It’s almost spring now, and for me that’s almost sad because it means the bitter end of foxhunting season. Our hunt ball is now in the rearview mirror and all the fun and partying signifies the end of a mixed season. Hunting was spectacular around the holidays this year, but was tempered by the evil February and March that Mother Nature threw at us. I spent nearly a month out of the saddle and I think that’s the longest I’ve gone without riding since I was in my mid-twenties fresh out of college and working in my first position with a big company in California.
I didn’t go long, as I recall, without finding a Thoroughbred mare to ride and began my eventing journey, as the stables I boarded at were eventing-oriented. Even back then, being as naive a rider as I was, I still recall going out to the stable to try the mare. They took her out and tacked her up, rode her, first on the flat and then jumped her for me to see, and then I got on her and rode her and jumped her. That was it. I came back I think and tried her again another day shortly thereafter and took her on. It was that simple.
She wasn’t perfect. I remember she didn’t want to load in the borrowed trailer, and I think she had a tying problem, but I learned to work with her on that. Also, she lost weight with moving, and tended to run her fence if she didn’t have a buddy, but she was a good mover and jumper and had done some showing and was pretty sound. I never let the drawbacks worry me, stayed focused on this new sport I began to really enjoy, and the rest is history.
This lead me to think about the way people buy horses today and how they expect horses to act on trial when they go to purchase. If I were acting like many people today who buy a horse, she probably would have failed a 30-day trial for all those little negative things she did. But back then, at the end of 30 days with me, I think I took her to a dressage show and got a couple of good ribbons against a whole day full of warmbloods. Trials are not really a way to see if a horse will fit into the little boxed picture of what you want in a horse. I think trials are just that – trials – tests, an examination that is set up to give people an easy way out to say, “Well, this one isn’t perfect so I don’t want it.” I have grave reservations about trials with flesh and blood animals who have feelings and are hardwired to be cautious in new surroundings. That very instinctive caution sometimes makes a prospective purchaser think a horse is chicken, spooky, nervous, or unsuited to the job, and I think the horse is just being a horse. In addition, I think people want a trial period because they aren’t sure if the horse is right – and that is because they don’t know what they want. I spend time with new horses. I watch them eat and sit on a trunk in the barn with them and just hang out. I want to know them as a friend and not just a lesson vehicle. Have we lost that essential component in the rider-horse relationship today? Are modern riders just too busy to stay in the barn longerthan a 40 – minute hack requires? Is that why trials have become such an issue today among those looking for a new horse? I think perhaps it is the reason, and that’s sad because I’m of the opinion that trials are not always the right thing for the horse.
Speaking of right things for horses, some of the questions about feeding that I read on the social media groups and boards make me want to scream, cry, hit someone in the head with a shovel or bang my head through a wall. It is so frustrating to hear someone continually promote a commercial horsefeed brand (pick any brand) as the answer to nearly every skinny horse question. There is no way anyone on the internet can diagnose your horse’s nutritional needs from a one paragraph message posted by an owner who has no clue what a horse needs to eat on a daily basis to thrive. And the sad thing is, the internet has a wealth of superb nutritional information out there for horses and some of it is easily read and understood. It’s a Google click away, yet the 100-response threads still get the completely ignorant feeding advice scrolling on for days and days. The horse is the one that truly suffers. Folks, let me tell you: when my horses loose weight, I’m the first to know, and I am constantly – CONSTANTLY – changing my feed program depending upon the horse’s needs and work schedule and time of year, weather, pasture conditions, etc. I check their condition every day. Every day. I watch them eat and spend time in the barn at feed time to see how they eat. If your horse isn’t in the condition you’d like, don’t post it on Facebook. Watch your horse eat, check his feed, talk to your board barn manager, research equine nutrition. Don’t make me bang my head on the wall!
So spring is on its way and that means the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is just about four weeks away. I’ve already got my tickets in the mail and the money has been paid for the hotel, the seating, and the travel there. That old feeling when you get that envelope in the mailbox always comes right back instantly! Now it’s time to check the www.rk3de.org website almost daily and the content begins to grow, the list of riders gets longer every day and with each foreign entry you can almost hear everyone sighing all over America – ooh, look who’s coming! So don’t fear, we’ll have a Rolex anticipation post coming soon as well as a Rolex preview. Who’s willing to predict a winner this year? Not me! The entry list is formidable so predictions are going to be tough. Stay tuned! Spring is coming!