A Hunter Rider's Resolutions
While ringing in 2014 with a New Year's Day hack on both my horses, I got to thinking about the year ahead. I'm thrilled that both Hannah and Lily are healthy and happy, but there are still things the three of us can improve upon--be it horse care or competition-related. So like my colleague Erica, I've thrown together my list of equine resolutions for the new year, with a performance horse flair.
Longeing Hannah in a surcingle during rehab helped not only to build her strength but also to shed the pounds.
Photo: Alexandra Beckstett
Maintain Hannah's body condition
I've always struggled to keep the pounds off gets-fat-on-air Hannah. She's by far the easiest keeper I've ever owned, which I'm learning is both a blessing and a curse. The collection of health conditions tied to obesity in horses is pretty scary, and words like "founder," "insulin resistance," and "arthritis" always run through my head anytime Hannah's not quite herself.
I'm happy to say, though, that Hannah is currently in some of the best shape she's ever been in (Okay, so she could still stand to lose a few), thanks to the consistent diet and exercise program we've adhered to over the past six months of injury rehab. My biggest challenge now, especially come spring, is keeping her that way. Hannah sure looks cute all round and cresty, but that weight won't be doing her joints any favors once she starts jumping courses.
Build Lily's fitness
An equine chiropractor told me recently that 9-year-old Lily has "the teeth of a young horse but the body of an old horse," and I have to say it's kind of true. Some days she just feels slow and stiff. She moves, jumps, and behaves her best, however, when she's super-fit. This means serious flatwork six days a week--an area where I know I've become lax lately. Show season ended back at the beginning of November and won't pick up again (for me, at least) until February or March. So a lack of constant motivation to keep my horse in top shape coupled with holidays and vacations has resulted in lost muscle tone and stamina for Lily. I like to tell myself I'm giving her a bit of a holiday rest too, but it's going to make it that much harder to get her back to form.
By paying attention to foot problems promptly, I can hopefully avoid bigger issues down the road.
Photo: Alexandra Beckstett
Pay closer attention to my horses' feet
Despite having sat through close to one hundred laminitis and hoof disease-related veterinary conference presentations for The Horse, I still sometimes ignore the early signs of issues with my horses' hooves. Maybe if I forget about that brewing thrush or creeping hoof crack, it will go away. I know I will only end up spending more time and effort trying to fix the problem if I postpone it, but sometimes I still put off calling my farrier or buying that antifungal until the weekend for the sake of convenience. I also no longer board at a facility that has the staff to tend to my horses 24/7 if I'm unable to do it myself, so that in and of itself has changed the way I approach Lily and Hannah's care.
Re-evaluate the tack I use
If you kept pace with our International Society for Equitation Science conference coverage back in July 2013, you know we learned not only about communicating and working with our horses, but also about the equipment and training aids we use to do so. What hit home hardest with me were the study results on noseband tightness and head-neck positions. This research and that of others have made me question the tack and equipment I use with my horses.
For instance, when I bought Lily she came with a strong bit and a crank noseband. I assumed she needed these for a reason, but once I started experimenting with bits and bridles, I discovered she's a much more pleasant ride in a simple rubber snaffle and noseband.
This year I aim to re-evaluate the training aids I use based on science. From noseband tightness, draw reins, and bit type to saddle pads, saddle fit, and rein tension, I want to make sure what I'm using and doing is not just "because it's what my trainer or I have always done" but because it's what's best for my horse.
Enjoy the ride
I realize that in years past, I've been so fixated on bringing young horses along or buying and selling that I've forgotten to focus on myself. When you bring business into the equation, you inevitably take some of the fun out of the game. Sure, I'll probably sell Hannah or Lily eventually, but this year I want to have as much fun as possible in the saddle and the show ring without worrying about things like sale videos or which big-name trainer might be watching my horse's round.
Happy 2014! What are your equine New Year's goals or resolutions?