It’s been a really long time since I owned a new horse, and while I’m not a first-time horse owner, there’s been a lot to remember since I bought Miles in September. Some things remained second-nature during the time I leased, like grooming and riding schedules. And I definitely picked up a good habit or two, such as cleaning my tack more regularly. But some aspects of horse ownership… I almost forgot about. It sounds crazy, and a little stupid, but there is so much knowledge that one must acquire, and so many balls you have to juggle to keep everything working so you can actually go and ride.
Case in point, this winter Miles developed a really sour attitude. Of course my natural inclination is to conjure up some medical issue to become the culprit… like ulcers or arthritic hocks. But sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with a horse that you don’t know very well, it’s best to start with other options. And sometimes, all you really need is a critical look at how you’re managing your horse, and what you could change to make his life a little bit better.
Here are a few things I looked at when Miles was NQR in the head, and what ended up working for us. Sometimes it’s not a medical issue… sometimes it’s a management issue.
I believe that everything starts from the inside out. What is your horse being fed? Has his or her diet changed? Miles had been on the weight gain plan, and we deduced that 1 1/4 scoop of Purina Strategy might be too much for him. So I worked with my trainer and barn staff to cut Miles way back, and slowly increase to a more standard 3/4 scoop. Since then, I’ve been monitoring his weight closely to ensure he doesn’t lose any of those pounds we worked hard to gain in the first place. So far, so good!
Evaluate your riding schedule, and ask yourself if anything has changed that could precipitate your problem. One thing I noticed was that I only went out to the barn to ride… I never just spent a day grooming, hand grazing or just spending time with Miles. I bought a horse to have a connection, and I needed to take a step back and start building a friendship with my horse, not just a working relationship.
Horses are built to be outside, not live in a stall. But of course, for many that isn’t really a feasible option. Still, it’s good to recognize how much turnout your horse is receiving and ask yourself if its being utilized. Let me explain: Miles is boarded at a fabulous facility which turns out as much as possible… but we live in the North, and during the winter the weather is just to crummy for daily turnout sometimes. But beyond that, I noticed Miles just stood in his paddock and didn’t even walk around! So I got him a buddy to keep him moving, and ever since he sleeps in the crossties because he’s playing so much in turnout!
What do you use to ride, and does it fit? Maybe your horse hates the new bit you tried, or maybe you’re like me trying to make a lanky Thoroughbred cross fit into a Halter-Bred Quarter Horse’s saddle. Either way, take a good, hard look at your tack to ensure proper fit. It doesn’t sound fun to run a mile in shoes two sizes too big in a shirt two sizes too small.
Those are the four management issues Miles and I have faced so far… small things, sure, but they all culminated in an uphappy horse who decided he no longer wanted to do his job. But who can blame the guy? The last time my office ran out of Diet Pepsi, there was almost a mutiny… and I certainly wouldn’t be able to do my job very well if my laptop had a virus.
I expect a lot out of my horse, but it’s only fair to ensure that he is as happy and healthy as he can be in return.