Brian Walker: are soundness and location linked? *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Over recent years, I’ve heard of horses being sent back to Europe due to the fact that they can’t stay sound in the US. Before moving to Germany almost two years ago, I really found it hard to believe. How is it possible, with all the advanced medicine in the equine industry, that performance showjumping horses are more sound living and competing in one region?

    I had bought some horses in Europe a few years prior to me bringing them back over when I emigrated. I had shown them competitively and I thought they were all pretty sound horses. My vet performed routine maintenance on these horses a couple of times a year, which I thought was all normal.

    I now jump my horses much more in Europe. I go to shows and don’t think twice about entering my horses in three classes, whereas in the States it was no more than two. My vet comes here and there just to check up on them and rarely does a horse need treatment. How does more jumping equate to fewer soundness issues? I think there are two major factors that contribute to this.

    Jumping surfaces

    I’ve found the footing at European shows to be better than what we jump on in America. In Europe, you also don’t jump on the same footing for more than a week at a time, with some exceptions of the winter tours. Not every horse likes the footing at every show, but when you only have to jump on it for a weekend, there usually aren’t any repercussions. And on the European winter tours that require jumping multiple weeks on the same ground, like Oliva, the footing is exceptional.

    Most shows in the States are tours — two- to three-week shows where you pack up, move into the show then go onto the next series of shows. After five or six months of jumping at one venue over the winter, my horses struggled with soundness issues.

    Back to basics

    Farriers work on the foundation of our horses. Just like a house, a poor foundation leads to many problems, which means everything can go wrong. There are many good farriers in the States, but their principles and execution are wrong. It trickles down from the trainers and owners, so farriers can’t be the only ones to blame, but sometimes simpler is better.

    Trying to fix something that doesn’t need any fixing only creates issues. They all squawk when a horse comes from Europe — the horse’s feet are long and going in every direction — but that horse is sound. They shoe the horse when it arrives and the feet instantly do look better, but after a few cycles, the horses are in shoes two sizes too small. Have you ever tried to put your feet into shoes two sizes too small? You can barely move. This then puts pressure on other parts of their body.

    Most horses manage in the American way. Maybe it requires more visits from the vet, but most horses are treated like royalty. A show’s footing is a leading factor in a horse’s well-being, and this is out of our control. But farriers can really change a horse’s soundness, which is in our power to direct. There are just some horses that need the European system for them to be healthy enough to compete.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 1 March 2018