Tie-back surgery recovery: the last two weeks of stall rest

At the end of the second week, Johnny had finally settled a bit in his stall and was spending more time munching hay than searching for his friends out in the pasture. So, we decided to begin allowing him short stints of turnout in the small lane between two pastures. The first time I turned him out, I expected fireworks and mad galloping, so I left his halter on and waited for him to explode. When he stuck his head down and started grazing, I went about my business, keeping an eye on him from the barn. Over the next week, he was allowed to go out when either the barn manager or I could keep an eye on him. The lane is maybe a quarter of an acre–big enough he could run if he wanted, but small enough to discourage it. Since his incision was still open (and draining), he was only allowed out if it wasn’t raining. This did wonders for his sanity, and I don’t have any qualms about beginning ‘turnout’ early. Granted, if he had started running around like a crazy horse, we’d have had to develop other options.

I also continued hand-walking him around the farm so he could get a change of scenery and to remind him he wasn’t on permanent vacation. As tedious as the downtime was, it definitely strengthened the bond between Johnny and me. I even managed to get his mane pulled. Sort of.

By the end of the third week, his incision was looking great, and it was obvious Johnny would be quiet in his little paddock, so we began daytime turnout with nights in his stall. It was a little gamble–with no one there to observe him, he could have done something stupid, but he really wasn’t showing any desire to run around. He was a much happier horse this way, and I felt the benefits outweighed the risks. In his stall, he was still prone to bursts of pacing–I was afraid he’d be more inclined to hurt himself running around a box than grazing in a small paddock. I was still cleaning his incision, but by this time, I was down to once daily instead of twice.

Towards the end of the fourth week, we began 24 hour turnout in his paddock to see how it would go. Since his incision was nearly healed, and he was staying quieter turned out than in his stall, I saw no good reason to keep him confined at this point.

All the same, the day we turned him out with his buddies to begin his 30 days of turnout (officially), he was so excited he did what any OTTB would do–he went for a gallop! I could do nothing but watch, holding my breath, praying the sutures would hold and that he wouldn’t want to run around long. Thankfully, his buddies thought he was crazy, and after a couple laps around, they all settled back to grazing. Johnny put out a valiant effort to keep them going: rearing, bucking, running around them, but when they wouldn’t budge, he resigned and began grazing alongside them. I finally let out my breath at this point!

I kept documenting the healing progress. Here’s his incision over the last two weeks.

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