Bringing a horse to the height of its' athletic ability requires a "team" of qualified practitioners.

In order to have a top athlete you need a team.....no athlete can get to the "top" without a group of qualified practitioners. First you need the horse.  The type of horse is going to depend on alot of things. Before you select a horse, you need to ask your self what your expectations are...and is this your first horse. Are you planning on showing or are you looking for a back yard "pet".  Or, are you looking for something that you can just get on and go for a trail ride and have fun with minimal amount of schooling.  How much time are you going to be able to dedicate to your "dream of owning a horse" and how much dedication and sacrifice are you willing to make in order to pursue your dream? Will your horse be stabled at home or will you need to board it out? Are you looking to do western riding or English riding? These are all very important questions that you need to really honestly answer before you rush out and "buy" that horse. Then you need to honestly access your experience as a rider and a care giver of horses.  Are you a beginner or experienced rider? Have you ever cared for a horse on your own?  Was it stabled at your home or was it at a boarding facility? 

There are so many questions to be answered before you even get started which is why I believe it is imperative to have selected a team of trained, knowledgeable horse practitioners who can help you and your horse so that you can both succeed and meet your goals.

There are several people that should make up the foundation of your "TEAM". I like to use a Pyramid as a visual with you and the horse at the top of the pyramid.  Each corner stone of the base represents one facet of your "TEAM"; each being as important as the other.  Without any one of these integral members, the pyramid would collapse.

The people at the base of your pyramid are the Veterinarian (who may also wear the hat of equine dentist, and nutritionist), the Farrier and the Saddle Fitter (I've grouped these two together), your Instructor/Trainer and your Horse's Trainer ( I've grouped these together since they can often be one and the same) and then you have the body workers.  

In one corner you have your "Trainer"- this is the person who is trained to teach your horse the skills it needs to know in order for you to be able to to get on it's back and ride it and has the knowledge to bring it through the different levels of schooling required for it to achieve peak performance as an athlete.  And, the understanding to know when it's ready to advance to more challenging work and not rush it before it's physically capable.

In the next corner you have your "Instructor"- this is the person who trains you how to ride the horse that the "trainer" has taught.  Sometimes the "Trainer and the Instructor" are one in the same.  Many times they are not, especially if you are looking at bringing a horse to the higher levels of competitive riding and / or carriage driving.  Typically these two people work hand in hand, making sure that you have selected the right horse for the task and that you aren't what's called "over-mounted"...inexperienced rider with a highly trained horse.

If the rider is inexperienced, then your trainer will select a horse that has a forging nature and knows all of the basics even if you don't.  This is going to be what is referred to as a "lesson horse" or a "school master's" horse.  These horses have done it all and are willing and able to teach you what you need to know in order to move up to owning a horse of your own.  I see so many young enthusiastic people who love horses and dream of having a horse, choosing a horse off the racetrack as their first horse or trying to "rescue" an abused high spirited horse.  Albeit with the best of intentions, more often than not someone gets hurt and the horse gets blamed.  In reality, the horse did nothing wrong.  It was strictly an inappropriate match of skill levels.

In another corner of your "TEAM" is your veterinarian. This person will be the primary person you call on should your horse not be well and the person you trust to set up a "whole body wellness program" so that your horse is properly cared for (this may include scheduling vaccinations, worming, having it's teeth "floated" during the course of the year and suggesting appropriate body work tailored to his or her specific needs).

Your vet will also be the primary person you consult for the proper nutrition that your horse should receive based on it's breed and it's "job".  With the on-going changes and advances in equine nutrition, your vet may refer you to an equine nutritionist depending on your circumstances. 

Whether you decide to buy or lease a horse, it is always a wise decision to have your vet  perform a soundness exam on it prior to your entering into any contractual agreement.  You need to know if the horse you are about to buy or lease is first and foremost "sound"....without injury that will inhibit the horse from being able to do the "job" you've selected for it to do.  And, you want to make sure it's healthy so as not to bring anything contagious into your barn or where ever you will be keeping your new partner.

Another cornerstone is your "farrier".  He or she will be responsible for making sure that the horses' feet are kept properly trimmed and shod if needed. You need to be sure that this person is knowledgeable about your horse's breed and the discipline that you will be involved in. If you do not know of a reputable farrier, I would suggest that you ask your veterinarian for a recommendation since they typically work hand and hand on horses; especially in lameness cases. 

In that same corner, I have included the saddle fitter.  Ill-fitting tack can cripple  and do significant muscular-skeletal damage to an otherwise sound horse. As your horse moves up the training pyramid, it is important to have your tack re-fitted to accommodate the changes in his muscultaure

 

 

 
 

 

 

Then you have your "body-workers".  Note: I am saying "workers" - plural.  Both you and your horse need to stay physically fit.  You can't expect your horse to reach the heights of athleticism if it has to carry an inflexible, out of shape person on it's back.  Our horses mirror their rider.  If we are out of shape or have tension in a particular part of our body, our horse will compensate in the way it moves to accommodate this lack of fluidity on our part. 

You may have a combination of body workers for your horse and yourself.  You may decide that you like a particular massage therapist for your horse and alternate its' massage with chiropractic adjustments.  And for yourself, you may choose to have a human massage therapist work on you and also take yoga or Tai Chi lessons to help you develop and maintain your core strength and flexibility.

I place myself in the 'body worker'" corner. I am trained to work on people and animals in several of the modalities that I use in my practice.  As you can see from my web site, I offer a variety of "tools" to benefit the musculature and soft tissue of the horse as well as addressing the horse's spirituality and inner well being.

My goal in telling you about the importance of having a "team" approach is not to dictate to you who you should or should not use. What I think is important, is that everyone that you've selected to be on your "team" all be able to work well together and have the best interest of the horse as their main focus at all times. The bottom line is that regardless who you select to be in your "team", you as the owner have the sole responsibility for the wellness of your horse.

I've seen many professional riders over the years have a "good" ride only to see that once they dismount from the horse they have no communication or bond between each other. I find this truly sad knowing how much our horses give us without asking much in return.  We've chosen to domesticate the horse and change his natural environment.  He did not ask for this. 

Yes, it's nice to win a ribbon or a trophy, but it shouldn't be just about that. True horsemanship is about developing a life-long partnership between you and your horse that's based on trust,  compassion and communication. Horses and humans have been in partnerships for thousands of years.  I hope that someday humans will realize that the horse's willingness to partner with us and allow a predatory animal on their backs should not be taken for granted.  In fact it's quite amazing when you think about it.