Disclaimer: I wrote this based on a healthy horse, a horse with no medical condition, a horse who is perfectly well and able. Just a few thoughts I had to get off my chest.
What are we doing to our horses?
After much thought and after having a considerable reservation about making this thread, I must ask 'what are we doing to our horses?'.
An observation of mine is, and has made me question my own horsemanship, are we over-analyzing and micro-managing our horses, their diets, their exercise, their everything?
I am not an over analyzer, nor a micromanager. I'd like to think everything I do with my horse is common sense. Common sense feed, common sense exercise and common sense housing. Good horse husbandry. I'm certainly not an expert in any equine field, in fact I have quite a broad knowledge base, but certainly not an expert trainer, expert equine nutritionist etc etc.
Feeding your horse:
It seems nowadays a person needs to have a Bachelors in veterinary science to understand how a horses stomach can digest all these fan-dangle feeds that are on the market. I believe many horse people are over supplementing horses through fear and ignorance, they don't understand how a horses gut works (I'm a bit rusty too) so they 'just give em everything' 'cover all the bases'.........what we are doing is treating the invisible disease called 'fear'. Fear that our horses are going to develop an awful disease because we didn't feed 'enough' supplement......do you actually know what you are feeding? Really really know?
I enjoy simple routines of feeding. Feed what YOU KNOW they need - Not what YOU THINK they need....not what the fear inside is telling you to feed, find out for yourself, get educated. What's more important for you to decide? What supplement to feed or how nutritionally whole and balanced your horses diet is?
Over supplementing can be costly and toxic to your horse. Why are so many people adding extras to their horses diet BEFORE the horse may need it? Yes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.....but what is it that you are trying to prevent? Do you know?
A good example is ulcers.....'my horse has ulcers, that's why he's acting up, so now he's getting all these special expensive medications and supplements'.....was your horse ever scoped for ulcers? Did the veterinarian confirm ulcers by examination with a scope? Many times we change the diet, medicate and over supplement the ulcer afflicted horse, but don't change anything else.......which takes us to exercise...
Healthy exercise or micromanaged movement?
Ok, so now we've assaulted our horses gut with more supplements than it could possibly need.......lets move on to exercise....
Do you ride your horse in a sympathetic way? When I say this, I mean in a way that's beneficial to the horse? Do you ride in such a way as to not sore or sour your horse?
Are you fiddling around with your horse and nagging your horse all the time? Are you working for a whole week on ONE thing, because in your mind you must at all costs do it right before you move on? If you are, then you're doing something wrong. I by no means am a trainer, nor a professional rider, however I do know how to recognize when to quit, when to press on and when to reward. Do you give your horse an opportunity to work outside of the arena?
Do you stop and let your horse rest when he has performed well?
Do you let your horse relax? Ever?
Are you always jamming your horse into a frame?
Quit nitpicking.....no one enjoys it or learns from it.
How are YOU benefiting your horse while riding? Not how is YOUR HORSE benefiting you?.
Are you so focused on micromanaging every inch of your horses body that he has become a robot for you or is throwing unexplained tantrums or refuses to enter the arena?
Ride within the physical limitations of your horse. If you don't you will only have a sore sour horse. Side reins will not fix all your 'my horse is a giraffe stargazer' issues.......some horses are just not cut out for the job at hand, recognize this. Tack will only assist you, it won't completely 'fix' your horse.
Riding in a sympathetic way is to ride in a way that is beneficial to the horse.....the horse should finish the ride in better condition than when he started, mentally and physically. Improve your horse, don't defeat your horse. Be direct as you would with a child, you wouldn't nitpick a child for an hour to do something while talking in a foreign language and expect the child to understand, and then punish the child for not understanding you - why would a horse do any better?
Being a sympathetic rider can increase your horses over all well being......he can be happy is in his job, willing and trustworthy.
And when you're done riding do you return him to his 24/7 stall or to his part time paddock or his pasture with his other horse friends? This brings us to environment....
How is your horsey 'hellsing'?
What a life, inside a 12x12' stall, 23 hours a day.....'just had an hour out of the stall being raced around the arena......don't know when I will go outside again'. If your horse could talk would he say that? Are you afraid to turn your horse out? Why? Because he might get hurt? Because he runs around and might slip over?
Yet you will continue to have him standing in a stall, in a dusty, humid, moldy, ammonia filled barn........you do this in Winter because 'well it's cold outside and he might get sick, or he might slip over'.......you also leave him inside all Fall because someone told you 'horses colic when they drink cold water'......you also leave him inside during Spring because 'its muddy and he might slip or get mud fever'.....or even more selfish 'he might roll and it takes forever to brush him'.
This occurrence of horses standing in stalls all day in poor quality air is all too common. I know of a horse who although given the basic requirements of life, shelter, food, water......stood in his stall for over two weeks without being turned out, he was not sick, he was ignored. These periods of confinement without adequate access to regular exercise continues for this horse and others in barns all over.
Oh I'm guilty of having my horse in a stall for a day max, cooped up, poor air quality etc etc......I recognized this was not healthy for my horse and changed it in quick order. I recognized the risk of ulcers, colic, respiratory diseases.........
Do you work on the premise of convenience? Are you apathetic? Or are you micromanaging? Are you avoiding the POSSIBILITY of your horse getting hurt? When in all PROBABILITY your horse will be far healthier both physically and mentally spending sometime, if not all his time outside? When was the last time your has ran and bucked and got that kink out of his back? When was the last time he rolled in the mud?
I applaud the horse for being so resilient when we force upon him such an unnatural diet and lifestyle. I'm guilty of it too. Do you lay in bed at night toiling over how to 'fix' your horse? How to 'fix' his diet? Do we 'care' so much that we've forgotten the basic principals of good horse husbandry?
Don't get caught up in all the details....you will miss the big picture. Are we killing our horses with 'kindness' , have we forgotten how to feed? Are we better educated or do we just have more information to toil over?
I understand many of us have financial and time restrictions against us when it comes to caring for our horses. We do the best with what we have......
Listen to your horse......he speaks louder than you realize.