From time-to-time we see trends in the types of horses that are referred to us for therapy and/or rehabilitation. At the moment we are mainly spread between racehorses and dressage horses, so we are dealing with two ends of the equine spectrum on a daily basis.
Until around three years ago we would have up to three racehorses a week come to stay for exercise testing on the high-speed treadmill (pictured top). This incorporated video-endoscopy and simultaneous EGC (Electrocardiogram) obtained while running the horse at speeds of up to 12metres/second on a steep incline, effectively simulating a race.
Unfortunately, despite testing more than 500 horses since we opened in 1999, these cases have evaporated due to a new era of wireless video-endoscopy, whereby the horse can be sent up the gallops with a scope and transmitter attached to the front of its face with images viewed on a laptop. The racehorses we are now sent tend to come in for either soft-tissue rehabilitation, pre-training, or for the equivalent of human cross-training; giving them either a little freshener or providing alternative work for those vulnerable to issues such a sore shins, foot pain and other concussive injuries.
I have to say, despite appreciating nice horses from any discipline, I do love working with racehorses. I rode work on point-to-pointers from the age of 15, and thereafter throughout my career, and would very much class myself as a ‘thoroughbred person’. There seems to be a ‘Marmite effect’ with racehorses and thoroughbreds generally; you either love them or hate them. I love Marmite, and love racehorses too. I believe that they are very trust-orientated, particularly those who have either just come out of racing, or as is the case with one of our horses at the moment, who has come to us for pre-training.
There is no getting away from the fact that thorougbreds are inherently insecure, hence why they’re more than happy to follow 15 horses around a track galloping their hearts out, just to be in with the in-crowd. I think this insecurity is the deal-breaker for many people and it can indeed be tricky, but this is where the trust factor comes in.
In our situation, I think the racehorses benefit from having a very small number of people handling them, and perhaps even only one that does the riding or groundwork. It’s a different story when they are in a big training yard with a huge support network of other horses around them, but take them away from this and ask them to go off ALONE and work over trot poles with their ‘face in’, and you can have an entirely different story. I really enjoy the challenge of addressing their uncertainty.
In my experience, thoroughbreds thrive on routine, love learning, and really like being tired. They live to work — it’s what they do. Turnout also plays a big role in keeping their sharp minds happy and I believe that if you strike the balance right, they can be the best horses in the world. Certainly some of the most amazing horses I have ever ridden have been racehorses.
Think the unthinkable
As everyone knows, two weeks ago the unthinkable happened — our favourite dressage superstar Valegro was beaten by Totilas in Aachen. It is all too easy to forget that Blueberry is indeed a horse, and that Charlotte [Dujardin] is not entirely superhuman, however there was still a feeling of shock reverberating through the channels of the horse world following their grand prix test on the Thursday.
What struck me was the response from Team Valegro. “They will come back stronger for the weekend,” said Carl Hester on Twitter. And boy did they. A win in the freestyle on Sunday put them back where they belong and the pictures show him looking fit and strong. So bring on the World Equestrian Games. I have no doubt that the gloves will be well and truly off in Normandy!
I write this from my home in Scotland, having come up here to visit my family and have a few days holiday. This is the first time I’ve been home since Christmas and so it’s well overdue. I am meeting my new niece for the first time and am really enjoying some proper chill out time. Saying that, I’ve already been put to work since I’ve been here, having been given the mission of helping my step-mum get her new driving pony, Breeze, going … a change is as good as a rest as they say!