What are you missing because you don’t know what to look for?
In this age of the Millennial horse show rider, it would seem so many little things get overlooked. We have catered to generations of riders who love to show up, sit on a horse, get to the show ring, navigate a few obstacles, receive a ribbon, return to soccer practice, or Gucci, Barney’s, or whatever. In busier show stables, if you don’t have the genuine heart of a groom who cares more about his/her horses than his/her paycheck, then suddenly a fine line is drawn in the sand. The burden of lameness issues is placed solely on someone without shares in the company. Hired help. Hired help that may or may not speak a different language, or have a life outside the stable.
Is it your responsibility as a rider to know how to look for the signs? If you see veins popping out on your horse standing on the cross ties, with the saddle on, bandages on, bridle on, with a halter placed over all that mess, maybe a nostril flaring, eye lids slightly lowered, would you draw a certain conclusion as to the condition of your horse you are about to have led to a mounting block for you to mount?
What if it were nothing more than passing a strange horse in a stall, and seeing those same veins popping throughout his body. Would you be able to associate that the adrenaline is coursing through his body, and because he cannot speak, he is silently struggling for air, or perhaps his complicated (and now twisted) intestines are causing a piercing sensation through his body that will in ten minutes cause him to throw his entire body on the ground in an effort to relieve the pain?? You keep walking.
You have one day of unsupervised riding a week, (along with your two other scheduled group lessons), which you look forward to because you know you aren’t going to be required to ride without stirrups, stay up in two point for ten minutes, or be bored with some other exercise. Yet that occasional strange step in his trot disappears at the canter, so you ignore it and make him canter for forty minutes so you don’t have to feel it. You don’t actually know enough to check his hooves for temperature, miss the fact that one foot is hot and he is probably suffering from an abcess festering, or, worse, all four feet are ten degrees higher than normal, and something much worse is happening to your beloved pet you just cantered around, hoping he would feel better at the end. The next day he is discovered crumpled in a corner, all four feet straight out in front of him, silently hoping his misery will end at feeding time, when someone finally notices he can’t stand up for breakfast. When your frantic trainer calls you to see if you noticed anything, out of complete fear, you deny feeling anything off.
The refusal to educate our riders leads to all sorts of problematic situations across the country with horses and riders, but maybe the flip side is such a deterrent that no one really wants to take the time with people learning about horses. In a trainer’s mind, what is worse than a hypochondriac rider? Every stumble needs an answer, a missed lead change means a hock injection, every rail is a sign that donation is looming. Is there a drug for that? An answer for a bad day?? How many bad days in a row are acceptable before a vet is called in?
When a vet is hearing from an amateur client who takes care of her own horses, how is that relationship handled from both ends? What if the vet doesn’t want to listen to an amateur client? How hard does that amateur have to prove that he/she knows her horses well enough to know something is terribly wrong? Or even a little bit wrong?
The really, really good horsemen of the past actually spent so much time with so many horses, or learned about extra things like basic veterinary work, or farrier work, that signs of malfunction were recognizable almost before they even happened. The immediate reaction was to address the sign, before it became a real problem, and take the time to fix what was actually broken. The show ribbon was so far from their minds when they were in the barns, running hands down legs, feeling for abnormalities that weren’t there yesterday, evaluating the conditions of coats, wondering if a different wormer might be required because his coat isn’t quite as shiny as they remember from last year.
This year (2015) we had a few very tragic losses in each discipline, very public, and due to our current relationship with social media, we were able to view it all at our desktop. Our new marriage with on-line streaming and YouTube is the epitome of a bipolar relationship, and we celebrated a few fabulous wins around the world, yet watched Totalis perform his last dressage test at Aachen, a junior hunter couldn’t complete his course at Devon, a New Zealand event rider lost her horse at Rolex from a re-injured suspensory during cross-country, and all these questions float around up in my head, what was missed? Or, even worse, was anything ignored?
Our junior riders at junior hunter finals can’t even identify where to put a thermometer, how will they be able to determine a hot splint? Some of these junior riders actually do become professionals down the road, by the way, in case you haven’t been following the horse industry very long, and their careers have been dependent on someone else identifying problems on the horses, not them with their non-existent Pony Club background.
I don’t want to miss out, I don’t want to be that person standing at the in-gate knowing this could possibly be the last time I watch that horse navigate a bunch of silly hunter jumps, yet knowing the trainer next to me has probably hardened him/herself to that very possibility years ago, and will shrug, let it go in a matter of seconds, and we will all write a condolence message on the owner’s FB wall out of respect for the animal, and move on. I want to go back and feel my horses legs one more time before heading out that night, then have it be the first thing I do when I arrive the next morning. I want to be alarmed when I see two full water buckets in the stall after 8 hours pass by. I want my students to recognize a head bob at the walk, in muddy conditions in a field, and think to themselves, it looks lame everywhere, this cannot be right, (even though this horse arrived two days ago), and put in that call to the vet just in case something serious is brewing. I want the vet to show up.
Every barn has protocol on how to handle soundness issues, maybe your barn is perfect, maybe your barn manager cares for the horses so much, you never lose an ounce of sleep at night, and maybe today this moment, my opinion is irrelevant to you. But, tomorrow your life might change, your ability to be in a capable show stable will change, and you will have to make some serious life decisions about where to place your beloved creatures, your pets, you might even be bringing them home for the first time ever. And those people who made it look so easy for so long will not be able to stand there and notice your horse is not finishing his breakfast for a reason. Will the Pony Club manual have played a stronger role at this moment had you known about it?
Even at the highest level of our sport, we see multiple relationships. When you watch this video, it is hard to keep your attention away from the fact that without an incredibly invaluable person to oversee every little detail on horse happiness, a winning combination in the ring is not possible. https://vimeo.com/142108541
Yet that is not the children’s or adult hunter ring, it is a World Cup Qualifier. Those riders and grooms have very specific relationships with those horses. There is a difference. There is a pretty good chance those riders know all the warning signs for trouble in the horses they are riding, just as the caretakers can recognize a short step to the wash stall. Should you have the same chance? Would you blame someone else if you didn’t?
All the information you need is right in front of you, you simply have to go get it, learn it.