First of all, let me apologize for my absence from the blog last month. My schedule just exploded last month and getting blog posts done just fell through the cracks. With that said, let me also warn everyone that the subject of today's post is a bit of a rant on my part.
It should be no surprise to anyone you knows me or anyone who has read my blogs in the past, that I am very passionate about safeguarding the well-being and health of horses. If anyone decides that they should take on the challenge and HUGE responsibility of owning a horse, then they must always make decisions based in the best interest of the horse. If you can't do that, if you don't want to make sacrifices, both personally and financially, in order to put the horse's well-being first and foremost, THEN DON'T OWN A HORSE! It is that simple to me although I do acknowledge that decisions with horses are rarely black and white.
As Laura and I know, (and anyone who has competed extensively) that neglect, overuse and abuse happens far too frequently in the interest of winning. Everyone likes to win, me included, but it should never be done at the sacrifice of a horse's health and happiness. Recently, I have enjoyed reading Laura's posts about her life with horses and her choice to no longer compete but to instill and share her passion for horses with her son. To me, that trumps all the competitions on the planet and makes what life she provides for her horses and her son better then even the highest level of rider.
Why can't that premise be so simple to others? Now obviously, as a trainer, coach and professional rider, my life revolves around horse shows but I would never risk a horse's health or soundness to make a competition. In addition to my training and teaching business, I provide Equine Rehab services to horse's recovering from leg injuries and/or post surgery. This side business was born out of acquiring therapeutic equipment and the expertise over the years treating injuries on my own horse's and client's horses. So in my barn I have a Game Ready (ice/cold compression machine), a TheraPlate (a vibration plate), a RevitaVet (Ultraviolet Light Therapy), and a magnetic blanket. In addition one of the vets I work with has a Cold Laser, an Equipulse (Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field Therapy). All of this equipment is designed to aid various types of injuries in healing thoroughly and as quickly as possible, but nothing can replace the importance of time and patience.
Like any athlete, injuries with the equine athlete are not a matter of if, but when. Much of the therapeutic equipment that I have is as much for preventive as it is for rehab. When horses come in from other owners, especially if they are new to my program, the vets and I always explain the importance of giving the horse as much time off as recommended and a slow and progressive reintroduction to work. Like people, every horse recovers at there own pace. Simple, right??
So several months back I had a horse come in for rehab with a significant soft tissue injury to a ligament in the foot. These injuries are tricky to heal because 1) the only way to definitively diagnose them is a MRI (which are not cheap) and 2) since the hoof is always in use and under pressure, it is hard to get them to heal completely and hard to tell when they are completely healed without the expense of a second MRI. I have actually had pretty good success getting these injuries to heal when owners give me the time and follow a thorough rehab protocol and a patient and gradual reconditioning program. It is not uncommon for this process to take well over a year, depending on the severity of the initial injury.
When this horse came in, I made all of my usual explanations to the owner which was echoed by the vets. This person was told to be patient, keep the horse, which is younger and full of energy, on calmatives of some sort and to hand-walk and utilize other therapies before even thinking about being under saddle again. The time frame for all of this was a minimum of 9 to 12 months, if not 18. One of the hardest parts of post injury rehab is getting the horse to remain quiet. Often they feel good except for the leg injury and often forget themselves and get fractious either in their corral or hand walking. Although I am generally conservative when it comes to the use of pharmaceuticals, in this case I am a proponent of the long acting tranquilizers available these days because you don't want the long months of recovery to become a danger to the horse or to the handler. All of this was vehemently expressed to this owner.
This horse came into my place for a few weeks of rehab to get the inflammation down quickly and jump start the rehab for the owner. The use of all of this expensive equipment and the time it takes is not a cheap scenario for the owner. Although my charges are very competitive compared to bigger rehab facilities, it is still a significant cost to the owner as well as an investment in time and energy for me and/or my staff. I am happy to work with owners to make it as affordable as possible and let them decide what works for them within their financial means. In this case, the owner felt that she could continue the horses rehab at home, so she was given as much guidance as I could and was told that at the end of the day, the horse had to be kept quiet and given ample time for the injury to properly heal. Simple right????!
Well a week ago I got word that barely six months after this horse was at facility, this owner is back riding her horse - at walk, trot and canter - and the horse is clearly still lame. When the friend of mine called to tell me this I, at first, just wanted to scream and second, just had to resign myself to the fact the this poor horse is probably doomed to a life of unsoundness because her owner cares more about being able to ride the horse then the horse's long term comfort and soundness. I am equally frustrated and disgusted but what do I do?? It certainly would not be appropriate for me to confront the owner because technically it is none of my business. But what would you do??? I see this kind of thing all the time in varying circumstances and the extent of human ignorance never ceases to amaze me and it is always the innocent animal the suffers.
Other than calming myself with several adult beverages and thoughts of justifiable homicide, any suggestions????
To end on a happier note, my beloved Dressage horse Uiver is doing fabulously and has in fact figured out Piaffe, one of the harder movements required for his step up to Intermediare II and then Grand Prix. He is very proud of himself these days and now tries to Piaffe half the time when I ask him for something basic like a canter transition. It is almost like he is saying "Lookie, Mom, Look what I know how to do!"