Saving the Soft Tissue | Vaughn Brown | January 9, 2007

It is important to remember that we can forget the horse’s welfare and do as we please with them. However, most of us are able to return to putting the horse’s health first before the desires to do with them as we please. A lot of physical problems result from our desire to rush the horse through training, competition or similar activities. However, let us draw back and look at it from a positive stand point of view; how can we better keep in check our horse ideas and place the health first?

I feel that we start working horses at a too early of an age. I am hearing and seeing horses as young as two compete or be ridden. This in my view is not a good decision. Horses, like humans, need to develop. The bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and mind of the horse need to develop before we can expect to see great achievements from them. Also, the benefit of waiting is that the horses will live a longer, less painful life.

Some training philosophies do not start training or riding their horses until they are developed, usually around five years of age. If we, as horsemen, slow down and be patient, we would have sounder and healthier horses. We would spend less on vet bills and the horse is more able to compete and perform at peak level longer.

Some of the soft tissue problems I am seeing in my massage practice are related to the horse’s physically-demanding training at too early an age. As a result they cannot canter on a certain lead, have trouble with balance and it is painful to carry a rider. I am talking about these horses who are ten or younger. These soft tissue problems should not be occurring.

However, the good news is that we can slow down our intensive training until the horse is physically and mentally mature enough to handle high demands. Often times we put ourselves first and the horse third. What come in between are money, greed and fame. These are sins that help horses become ruined. Yet, if we stop looking at the negatives we can look at the positives of waiting.

If the vaqueros could wait till the horse matured in a time period where horses were needed left and right, we, too, can wait. The reason why the vaqueros waited so long is to allow the horse to physically and mentally mature. The horses they trained were highly respected and so were the vaqueros. Another reason why the vaqueros waited was to observe the horse and understand the horse’s personality. 

How does this all tie into soft tissue you may ask? If we learn to wait like the vaqueros then our horses would be sounder because their body would be better developed. If the trainers and riders were to do this, they would reduce the need to pay high vet bills, perform constant surgeries or selling a horse because of medical costs or the lack of ability to perform a certain discipline. 

We start with ourselves to reduce risks to the horse. First we should examine ourselves. Why do we work with horses? Is it because we can gain great profit off them? Is it because we want to carry forward the beauty of horsemanship? Is it because we love horses? Is it because we may have a sense of empathy with them? There are numerous reasons for us to own, work with or train horses; but often times we lose the whys of us being with that animal. Once we clear our heads of these questions and honest answers then we can move forward with better intentions. The intentions may be to start feeling more compassion for the horse, quitting a career with horses for their sake, or slowing down and finding ways to have a better relationship with the horse. 

We also need to look at how society functions. From my perspective, it’s all about “getting it done now”. However, this attitude does not work with horses. As horsemen we need to explain to our clients, students, trainers or friends that time does not matter. If we want a safe, sound and faithful horse, we must go at the horse’s pace. The strongest weapon against us horsemen is the pressure to be complete in a short amount of time. As some trainers will put it: don’t where a watch when working with a horse. The positive results are what counts. 

The neat thing behind waiting for the maturity of the horse before training for a specific discipline is that you will be better respected for turning out sound, healthy, safe and happy horses. You will be better respected for waiting, watching the maturity of the horse and going at the horse’s pace. We need to stop sending emails around of poor horsemanship or horror stories, stop talking about it over dinner and wine and start working on it physically. 

Some of the ways you can help influence good, positive lives for horses are to work with the local, state or federal government to pass laws regarding training methods and competitions. You also can start practicing your own beliefs based on positive results ands health and others will see a sound, safe horse that you work with. If you are a professional trainer, vet or other similar skill, you can start offering your ideas and coaching others. You can even think about becoming a horse inspector, to let people know how sound the horse is, how mature, what to do or not to do and helping out. I strongly recommend reading a horse anatomy book. The one I use for my massage practice is called “Horse Anatomy, a Coloring Atlas”. You do not have to worry about memorizing terms or the anatomy; the point is to see how the horse is put together. 

Remember, all of this and much more relate to soft tissues and physical wellbeing of the horse. I can easily write a book on this topic but other, more experienced people all ready produced materials regarding this. All this article is meant to do is remind you the risks of rushing horse training, riding or using them for demanding competitions or jobs. Remember, horses do not logic pain or discomfort as we do; therefore it is only fair to reduce pain and discomfort because a happy horse will be the result.