In my attempts to figure out a fitting first post for this blog, I decided the best way to start would be to get a little personal and explain how it is the woman behind the keyboard went from mildly interested, if a little skeptical, to a full blown believer in alternative treatments. I think if you know where your writer is coming from, the rest should be easily digested. Hopefully if you’re here, you at least have some curiosity in the nature of alternative medicines.
So first, a brief background on me: I started out with a very well meaning, but not well-educated trainer. While I wouldn’t say the horses at the barn where I spent the first 10 years of my riding life were by any means neglected, looking back now there were definite gaps on what I now feel should be basic information that any professional in this business should at least get a general knowledge of. Vaccinations happened routinely, the farrier did not cripple horses, and teeth were routinely checked and floated. Lameness exams and x-rays were done for all purchases, and the vet was certainly on the speed dial at the first sign of a gimpy or sick horse.
But there was a lack of that little-bit-more: my trainer had started in the horse world fresh out of high school, worked as a groom and catch rider, and progressed on to leasing a farm and running his own business. My own objections to some of the training methods and my personal experiences aside, he did a fair job of making sure all 20-some horses on the farm were looked after. I even worked for him my senior year as “barn manager” after school, doling out feeds and medication, and improving upon the skills I had collected as an avid horse owner and hard core “barn rat”. But the concept of specialized vet care was not even a blip on my radar. If a horse was lame or sick, you called the vet, and that was that. Chiropractors, acupuncturists, dentists – those were certainly available to a human being. But for horses – the vet knew all that, right?
So I went on to college to further my education, and (at my mother’s insistence) buy myself a little time before stepping out into the grown-up, professional world of horses. She insisted I should be absolutely sure this was the hard-knock, long hours, blood sweat and tears life I wanted for myself. In the meantime while I decided I could get a piece of paper to fall back on, to state at least I had SOME form of higher education. Ah, when you have high-school teachers as parents!
So I set off to college, expecting be top-dog as I’ve seen so many freshman year students do. My family and I had owned horses for 9 years. I had practically lived at the barn I rode at, worked as a groom for 3 summers and gotten my “managing” (I use the term loosely here) experience my last year of high school. I had shown the B circuit up through AAA, and qualified for Harrisburg twice. I was ready, I was armed with knowledge, and I was ready to blow everyone away. Or so I thought!
While there were many things I knew off the bat going into college, I think the biggest wakeup call (I cringe to admit this) was SADDLE FIT, SADDLE FIT, SADDLE FIT, which I will go further into on another entry. And it only sank in halfway – ok. So every saddle did not fit EVERY horse. So you couldn’t make EVERYTHING all right with a no slip, a gel pad, a breastplate, and maybe a riser pad for good measure. So be it.
I enjoyed the horse science classes, but another small confession I should make is I am a learner by observation. You can put me in front of books and show me words on paper until smoke comes out my ears, it just doesn’t stick. I want to see it done, and I want to see the outcome. Only then can my brain translate the print on paper into logic. To this day, I still try and find ways to filter down what I learn to layman’s terms, and make it easier for myself (and I hope others) to digest and retain.
As it happened, my beloved horse through my high school years that I thought I had seen the last of when I set off for my first semester was destined to have a few more years with me. Things fell through getting him sold; I lost my barn and only home, and found myself stuck with a very, very lame horse who was supposed to be exchanged for money to pay tuition. Lameness exams and ultrasounds confirmed a ruined back thanks to constant rides in a saddle with a broken tree (my trainer told me it would do no harm) and 2 tears in a hind suspensory. Old tears, that had been covered up for at least 6 months with bute and banamine that I was told were just to help my horse “relax” at shows. Of course he had been rushing fences and misbehaving under saddle when I went off to school – he HURT! Well that was that then – he was on stall rest and not to be ridden for at least 6 months to a year. Or was he? This is when I discovered shockwave therapy.
While I understand now it can be overdone and cause damage – or worse, is used wrongfully to nerve horses and cover up lameness, after one back treatment and 2 treatments on the suspensory, with only 4 months of stall rest and hand walking, my horse was ready for rehab. Really? Modern medicine, what a marvel you are! So it went into the library as just a convenient means to speed along recovery.
Senior year for business class I got to observe a chiropractor in action – this was pure accident. I was at the farm to shadow a well-to-do dressage trainer for the day. It just so happened that on that day her chiropractor was there to adjust horses. Interesting, I thought. But surely, just a luxury the wealthy can afford for their horses. I had a roommate who had taken a 2 week course on equine massage therapy, but again – luxury. Nothing more.
It was a great idea – but much as I loved the two geldings I found myself owning upon graduation, they were set, and I just couldn’t put the money out for them yet. But someday, if I was rich and famous, they would live the good life and massages and chiropractic adjustments would be bountiful, if only just for kicks and giggles.
To be continued