My first real appreciation for how truly athletic horses can be occurred when I was about 9 years old. That was when my cantankerous 12-hand pony Millie began showing off her acrobatic side, pulling all sorts of stunts to unseat me. ("You don't think I would try jump out of the ring rather than over this cross-rail? Watch me.") Some days she was more successful than others.

My appreciation for how much effort and care it takes to keep an equine athlete healthy and at the top of his game, however, didn't develop until I was in my teens. To get through a rigorous competition schedule sans injury, my horses needed to be incredibly fit, fed high-quality feed and supplements, receive first-rate farrier care, and undergo routine veterinary exams and maintenance. And despite my trainer-vet-farrier-family team's best efforts, year-end goals and dreams of qualifying for national shows were sometimes spoiled by bouts of lameness. I learned that with pushing a horse to his athletic limits comes this risk and others.

I've learned that with pushing horses to their athletic limits comes the risk of injury.

Photo: Courtesy Alexandra Beckstett/Anne Gittins

My level of involvement in the sport horse world has waxed and waned over the years as I've focused on various other things (college, Warmblood breeding, career ...), but I'm currently getting back into the A-circuit groove, campaigning a few young hunters and jumpers as time and money permits. And I'm learning that while these athletes still need specialized care, sports medicine has advanced some since my teens. Certain veterinary technologies are now trendier than others, and it seems trainers and vets are always coming up with new "tricks" to give a horse that much more of a competitive edge. Last year was the first I'd spent competing in the winter sport horse land known as Wellington, Fla., while my summer show base is the Kentucky Horse Park. Behind the scenes I've watched some of the industry's elite horses receive impeccable veterinary care, but I've also seen things that make me cringe.

In this blog I hope to explore with you and my veterinary sources the ins and outs of performance horse care--from the good to the controversial. While my personal experience is limited to English horse sports, the information you'll gather here from the vets and trainers I've worked with can apply to performance athletes of all breeds and disciplines. Our collective goal at the end of the day, after all, is a sound, happy competitor.

What sport horse health topics are of most importance or concern to you?