How well do you know your horse?
How well do you know your horse? I am not just talking about knowing what feed he likes or how he behaves. I am talking about really knowing your horse. Can you read what he is telling you? Do you know him well enough to listen to what he is trying to tell you? Can you feel every footfall? Can you tell by looking in his eye something is going on? Knowing your horse inside and out is a goal all horsemen should aspire to. Knowing your horse can eliminate problems down the performance, behavior, or health wise. It is important to analyze all aspects of your equine athlete.
"A horse just one day doesn’t wake up and say “I don’t want to do my job anymore."
Has your horse recently started refusing to go in the gate or refusing to load in the trailer? Was it all of a sudden one day your willing and happy horse didn’t like their job anymore? Most likely, there is a reason. A horse just one day doesn’t wake up and say “I don’t want to do my job anymore.” Horses by nature just don’t act that way. They are creatures of habit and I would say 9 times out of 10 there is some reason they just suddenly developed bad behavior.
"It is your job to investigate the cause and to help alleviate the symptoms."
If you horse suddenly develops an undesirable behavior, investigate the reasons. Are they hurting somewhere? Have you changed anything about your routine (bits, tack, feed, etc)? Have their teeth been properly floated? Do they have a stomachache? There are a million reasons your horse suddenly developed an issue. It is your job to investigate the cause and to help alleviate the symptoms.
"I went back to slow work to alleviate her worries and to try to calm her mind."
I had a horse who was clocking well. She willingly went in the gate and ran her heart out. All of a sudden, she started bulking and it became a chore to get her in the arena. I went back to slow work to alleviate her worries and to try to calm her mind. That didn’t work. I tried calming pastes, that wasn’t successful either. Finally, a good friend noticed her saddle tipped forward when she was stretching out and running between the barrels. I had just gotten a new saddle and although it seemed to fit her well, it was pinching her severely. Actually, it was causing her sternum to become out of alignment when she stretched out to run causing pain. I had never dreamed the saddle that fit her well during slow work was the cause of my issues during a run.
"Trust your gut and investigate."
Moral of the story, know your horse. If I had thought about what I had changed when she started to change her attitude, I could have prevented frustration on the part of her and I. A good horse will tell you what they need if you just listen to them. Sometimes it can be as subtle as a headshake or just not clocking quite as well as they normally do. Trust your gut and investigate. It may save you money and heartache later; fixing a small issue when it starts prevents a huge problem later. Sometimes it is harder to convince a horse they no longer hurt in their mind than it is to actually stop the discomfort.
Remember, no one knows your horse as you do. You owe it to your equine partner to listen to them and get them the help they need. Your partner is an athlete and in order to perform to your goals, they sometimes need a little help too. A little maintenance is never a bad thing.