I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with my vet yesterday as she did routine dentals on every horse on the farm. We believe in prevention here; dentals are done every 6 months – sometimes this means nothing more than a tiny point removed with a hand tool; sometimes that means for an older horse or one whose mouth has not been cared for properly his whole life quite a bit more work to keep things comfortable. After their teeth get done they are chiropractically adjusted within a week or so to realign their necks, jaw and poll as well as an entire body check.
Why do we keep the horses on such a strict schedule? Because like most flight or fight animals, horses will hide symptoms of pain in order to not appear vulnerable. What that means as a rider is that your horse might act perfectly normal on the ground and then when you bridle him, engage in all sorts of evasive behaviours that appear to be related to any number of things. This is just one example; saddle fit can provoke the same issues, as can orthopedic and soft tissue issues. The point is that eliminating anything that could be an issue BEFORE it becomes an issue makes for.. a happy horse.
We had some time to talk after her work was done and she expressed to me a dismay over the lost art of horsemanship. We talked about what it means for a horse to be happy; and how when people put their desires and ambitions over the happiness of their horse how they are set up to fail because an unhappy horse will never perform for you. He will never trust you, he will never be willing to partner with you. You must begin where they are, do the important physical and mental work and always put their welfare first.
They are, after all, horses. Not people.
What are the signs of a happy horse? One comment she made was she wants to see them head down and eating or resting. This is an interesting point because when a horse is high headed and animated, he is experiencing adrenaline flow and this is counterproductive to relaxation, which is where all good work with horses begins. This lead to a discussion about turnout and how so much unwanted behavior in horses results from them not being in a natural setting that allows them to develop relationships with other horses and to wander about for hours a day, building inherent fitness into tendons and ligaments.
If you are new to the idea of tending to your horses needs in a comprehensive way, you are not alone. I am old enough to remember when horse keeping and care was either what was called “backyard” or they were in a “program”. Now we have a lot of variety in between and that is a good thing – people want to keep their horses at home AND learn how to give them the best possible care. At one time you could only get that from putting your horse in a program with a barn manager and a a trainer and grooms who did all that work for you. Now you CAN learn to do it yourself. Do you want to commit to having a happy horse? Think about it. If your horse is happy you can build on that and achieve just about anything. If your horse is NOT happy you will struggle in ways that are only not acceptable, but were avoidable. If you want help getting to happy, contact me.