When you can't ride due to a lameness issue, use this opportunity to work on things you don't normally take the time to address. It may not be as exhilarating as a good ride, but can have big pay-offs down the road.
Ground manners are so important for the safety and well being of everyone who is ever called on to handle your horse. If your horse isn't on complete stall rest, and is capable of low level exercise like hand-walking, you can work on mannerly leading. That term covers quite a lot of situations.
1) Does your horse keep pace with you and walk beside you respectfully? Not crowding you, hanging back, or walking ahead? --I like to play a version of red-light-green-light with my horse. Once he's well enough to do some easy jogging, you can step up the pace of the game.
2) Can you carry a bucket of feed in your free hand while leading your horse, and will he/she still lead respectfully? --Don't feed from that bucket during the exercise. If you do intend to use that feed for your horse, set the bucket down and lead your horse away from it to a place where you can tie or pen your horse. Then pour the feed from that bucket into a different feeding container before allowing the horse to feed. If you have a real problem with this, start with a bucket that has a lid before moving on to an open-top bucket. I develop a twitch in my elbow during this type of exercise. My horse never knows when that twitchy elbow of mine will poke out at him, so he keeps his nose at a respectful distance.
3) Will your horse back up from a few twitches of the lead rope, making it easy for you to lead him through gates that must be opened and closed? --This is a classic natural horsemanship exercise. If you're not familiar with it, here's a one-minute "bumper" video, as it's a lot quicker to show than to describe. I'm using a recalcitrant horse (Twister, who is as hard-headed as they come), so you can see not to expect too much in the beginning. It does take time to get your horse to respond respectfully from just a twitch. So this is a good time to practice. Once you have your horse backing up nicely, you can add backing to the red-light-green-light game as well.
Footage taken from camera on bumper of truck parked in pasture. We're pretty laid back these days.
4) Does your horse stand tied quietly? --After hand-walking your horse, tie him and let him stand while you clean tack or do other chores, or even catch up on some reading. Be sure to leave the immediate area for short periods of time as well so you don't end up with a horse who is quiet only as long as you're present. If you have a horse with a lot of nervous energy, you may have to start with very short periods of tie-time and work your way up slowly. It helps to do all your other low-level ground training first.
If your horse is on complete stall rest, you could try some clicker training or simple pressure and release techniques to teach him to lower his head for bridling, or to pick up his feet (if he's able to do that comfortably).
If you have a horse that's a bridling challenge, a stall rest period is a great time to work on that issue by bridling every day, even though he's not being ridden. If you take this opportunity to reinforce the rules of good manners with your horse during this down-time, your friends, family members, and anyone who ever has to handle your horse will thank you for it.
Letitia Hise is a former riding instructor and currently works as a freelance graphics and marketing professional.