Last week I was part of a fantastic client education evening that talked about a holistic approach to keeping your horse sound. I had a presentation prepared, but as the last speaker I changed my talk to support this premise.
Keeping our horses happy and sound is most definitely a multi-disciplinary task. We, as owners and riders, contribute much, but we also need to cultivate and nurture a supportive team around us. Even if you consider yourself a complete amateur or happy hacker, seeking out these people will give you the best chance to enjoy a long-lasting relationship with your four-legged friend, and if you are competitive and ambitious, it is absolutely imperative.
The first person to find is your main trainer as often they can mentor you in making the best decisions as to who to add to your circle. Your main trainer doesn’t need to be a big-name person, they just need to be someone with a methodology and philosophy that matches your own. You need to find someone who will be invested in your and your horse’s journey. They need to be approachable and available to you, not just someone who cares about the 45 minutes of the lesson you pay for. Of course, don’t abuse that availability – respect their boundaries! This person doesn’t need to be the most amazing technician. A good coach will recognise that they can’t solve every problem and be more than happy for you to supplement their training when a problem or situation is beyond their scope, but they will be good eyes on the ground and provide the support when you need them. A great coach will also help you find the most appropriate equine partner for your ability, ambitions and budget.
Next you need to build a relationship with your vet. Again, find someone who is approachable and available. The best vet will respect your judgement and experience – no one knows your horse better than you. Get to know them and have them get to know your horse when they are well, and they will be best positioned to assist you when things go wrong. Of course, regular vaccinations are a must, but consider taking baseline blood tests and having a routine soundness check-up at least annually. A lot of issues can be prevented if they are picked up at the sub-clinical level and your vet may notice a problem long before it becomes apparent to you. A vet must also be someone who is willing to play nicely with others – from referrals to specialist practitioners to chatting with your farrier and physio about ongoing management.
A reliable and educated farrier is next on the list. Look for one who will ask you a barrage of questions when they first shoe your horse. Everything is reliant on a well-balanced hoof. You need a farrier who considers the conformation of the horse, the work they are doing, the surfaces they are being ridden on, their gait and muscle development. They should see the horse move regularly and be alert to any changes and abnormalities. Again, they should be willing to communicate with the rest of the team.
I would also highly recommend a trained physio. Just as we get muscular aches and pains when we exercise, so do our horses. A good physio will recommend a maintenance programme, possibly consisting of static and dynamic stretches and exercises both in hand and under saddle. Even the most minor of muscular discomforts can lead to bigger problems if unattended, so the more regularly they are addressed, the better.
There are multiple other people to develop relationships with. If you have a groom, then they are going to be an invaluable resource as to your horse’s well-being. A qualified nutritionist is invaluable, and most feed companies will provide this service free or at very low cost. Well fitting tack is imperative so add an independent saddle fitter to the mix. Another must have is a dentist – either a qualified Equine Dental Technician or a specialist dental veterinarian.
This brings us full circle back to the most important person in the equation – you. You are the person who is spending the most time with your horse. You are the person who is responsible for ensuring their care is as good and comprehensive as you can provide. Remember, your horse owes you nothing, any ambitions you have are your own. Not only must you make sure your team is the best you can find, and your horse is fit for the tasks you ask of them, you must also ensure that you are fit for the job. You ask your horse to be an athlete and you must consider yourself one, too. Of course, if you are competing at a low level or going for weekend hacks you don’t need to be as fit as an international competitor, but you do owe it to your horse to be up to the task physically and to have the knowledge and ability to give him the best ride possible.
And they say horse riding is an individual sport…
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