I was shocked by the admission some months ago by two trainers, in an online chat room of about 20,000 people, to drugs they regularly give horses.
The first trainer explained that they routinely give horses Robaxin or dexamethasone with an NSAID to ”calm” their horses, commonly with magnesium sulfate. Magnesium sulfate has a strong cardiac effect in humans and was previously used as an anesthetic and as part of the euthanasia mixture for horses. Obviously, it’s a drug that can have a huge impact on a horse.
But the second trainer was absolutely a jaw-dropper: ”How practical is it to take a talented young horse that needs a little show ring prep — let’s say a longe & thiamine — and decide you’re going to go back to basics and 'train’ the wild out of him. Good luck. So what does this mean to you' Riding it more each day' Giving it more turn-out' Jumping it more' Taking it to shows without showing' So now you have a fit horse that is probably popping splints or developing ringbone from the amount of work you now have to do with it at home. And you’ve just spent thousands and thousands of dollars of the client’s money.”
First, these two tales are symptomatic of an American horse culture that’s become more about ”customer service” than about teaching clients to ride, train and care for horses.
Second, some trainers purchase horses unsuitable for their students’ abilities and goals. It’s often because the trainers are pressured to put the student on a horse who can win, and win quickly, but it just begins the cycle. The student has to pay more for training, which then justifies the trainer’s rationale: They’ve already spent so much money, and we can’t tell them they aren’t ready to show, so we need to drug the horse or they’ll leave.
The third issue is inadequate training for horse and rider. Some riders believe horses just are the way they are — that they won’t develop or change — and some trainers allow this misconception to exist. For me and most readers of Horse Journal, the joy and the challenge are in the training, in the molding of a young or green horse from a diamond in the rough into a reliable partner — no matter how long it takes.
The fourth issue is fear of fitness and training, because — so the misguided theory goes — fitness causes wildness and lameness. So these horses stand in their stalls for four days, and then on the weekend they get longed for 30 to 90 minutes and jump 50 fences. Then — isn’t this amazing' — on Monday they’re sore.
Those of us who believe in fitness and training and use minimal or no anti-inflammatory medications just shake our heads in amazement. Those who might see themselves caught up in this scenario should take a hard look at themselves, their horse and their trainer.