In several video clips we will cover little Heri’s story, an unbelievable recovery from severe injury.
What to do after an injury, surgery or illness when the physical skills need to be restored?
Specific physiotherapy not only helps people, it is first choice for horses, too, in order to regain bodily health. With the two-year old Islandic horse Heri I experienced first-hand how incredibly powerful such training can be.
Heri was born in May 2015. At only 4 months he suffered from a severe accident in the pasture on his right hind leg. Deep injuries and extensive scar tissue on the tubular bone prevented a proper diagnosis with imaging methods. For several months the foal stood on only three legs. At the age of seven months Heri contracts a strangles infection. Following the infection, he was out-fitted with a hoof boot to help him using his left hind leg. At twelve months he was castrated in order to more easily integrate him into a herd of quiet mares.
At that time, he made only little use of his hind leg, putting only very limited weight on it, and his movement pattern was badly restricted. His motoric skills were disturbingly underdeveloped because of muscle weakness, bad coordination, and limited balance. Because of his massive physical handicap he cannot integrate into the herd. The following twelve months fail to see any improvement despite the intensive care of his owner and further physiotherapy. Heri started to show signs of emotional stress and isolation, loosing his vitality.
Heri was considered incurable, and in the spring 2017 his owners Juliane Uhlig and Steffen Baumann of Tempelhof asked themselves, if a life without constant suffering still could be achieved for Heri, or if they were forced to put him down for mercy’s sake. Then, by sheer luck, Juliane and I got into contact and talked about poor Heri’s fate.
On April 12, 2017, Heri moved to the Steigerwald Ranch for ten weeks of therapeutic training. With the aim of improving his muscle condition, coordination and balance I chose a couple of specific training equipment for him: the whole-body rocker, the 3-Meter rocker, the rotary disk and the horse stepper. Later in his training we added the balance beam in order to train his deep sensibility. He mastered all these training devices with enthusiasm and zest.
The turning point in his therapy came with training with positive reinforcement, giving him full control over his body and situation, moving from success to success with the added benefit of earning tasty titbits for his efforts. My wealth of experience in behavioural analysis provided a key element in determining the optimal training path for each horse in my care.
At the end of June 2017 and daily training sessions of only 20 minutes Heri was not the same horse anymore. Through consequent training his skills have immensely improved. The highly successful physio training helped Heri to catch up bodily with youngsters of the same age, and he gained a new zest for life through a newly developed body awareness and trust in his own motoric skills.
In my own small horse community at the Steigerwald Ranch I see with incredible joy that Heri acts and lives like any other “normal” two-year old. Therefore, he will be able to return home at the end of the month. I wish him all the very best.
Photos and video by Nina Steigerwald