium. If he is introducing the horse to the long-reins, for example, he will give half a dose and work on relaxation. Then the next day, he will give a full dose. A new skill, like long-reining, requires the horse to take in a lot of information, and if the horse has worked itself into a tizz, you will have a hard time getting them to process everything. On the third day, Julien might give it half or a full dose, depending on how the lessons are going. 

Once they understand what you’re teaching and don’t associate learning with stress, they shouldn’t need it at all. Julien does not use Equilibrium like a calmer you would put in feed every day, or for every horse. He employs it under specific circumstances when he knows a horse is likely to be too anxious to learn, or explosive because he’s in rehab and not in work or his usual turnout. In addition to the above examples, he’s used it to help young horses to school offsite without turning themselves inside out on the trailer, and he’s used it to settle newly-weaned foals. Julien also notes that it is important when using Equilibrium to be careful of competition rules depending on your sport.

An additional benefit, he concludes, is decreasing the likelihood of the horse developing stress-related ulcers. Instead of throwing omeprazole at horses who need to travel, or undergo periods of confinement, or deal with any other short period of acute stress, he uses Equilibrium to help them stay calm. It’s not a replacement for Gastrogard if the horse actually has ulcers, but Julien believes that in some cases, it aids in preventing them in the first place.

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