Okay so I asked the other day on my Instagram about ideas of things to do/talk about... something that was highly requested was to talk about Zarry’s soundness issues 🤨
Now, I have already done an extensive blog on this, but in case you’ve not read, Zarry has a minor genetic issue that we discovered when he was 4yo that requires management. And has, more recently, had a soft tissue injury which has highlighted another conformational issue that will need managing going forward. That’s okay, he’s happy, we good, that’s what insurance is for... but it’s just an FYI so that the rest of what I say has some context!
Now, the reason for my quizzical face at the beginning is that, by total accident, a couple of those who asked about his lameness came off a little accusatory... e.g. “how can you ride him and know he’s happy if he has issues?” Or “don’t you feel like you’re doing more damage?” and after conversation about it, I know that wasn’t the intention so it’s all fine, but I wanted to put my own two cents in about the subject, as that’s what I do 🤷🏻♀️
So... those two cents being... that I truly believe we are all still ashamed when we have problems with our horses because we don’t think it’s allowed. We apologise for it and justify it to other people (both IRL and online) as there is this idea that, with the perfect management, perfect riding, no gadgets, or all the gadgets, this rug or not this rug, shoes or not shoes, this feed brand or that feed brand... that you can be a pinnacle owner with a perfectly sound horse for life. And I have to say, I think that’s a myth.
It is an unachievable goal that we as horse owners give ourselves and each other, and we try to pursue as if it’s achievable, and it can really have some sad effects on both people and their horses. It can stop people being willing to admit there’s an issue, ignoring a clear call for help from their horse, blaming themselves, wrecking their own confidence, wrecking their horses confidence in them, choosing wilful ignorance due to fear of judgement and ridicule for just trying to do the right thing. It’s so upsetting!
At the end of the day, there are just too many uncontrollable factors. Genetics, conformation, brain, body, upbringing, external impacts, training etc can all play a role in a horses soundness over its life. And that’s not even bringing into it that they are doing something wholly unnatural for us, so we can asking them to do something that their bodies are built inherently to withstand. Does that mean that we can’t look after our horses well, enjoy them and try to keep them as comfy and happy as possible? Not at all! But does it mean you should blame yourself if an issue does arise? Also no. And does it mean that, throughout their lives, they might need a helping hand? Definitely.
Now, one of my caveats always is there are ALWAYS exceptions. Yes, some people rag their horses, ignore their clear calls for help and are not doing the best for their horse. But that is not the case for most of the people I see, they are people who care dearly about their horses and only want the best for them. Sometimes people may need help, support and eduction in order to recognise and manage these things, but again... that’s totally ok! We’re not all vet/physio/chiro etc professionals, and even they don’t know everything and may need help or guidance every now and then! 🙈 I mean it’s a different issue if someone is being given this resource, support and education but choosing to ignore it... but in my experience, most people can be receptive if it’s communicated in the right way. And some aren’t, and those people never will be, so that’s fine.
As always, I like to put this into context of other things... so in this case I would say, do you know an athlete, at any level of a sport, who has never had to manage an issue with their body or had an injury? For example, golfers with back problems, footballers with knee and ankle issues, tennis players with elbow or hip problems... at every level of the sport. Some people are lucky, their body is put together well enough that they don’t routinely suffer issues in these common areas... but that doesn’t stop the effect or repetitive wear and tear, or the chance of external injury. I can’t think of any athlete that comes out of athletic career with a totally blank medical history?!
But my point is, we accept that. If you looked at a tennis player who had tennis elbow and needed a bit of cortisone steroid injected to bring down inflammation and allow you to rehab the joint, you wouldn’t think twice. You wouldn’t accuse that player of not looking after his elbow properly?! In fact, you’d applaud him for his comeback. Even if that was just due to the fact that nature decided his was an elbow that would get sore for no other reason than the way it was genetically put together 🤷🏻♀️
And yet... we don’t give horses, or ourselves, the same grace. We expect this mythical perfection and judge ourselves and each other when it’s not achieved.
So yes, I have a horse with issues. Does that mean I’m cruel? No. Did I cause them? No. Am I ashamed of them? No. Do I think he would be happy and comfortable in a field, not being ridden? I know for a fact the answer to that is no. But... Do I know that I do everything in my possible resources to ensure that my pony has the happiest life he can, which involves addressing and managing those issues for as long as he’s happy, educating myself on them and listening to my horse so we can enjoy riding and competing together for all the years we are comfortably able? 100% Yes.
So if you’re worried about your horse in your gut, I hope that helps. And even if you’re not, if you’re experiencing issues with them that you can’t overcome, I’d really recommend looking down this route to check there isn’t something underlying.
Just remember, having veterinary history on a horse is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I hope you can applaud yourself because that vet report means that you cared enough about your horse to look through the anxiety and judgement you could face, and just help your lil four legged pal when they needed it...