Do you listen to your horse? Really listen . . . while you’re grooming, tacking up, warming up? Or do you chat with friends, or mull over work or family problems, all the while going about the motions of grooming without any thought?
I enjoy the barn camaraderie, too, hearing the latest new twists in someone’s life or commiserating about a recent low score. But I also purposely pay attention to what my horse is doing. How she is behaving? Is she reacting normally or is something off?
I watch my horse for signs of pain or tenderness. Does she object to something she didn’t before? Did she act stiff when I picked out the rear right hind leg or flinch under my curry?
I inspect my saddle pad for debris before I put it on her back. I ensure that the saddle and bridle fit correctly, even though I rode her yesterday. If something’s not quite right, I want to notice it immediately to assess it and decide what to do, if anything.
Most horses won’t tell you they have an issue. Not outright anyway. They are amazingly accepting of every curve life throws at them. Even something as simple as a missed feed might cause a momentary “Hey, you forgot me!” nicker, but she’ll settle down pretty quickly and go eat hay. Horses are like that. If you gave everyone at the table a brownie and skipped me, I’d be sure to let you know!
But our equine friends are stoic, until they simply can’t hide the pain any longer. And even then the protest might be as mild as an odd buck when asked to canter. Maybe a refusal to canter at all. Can you just blow it off as misbehavior? Lots of people do.
It’s certainly possible that a reluctance to do something might be an attempt to avoid work. Some horses are lazy, just like some people. But, it could just as easily be the start of a problem.
And horses can have off days, too. A horse’s bad tooth usually isn’t noticed until the horse can no longer eat. Yet, we put a bit in that horse’s mouth every day. It’s not clear if a horse can experience an odd headache, as we do, but why not? They have heads.
I can’t count the number of days I’ve scrapped the day’s training schedule for a quiet, slow ride because something wasn’t quite right. Horses aren’t machines, but sometimes it’s for hard people to remember that.
It’s up to us, the “more intelligent” beings, to listen to our horses and interpret the signals that something’s wrong. We must look for the reason they suddenly begin to run-out or are difficult to get into the canter, not just immediately force them into it. Even if you can’t find a reason, write down the incident. Chances are, you’ll find the cause in due time, and that little bit of history might help.
Plus, because you took the time to check, you can rest assured that you listened and tried to help. And you treated your horse the way he deserves.
Cynthia Foley, Editor-in-Chief