Lessons from My Horses
When I look back on my riding and horse ownership career, I am largely satisfied. I competed very successfully with my hunter/jumper/event all around horse, Russell R. to the tune of over 150 grand and reserve championships with many many first place finishes. My years with PJ's Folly took me to Intermediare I, with mixed success, but I got there, as I did with Toby. My competitions with Tucker were somewhat spotty with victories here and there, but far more failures, all of which taught me more than any trophy I could have ever won. I've ridden with international trainers from nearly every corner of the world, and benefited from hours of their expertise and critique.
Gee, do I wish I knew then what I know now.
First and foremost is the concept of a treeless saddle. My Russell, despite his phenomenal success in the hunter jumper world, always proved less of a winner in the dressage arena. He did compete through third level and won many an event based on his dressage scores, but the curious thing was, he always went far better when I rode him bareback. Bareback, he would round his back and simply go "on the bit" with no effort on my part. I am totally convinced he would have loved working in my Ansur and could have been a star all the time working treeless. I got the Ansur many years after he passed away, and did get to ride PJ in it, but I never competed him in that saddle either. I have a feeling his show arena performances would also have been so much better without a tree to interfere with his incredible trot and perhaps even his more difficult canter.
But PJ's performance in competition leads me to the another thing I wish I'd known about--ulcers. PJ was the obvious candidate. He was erratic from day to day in his work and under the stress of a show, more often than not proved a tricky ride. He had a ton of talent, but it was so hard to bring it out when we needed it before a judge. PJ was a perfectionist, and a worrier. I to totally convinced a good part of his attitude was due to ulcers. But, back then, I'm not even sure many horsemen, much less vets I knew, ever even talked about that. It wasn't until I got Tucker and Patrice Edwards, a trainer from Britain, told me he was suffering from ulcers based upon his behavior that I discovered how common they were in performance horses.
I'm pretty well convinced Toby started cribbing as a a symptom of ulcers too, considering the long story behind his vice. I've treated him since, but at this point the habit is so ingrained, there's no stopping him. At least I feel a little confident that he feels OK internally. It would have been nice to have been able to give PJ that gift too.
I did give PJ the gift of acupuncture and chiropractic, however. He was lucky that way as I owned him when equine acupuncture was just starting. The vet who treated him has since gone on to a well respected career--no names here as there were some issues surrounding alternative medicine at that time. In fact, the small animal vet who owned the farm where I boarded refused to let a chiropractor work on a horse on his property, so the owner and chiropractor went out into an adjacent field for the adjustments.
I've since used both treatments on Toby and Tucker as well and know how much they can change a horse's behavior. A joint slipped out of place or a sore muscle can be painful, as we all know. Now add the bulk of a horse's body and our expectations for athletic performances and it often ends in training nightmares. There are plenty of stoic horses out there that just keep on going no matter what, but I feel a lot better knowing mine don't have to.
Russell R. was on the "cutting edge" of the discovery of glucosamine as a joint supplement. I had a perna mussel powder imported from, I think, Australia or New Zealand. He also was treated with Isoxsuprine for navicular in the first years it was discovered to be of value. In both cases, I knew then what I know now, so for a "first horse" he did OK.
I am sure as years go on, there will be more and more discoveries to help our horses and us become sounder, happier athletes. Perhaps there will be a cure for laminitis and a guarantee against colic. Someone might discover a fly spray that really works, or a bit that puts a horse into a Grand Prix frame with no pain and total comfort while still allowing him to develop his muscles properly. Maybe someone will find a way to give riders perfectly balanced seats, educated hands, and instant sensibility to our horse's responses.
I wish I knew then, what I know now, and I rather imagine that ten years from now, I'll be saying the same thing.