Recently I had a lengthy discussion with my trainer about horse care, and I was so happy to hear that we have very similar philosophies on how to keep horses happy and healthy. She also had some new perspectives for me, so here’s the rundown on what we talked about:
- Memory foam saddle pads- Not a huge fan. She made an interesting point that when the rider is posting or landing from jumping, the foam doesn’t spring back that quickly, so it’s not truly absorbing much shock. She’s a big fan of the classic sheepskin pads, because those move with the horse and are more breathable. I’ve been lusting after an Ogilvy pad, but now I’m going to consider it more. Readers with a memory foam pad- I’d love to hear your perspective on this!
- Turnout- horses need it. End of story. She talked about how she worked in a professional dressage barn for a while after college, and one top mare received absolutely no turnout because it would throw out her back. Read that: this horse was stalled indefinitely because they thought any movement not under saddle would hurt her, and they couldn’t risk her career. Horses are made to wander and move around all day, not stand and wait for their rider! I feel so very strongly about this. It’s one thing to stall your horse when injured to keep them from getting hurt further, but horses are simply not made to stand still all day. The more outside time, the better. Addy is a case in point: when she had very limited turnout, she was a devil pony. Now she is so level-headed. I attribute that almost entirely to increased turnout.
- Bits- better a softer hand with a stronger bit than a heavy hand with a gentler bit. Even the mildest bit can deaden a horse’s mouth if it’s being pulled on non-stop. If the horse is not responding to the simple snaffle, try a french link. If they’re heavy on the french link, try a slow twist. My trainer’s philosophy is this: if the rider has independent hands and can be trusted to release more once the bit is changed, that’s probably the right way to go. That’s why we moved up to a slow-twist with Addy recently- I’m able to be lighter with my hands than I was with the french-link and she respects my aids more. If the rider is still going to cling to the mouth, do not make the bit harsher. It has to be a conversation.
- Regular saddle pads- probably not causing your horse to go lame/move better. This may be a little controversial; I’ve read quite a few product reviews by fellow bloggers that feel very strongly that certain pads make their horse feel better, and I don’t want to step on any toes. Maybe I just haven’t found that magic pad yet. But I use different pads all the time with Addy, and it had never affected how she goes. Whether or not she had turnout that day, how cold it is, how hard the footing is, how floppy-potato I am, all these things definitely make a big difference. But swapping out one all-purpose pad for another hasn’t done a goshdarn thing. Trainer is in agreement- equipment absolutely changes how a horse moves, but it’s not at the top of the list of factors she checks for. The first is always the rider.
- Showing up for work- we actually chatted about this for quite a long time, because it’s so nuanced. If a horse really hates his job, then it’s probably not the right fit. Addy loves jumping, so we jump. Some horses hate jumping, so they don’t. There’s always the give and take to figure out what a horse’s “calling” is- the discipline that allows them to shine and be happy in their work. But there are always going to moments/days/stretches when a horse does not want to do their job (humans have those moments. Dogs have those moments. Every creature has those moments where they say “won’t.”). Or they want to do their job, but they want to do it their own way instead of listening. Case example: Addy loves jumping. Addy occasionally ducks out of jumps that she finds scary. In these cases, it’s my job to give her support and encouragement that the jump won’t eat her, but in the end she is going over that jump whether she wants to or not. She knows her job quite well; she needs to show up and do it. This is a rather rambling bullet, but here’s the TL;DR version: the horse needs to like their job overall, but the rider needs to push the horse through those off days.
- Expectations- horses will generally feed back to you what you expect. Whether that’s expecting and enforcing personal space on the ground or expecting a spook in the scary dark corner. By anticipating a spook, the horse senses that there’s something to be scared about. By not enforcing boundaries on the ground, the horse knows he can get away with being pushy. While not always the case, if we expect better from our horses then we often receive it.
Readers, please share your perspectives on any and all of these topics! We all have different approaches to horsemanship and I’d love to hear yours!