|Bug with his ribbons from Full Gallop in January. All of the pieces are slowly coming together this year, but not without a lot of thought and listening to what he's been telling me!|
As good horsemen, we are always looking for the keys to managing each horse's happiness and success. Some seem to be pretty straightforward, while others are obviously more tricky. Nutrition, fitness, tack, and how they like to be ridden are just a few things that go into the whole picture. We spend hours riding and training, but we spend even more hours thinking and planning through the roadblocks we come across.
For years, I have been told that Bug is just a stiff horse, and I would just have to learn to accept that. My gut told me that this horse of mine could be loose and cool and do quite well in the dressage, but my head couldn't seem to find the right answers. Every time I thought I found it, I was wrong. My head started to believe all of the things I was being told, even though my gut kept saying that I know him better than that.
After discovering that the start of our XC problems was coming from an ill fitting saddle (a professional saddle fitter told me it fit gloriously), I sat down with myself and decided that I wasn't going to ignore my gut anymore. I know Bug inside and out, and I can tell when he is telling me there is something wrong. It is my job to listen.
At this point, Hastilow Competition Saddles USA entered the picture as a sponsor. I can not say enough good things about their tack. We got together, and I rode Bug in every possible dressage and jump saddle. We did pressure testing on all of the saddles to see which one fit him the best and caused the least amount of pressure points. They spent hours with us planning the saddles that Bug liked most. The difference in Bug on that first day was AMAZING. Since then, Bug has only continued to improve in how he's using himself. He is jumping even rounder and better with his front end. His stride has suddenly grown and gotten more rhythmic. He is just turning into the horse that I knew he could be.
On top of the new saddles, I also kept a running dialogue with my bodywork lady, Kathryn Scheiss of TPR Bodywork on how Bug was going and the things that I was feeling. Kathryn is very intuitive and not only does she make their bodies feel amazing, but she can recommend supplements and changes in shoeing, injections, etc that will help with body issues. I was a bit skeptical at first, but the more I listened to her, the better and better Bug became.
Of course, none of this is helpful unless the rider is constantly improving. I am very thankful for Bonnie Mosser for all of her help with my horses. She is constantly making me up the ante and do right by them. Good coaching is imperative to good results and happy horses.
The riding and tack are only one part of the equation, of course. One of my biggest changes has been my feeding regime. Thanks to Strouse House Tackle and Outdoors, Blue Seal feeds have become my go to feed of choice. All of my horses are on the Sentinel line of feed, and I can not tell you how impressed I am with the difference. Bug looks amazing, and he is eating so much less feed than before. The feed is highly digestible, and even those prone to ulcers are happier. It's a truly awesome feeding program.
My point in all of this is that there is so much that goes into who a horse is and how they perform. When horses are competing, it is imperative that we listen to what they're telling us. Bug appears to be a relatively straight forward horse. However, he is just very stoic. His ways of talking to me are much quieter than a horse that is high strung and a wimp. Bug loves his job and will try his best to keep plugging away, even if he's not feeling 100%. I owe this horse so much, and it is my duty to constantly be on alert for small changes in how he's going.
To be a good horseman, we must analyze all aspects of our horses' lives. Each tiny detail is important.
Be aware. Be vigilant. Be proactive.