When I first bought my horse, I was the proverbial “I know enough to get myself into trouble” owner. I knew how to clean a hoof, but nothing about hoof balance or health. I knew how to put a saddle on, but nothing about saddle fit or where the saddle should really sit on the horse’s back. Or how about bits? Geez, if anyone had told me about the many types of bits out there, I may have curled up in a corner right then and there. Let’s not even talk about knowing what excellent barn management entailed. Or how to establish good manners for my horse!
I remember when my horse Chase got his first scratch above his eye. Looking back, boy did I over-react. I raised my voice to the barn management for not letting me know (and yes, they most assuredly rolled their eyes). I had nothing to clean it with (luckily another boarder did) and I was worried.
But here is the thing – I wasn’t scared about the scratch. It clearly wasn’t deep, or bad, or had injured the eye. Chase was fine and not concerned at all. I was upset because deep down I realized I didn’t know a thing. I didn’t even know what questions to ask and who TO ask!
The realization that I had taken on this monumental task of taking care of and responsibility for this horse, this being, this life. His health, his happiness, his comfort, his safety. I was responsible for it even if I was not the one who was always in charge. And since I am no slouch when it comes to solving problems, I of course dedicated myself to learn as much as possible as fast as possible.
I know you totally resonate with this because you would not still be reading this if you didn’t care about your horse that way. It seems that by owning, or even share-boarding a horse, you unwittingly signed up for a marathon crash course in every topic under the sun.
From barn management to the quality of hay, the pros and cons of the myriad kinds of wood shavings. How about feed! If you listen to the sales pitches, you would buy one of each! Pasture, no pasture, spring grass causing laminitis and what to look out for. How about vitamins and minerals? How about shoes or no shoes? Or the riding arena footing. Adding dust control additives or not, heated barns or unheated. What about protective gear like boots, which kind to buy? Do I also need bell boots? What about a riser pad? Do I need to get my saddle looked at? My horse starting acting out when I girth him up. My mare has issues with her cycles. I can’t get him on the bit. Should I ride more often for shorter periods? What about lunging? Is it beneficial? Or side-reins, should I use them. How often should I lesson or do I even need to? What kind of blanket will he need in the winter or does he even need one? Heated water buckets, warm mash, apple cider vinegar or fly sprays – it seems we are being asked to make a choice, a decision, choose a direction every second of every day.
And let’s not even talk about choosing a vet, a farrier or other therapist to help you keep your horse safe and sound.
You are probably reaching for the antacid pills by now.
I will never be able to learn enough to know it all. That’s why I surround myself with people who are experts, who are life-long learners, who are always looking at the whole picture AND are willing to consider the feedback of other professionals to gain a different perspective.
I surround myself with people who are willing to hear my questions (and actually welcome them), and are also willing to hear me mull over their answer, even out loud. I now have a team that allows me to ask anything without questioning my sanity. They don’t object to me getting a second opinion and will even suggest it.
They are open to thinking outside the box and will consider my feedback on their suggestions.
My horse has a TEAM.
BUT, I hear you ask, what is the most important questions you ask?
Does this make sense and what does my gut tell me?
Can I take different pieces of the puzzle, presented to me by my trusted care team and my horse, and come up with a strategy and a game plan to address whatever is going on?
Nobody knows your horse better than you do. Nobody. I can promise you that. Your connection with your horse is THE foundation for your success. If someone advises you but the explanation doesn’t make sense, keep digging. See how this fits into the whole picture. Let’s face it, all of us professionals - vets, bodyworkers, farriers – we are all in this business to help horses. But we don’t have the same connection with your horse. And we don't have all the answers either. We are human and come to the table with our own stories, our own perspective, our own experiences. Seemingly small details can make a big difference.
I can tell you from personal experience with my own horses that it’s not always easy to say: I don’t think that’s what’s going on. It doesn’t make sense. We need to keep digging. I had to do it with both my horses. It really does require big girl pants sometimes. But in the end, you are the one who bears the responsibility for the well-being of your horse, not just financially, but also emotionally and mentally.
If it doesn’t feel right, if you still have questions, keep asking!
Ask as many questions as you need until you feel confident you have the right game plan. Do not be afraid – you are your horse’s advocate.
As for my own journey, I have always loved learning and ended up in a field where this love is actually a requirement! But no matter how much technical knowledge I put into my head, my gut feeling always gets a seat at the table when I make my final decision. And this is why assembling the right team is absolutely vital.