"I want to be the best in what I do but not to the detriment of my horse", said Laura Tomlinson, one of the UK's top dressage riders.
We wouldn't expect a top rider to say anything else, would we? However, when we remember everything that happened to Totilas, such an intention cannot be taken for granted.
Moreover horses - being flight animals - are masters in hiding pain. So we as horse owners are required to really want to listen to our horse.
1. Equine Health
The Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) - practised in almost every part of the world - is probably the most powerful tool in assessing equine health. In addition problems can be eliminated way before they show themselves as an illness. Top riders like Ingrid Klimke have recognised this fact.
Experts on equine behaviour have pointed out long ago that it is a problem for a flight animal to be confined to a small area such as a stable.
Furthermore we now know the impact of stress on autoimmune and cushings diseases in horses. Apart from providing horses access to pasture or paddock for free movement if possible with horse friends, the following issues should be considered:
- Correct horseback-riding that puts subtleness and rythm and core building first
- Calm and relaxed handling of the horse: This is not always easy to achieve but if you make it your intention every day it becomes possible. Horses can read us like a book, so when your horse explodes, look within. A fairly easy tool to learn is the Masterson Method which can help you and your horse to become more relaxed. The Masterson Method can also improve your connection with your horse and alleviate pain and body soreness.
- Selecting the right environment for your horse. In livery yards where there is a lot of disharmony between people the horses pick this up and depending on their nature this can make them ill.
- Understanding your horse: Understanding the horse's needs and problems. For example the horse needs security but some horses need it more than others. Or some horses cannot cope well with new surroundings and others can. Check out on understanding your horses better with the 5 horse types in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine.
2. Moving and Exercise
"Don't ask what the horse can do for you, but ask what you can do for your horse", says Chris Irwin, a famous Canadian horse trainer.
One thing to do is to provide access to free movement with other horses on a paddock or pastures as many hours in the day as possible. The other thing to do is appropriate exercise.
a) Equestrian Sport
Which sport is your favourite? Which sport suits your horse best? If you can find a discipline that suits both of you, horse-riding can
truly be joy and happiness not forgetting: Daily practice does the job. That sometimes means to start out on a road not knowing how
long it is going to take to achieve a certain goal, because every horse is different. Horse training should always be transformative.
Different horses need different approaches. In the book "The rider forms the horse" by Dr. Udo Bürger and Otto Zietschmann this is
explained in detail. Nowadays more emphasis is placed on core strengthening. The conditioning method of the Vicomte Simon
Cocozza makes professional training feasible for the amateur rider. His book is going to be available in July 2019.
b) Horseback-riding for leisure
"I only do horse-riding for leisure and none of the above applies to me" - From my own experience this is not true. Whichever form
of horse-riding we practise, the strengthening of the back of the horse must be our primary concern. We all know that horses
were not designed by nature to carry a human on their back. So they must be worked in a way, that enables them to carry us
without any problems.
I bought this Haflinger gelding as a 13-year old. He had always only been ridden in a leisurely way, most of the time "just" going for a hack.
What only seemed to be a saddle issue turned out to be Kissing Spine Syndrome with subsequent damage to the stifle and sacroiliac joints.
I managed to improve the back to such a level that he became a reliable horse for hacking and basic level dressage for many years. By chance I had discovered a book of Mary Wanless and her "Ride With Your Mind" method. It not only completely changed my way of horseback riding, it also saved the life of this gelding, whose father Merlin had actually been succussful up to intermediate level dressage.
"Progress equals happiness", says Tony Robbins, world-famous speaker and coach. Personally I couldn't agree more especially when it comes down to training a horse and horseback-riding.
3. Nutrition and Environment
The intake of the horse through mouth and nose also has a huge impact on its wellbeing.
Only after decades of horse keeping and running a livery yard I have realised that there are huge differences in pastures. It starts with the management of pastures: How well are they cleaned? What type of fertilizer is used if any? Which grass grows there? Which weeds? Which trees are in the vicinity?
Every pasture is different. A horse that has always been on one pasture may never have had a problem and then moving to another pasture and stable suddenly gets laminitis. Other horses can take changes in pastures and hay without any problems.
Hay for Horses
For years and years I had been able to buy hay from a mountain area and my horses never had any health problems such a metabilic disorders, lung diseases or bowel problems. Then we had the first long draught in Germany in 2011 which completely disrupted the harvest. Subsequently the hay market changed and I had to buy hay from local farmers which sold hay to horse owners that they didn't need for their cows.
Water for Horses
The impact on your horse's health from low quality water/water supplies can be profound but also so subtle that it may take a long time until it is determined. For example high nitrate levels in water can cause bad hoof quality, making nailing impossible. Contamination of well water with heavy metals or nano particles from fertilizers and pesticides can cause long term damage in the horse's kidney and liver also resulting in metabolic diseases and laminitis. Pathogenic germs for example due to using too much liquid manure for fertilizing will be absorbed into the well water and may cause chronic diarrhea. So make sure the owner of the livery yard has the water checked on a regular basis.
Good air for the horse or the air the horse breathes is basically affected by 3 factors:
1. The air in the barn where the horse is stabled. Large doors and/or windows for air circulation are necessary in addition to high ceilings.
2. The bedding the horse sleeps on because if this is mouldy the horse breathes the mould in which can immediately cause respiratory diseases.
3. Hay: As the horse is a so-called selective eater, it likes to rifle through the hay with its nose to find the most delicious hay stalks and in the process of doing so, it breathes in any dust or mould from the hay. So again you need to ensure good quality hay.
4. Learning from old "Horse People"
There is a saying in German : "With horses you never stop learning". There is another one "the best riding instructor is your horse". I have found over the years, that every horse is different and gives me an opportunity to learn, grow and evolve. I have had some good teachers on the way and when I write teachers, I do not only mean people, I also mean horses. Two of them have been Wellington, called Welli and his owner Derek Maidment:
Welli taught me, after having been 10 years in the saddle at that time, the joy of horseriding. In other words, what it feels like, when rider and horse have fun together.
Derek sent me a sheet of paper, which I tried to upload as a pdf for download, but didn't manage, so I have just scanned it: