Horse riding is hugely popular, but not everyone has the facilities, finances, time, or space to keep horses on their own property; enter boarding facilities and training barns. These services allow greater access to horses for those who might not otherwise be able to keep one and while I’m all for increased participation, there is possibly a downside.
While someone may be able to ride, a lack of awareness and insight into the finer details of horse management can be lacking, and this to me is the distinction between being a true horseperson and simply being a rider. Now that many day-to-day tasks such as feeding, turnout, and mucking stalls is often turned over to others, there is a corresponding loss of many important skills beyond the ability to simply ride.
Often, I have seen riders arrive at the barn, collect their horse from its’ stall without a second glance, are busy socializing while grooming and then ride, and finish with a quick groom before putting their horse back in their stall, again without a second glance. If the ride went well, great but if not, where do they begin to look for answers? Often, they simply blame the horse for being “naughty” or “off” without any insight as to why.
An observant horseman notices even the smallest changes in horse behavior and habits, and seemingly insignificant information can build a picture if a horse is “a bit off”. Being aware of what is “normal” for a particular horse is invaluable, so that when things are not normal you can be on the alert for health or injury concerns. Horsemanship is built through intimate knowledge of all aspects of horse care, and if you are not taking part in day-to-day tasks, you may be missing out on a wealth of learning. Take for instance, stall cleaning. If we are not familiar with our horses’ stall habits, we may be missing a large part of the picture when it comes to their health and mental well-being.
For example, a particularly messy stall of a usually tidy horse may indicate disturbance in the barn overnight which could result in an anxious or extra alert horse that morning, or noticing hoof marks on the wall could indicate they may have been cast, allowing an increased vigilance for lameness. Unusually loose or decreased amount of manure may indicate a digestive upset, enabling quick action to prevent a worse situation developing and decreased water or feed consumption will alert to a potential serious issue. If you are not cleaning your horses stall, would you notice any of these things? Would barn staff notice and let you know?
While I am lucky to now have a stall cleaner much of the time, I have cleaned many stalls in my life and have the habit of doing a quick assessment of each stall in the mornings. I also ask my stall staff to let me know if they notice if anything is significantly different. Owners would do well to develop this level of awareness, whether they do these tasks themselves or not, all it requires is observation and awareness. I try to teach all my students this level of awareness in all aspects of horse care, so that they may become better horsemen and women, and not just better riders.
Jenni Fugate is a team member of The Equine Expert LLC, a multi-discipline equine expert witness and consulting firm offering legal expert witness and consulting services in court cases, legal matters, appraisals, and business affairs. Jenni is an expert in Arabians, Teaching, Dressage and Biomechanics. She is a native of Australia and has been working with horses since she was a child, she studied at Melbourne University and graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Equine). She now lives in Utah on her farm where she trains and teaches. For more information on Jenni visit www.theequineexpert.com or you may contact Jenni at Jenni@theequineexpert.com. The opinions expressed are those of Jenni as an expert equestrian.