“But I bought the horse to do competition /to do shows”. “He is supposed to be a riding horse, not one for only ground work or lungeing.”
Frankly, I hear sentences like this every now and then. This is when I normally get very quiet and, to be honest, a little mad. Because I realize that, despite all my efforts, I am not going to be able to help this particular horse: If I would do what has to be done, and say what has to be said, it would be too inconvenient for this type of rider. He is more likely to chance trainers than to really deal with the problem. This is the sad truth and there is nothing I can do about it. Some people simply are like this. Poor horses.
To point out more clearly what I mean, I show you here some pictures of my clients’ horses.
All of them have significant medical/bodily issues – actually like a lot of horses out there, if you’d look at them close enough.
What separates these particular ones from others is that someone really cared enough about them to listen to a professional – even though this means not riding for quite a long time, a lot of bills from the vet and working hard on yourself – in terms of mind and body.
It also means the struggle of finding a really good veterinarian, capable of doing proper lameness diagnosis etc. Not as easy as it sounds! We met a lot of vets and trainers who were not able to see if a horse is lame. And who could not interpret xrays in a very differentiated, detailed way. For many owners, this is just perfect: The vet sais, the horse is fine… so, no need to make a fuss!
If the owners of the pictured horses would have been like this, their horses would still be suffering. So, what did they do instead? After a good thorough exam (with xrays!) they worked with the help of their trainers through a step by step routine in order to give their horses the chance to develop physically and mentally and become the best version possible of themselves. This is teamwork, yes! And what is absolutely crucial for this is, that I can feel the commitment of the owner to put his horse first, and not his own needs. Always. Without any excuse. This is asking too much? Then we are not the right trainers for you, I am sorry. We are absolutely and deeply committed to teaching the principles of classical dressage and apply them to help especially the weak or not so talented horses with issues and problems.
Is it really so hard to stay away of your horses back for a while? Is it so unbearable to listen to your horse, to postpone your own needs, until your horse feels better? True love for horses means doing everything for them – including to forego riding.
Of course we cannot promise that this approach will make your horse learn serial changes or whatever you are dreaming of. But what we can promise is, that you will learn to practice the real art of riding. To apply dressage for the benefit of the horse. I like to prepare my clients for the worst and then, piece by piece, surprise them with some magical moments that only happen when horses start to feel good about themselves and know, that their voices are being heard. But the beginning of this kind of work is always going to be lengthy and tough – I am honest about that.
Most of the people I coach are amateurs, not riding for a living. But what I see in the professionals’ world it is not better either. I see riders being selfish, ignoring that their horses obviously are in pain (running, jumping or exploding) and having absolutely no clue about their own true abilities. Often they are lacking training themselves, but try to hide this by playing down problems or blaming the horse for his behavior.
The owners of the horses on the pics all were having lessons with classical dressage trainers. One horse put the tongue over the bit during the lesson (the trainer said, let’s leave him like that, it’s fine), another with massive metabolic issues and painful bone cysts in the front legs was judged to be simply lazy – just needed to be woken up with spurs and whip (yes, we are still talking about the top of the top classical dressage trainers!). The third horse, a beautiful, very sensitive mare who on bad days cannot even reach the bottom feeder to eat, was trained like she were completely fine: Her trainers simply completely ignored all of her health issues.
This topic is very complex. It needs a lot of intention to details and a team of people that really care and know about their job. The minute you ask and rely on the wrong ones, the whole picture can and will change.
Of course: An xray is just an xray and the clinical analysis is utterly important. Without the clinical picture you cannot properly say if it causes problems or not. But learn to trust your intuition! If you think your horse is not moving well, there is a good chance that you are right! Be persistent and make sure you find a professional that can help you through this. If you are starting to work with a new trainer and he wants to see xrays, it only shows that he cares and probably is aware of something in the way your horse moves that needs clarification. Dealing with muscle issues you will have to work through sometimes a tremendous amount of soreness but the minute you put our your weight on top of the horse it is absolutely crucial that you know what you are dealing with – otherwise it’s simply not fair.
Always keep in mind: In these days we have the priviledge to keep horses for fun.
So put your horse first and your own needs second.
Invest in educating yourself.
Be patient – training a horse is a very long process.
Our horses don’t owe us anything.