The holidays are here and, in New Jersey, the festivities are going to be heralded with cold and snow. Relatives in the South assure me that “normal” has stopped for them as well. Most riding activities consist of a carrot and a promise, if there is a visit to the barn at all.
Come January 2, a line of horse trailers starts to form at the Delaware Memorial Bridge; the Northeast portal to highways leading to Aiken, Southern Pines, Ocala, and Wellington. Last year that line was identifiably smaller and a fair number of Southern horse shows, dependent on the snow-birds, were canceled. I am wondering what this year will be like. Friends who have played in the Southern winter circuits calculate it runs them about 10 grand a month- travel, training, board, turnout, grooms, show fees, their own housing and amusement.
What interests me in this disruption of the annual trek south is the soundness issue of show horses. I wish the AAEP would run a survey or study on this matter. Here is what I suspect- sounder horses next spring in the North.
It is only 20 years ago that winter in the North meant trail riding in the snow or three months of R & R for the horses. Whatever the choice it was slow work. The landscape saw only a few indoor rings. The ground being frozen, people just walked their horses undersaddle on sunlit days and left the animals to their own games in the field the rest of the time.
Rest is the operative word here. I had an opportunity to listen to some of the nations leading equine leg surgeons. They all stated, the number one cause for an unsuccessful surgery is lack of time to heal. The horse is a performance animal and everyone wants it back in work ASAP. Being an animal whose survival depends on flight, horses may get a quick, low-level of heal. Enough to get them out of the cougar’s path. But everything is knitted together with bailing twine at that point and the breakdown comes faster and harder or the top performance never comes at all if the horse is put back into serious work at this stage.
There is also the question of what structures are compromised that we are unaware of and heading for a catastrophic breakdown with no rest. And what about the sour attitudes and vices that appear with all work and no play. Surely there has been 12 month show schedules for centuries in warm climates- but I’m talking about a Northern life cycle, here. But it does beg the question of comparison studies in soundness issues of horses in no-rest warm regions and imposed time off in frigid climates.
Offer a cup of coffee to your older vet (someone who has seen the half-a-century mark) and start a conversation of equine R & R. He/She will probably concur: limbs, backs and minds healed during the winter solstice. Even now, some older vets might confide to you that many leg injuries and ailments just need time. You may think it was the last shock-wave session that healed the injury, but, in fact, that session occurred at the injury’s six-month anniversary, a time frame it would have healed on its own anyway.
Before the 12-month show season your farrier would tell you to treat the thrush, but not to worry, standing in the winter snows would clear it up. It would help the foot bruise, the crabby attitude, the tense muscles, sensitivity to touch, girth sores, saddle hot spots. There might be a lot of mud and dirt on the animals, but skin afflictions due to constant washing and stripping of natural oils wasn’t on the vet’s treatment list during this solstice.
This is not a diatribe against showing. Just some assurances to those staying home, that the time really isn’t lost or wasted if they let their horses rest and have some snow time. They might have sounder, happier horses to perform in the spring. The only way to know would be to do a study- now who’s going to pay for that?