As equestrians today, we are constantly bombarded with information. It seems as though for every single thing that we do – or our horses do – there is “research” to prove both that we are doing things right or that we are doing things wrong. Some people swear by this type of saddle, while others will go to their graves saying it’s the worst saddle ever made; some people feed only soaked pellets while others believe in a diet based strictly on a “forage hay”. How is a person ever to navigate this increasingly targeted and almost demanding sea of information and still do the one thing that is most important when it comes to horses…just enjoy the ride?
Recently, I was talking to a friend from Los Angeles who is a lot like me when it comes to horses. We’ve grown up showing in the same circles, know a lot of the same people, and we have been taught a lot of the same things. When we got on the topic of horse ownership today, we both chimed in on the intense amount of information that is being thrown at people from every direction. “It seems like a lot of my friends start looking for a problem as soon as they swing their leg over the saddle,” Lisa said.
“One girlfriend of mine literally works herself – and her horse – into a frenzy every time they ride because she’s counting every step, looking at every expression, and worrying more about if her new $500 saddle pad fits right than she is about having fun on her horse. And it shows.”
The statement my friend made struck me. I’ve been guilty of this myself on a lot of occasions. I get to the barn and there is a list of things that I have to “check” and make sure that they are “just so” before I’m convinced that my horse is “right” that day. If my horse steps wrong in the arena and her gait is off for a few steps, or she’s acting somewhat more irritable than normal, I find myself on my phone “Googling” reasons why these things might happen. It can become a vicious cycle, and it can suck all of the joy out of owning a horse. So, what’s a person to do?
Not Everything is a Disaster
Horses are like people in a lot of ways. Sometimes they “sleep wrong”, or “step wrong”; sometimes they wake up a little sorer than usual and sometimes they simply don’t “feel like working”. We’re not dealing with motorized vehicles; we’re dealing with animals that have minds of their own. The tough part is that without a “voice”, our horses can’t tell us if something that seems “off” is a little thing or a big thing waiting to explode into a major problem. We have to apply a bit of patience, common sense and, as tough as it is, we can’t rush to judgement over every single little thing that pops up. If your otherwise healthy, hardworking and happy horse has a bad day or two, stay away from the Internet, watch patiently, and if you must, get some advice from a horse friend with a level head that you trust.
There is a Difference Between “Good Horse Ownership” and “Obsessive Horse Ownership”
As my friend, Lisa, pointed out, some people tend to focus on all of the newest technology, research, products, supplements, etc., more than they do on the horses themselves. It’s tough when you’re skirting the line of wanting to be the best “horse parent” that you can be and yet not being “obsessive” over every little issue that pops up. As I said above, I have been guilty of this exact thing when it comes to my show mare, and I do my best to actively avoid being obsessive or overly intrusive when it comes to things.
A good example happened a couple years back…I took my mare to Alamo Pintado Equine Center for a lameness exam. I could “feel” something wasn’t right, and even though my vet had an extremely difficult time even “seeing” what I was talking about, we did some basic x-rays to be sure that things looked good. The x-rays came back great (I was told my 14-year-old horse had the legs of a 7-year-old), but if I was sure there was something that didn’t feel “right”, there were a couple courses of action: 1. Have the farrier change the angles of her feet slightly and take a wait and see approach, or 2. Go in for an MRI, more x-rays, nerve blocks, and basically do a “full work up”. I had to check myself here…I opted for the farrier, and, low and behold, my mare and I competed that entire year, winning several Regional Championships.
Don’t Listen to Everything or Everyone You Hear
This is probably the hardest thing for most horse owners. We hear something, see something, read about something, and it seems like the newest and greatest “fix all” for a problem that we think our horses have, so we work ourselves into a frenzy finding out more about it and spend exorbitant amounts of money to acquire it. Does it make a difference? Sometimes, but most of the time it doesn’t. Good horsemanship has been around for many years, and despite what a lot of people will tell you, sometimes the “old ways” work the best. You have to apply some common sense, surround yourself with level headed horse people who have wisdom that you admire and trust, and you have to realize that sometimes a momentary problem isn’t a life-long disaster that requires tons of money and the most modern fixes.
Everyone has an opinion, especially when it comes to horses. There will always be people who tell you that what you are doing is wonderful, and on the flip side, that what you are doing is horrible or even – gasp – neglectful. You know in your heart what feels right to you, and if you aren’t sure, get some “real life” opinions from actual people who you can trust. Call a friend, call a trainer, call your vet; ask questions, throw around ideas, and then calm yourself down and breathe. Sometimes “time” is the best cure for a little issue; sometimes the best fix is the one that has worked for years upon years. In the end, remember that the thing we should all be striving for when it comes to our horses is to actually “enjoy the ride”.