When trying a new sport with your horse, your veterinarian can be an important resource.
Help beyond healing
After years of trail riding, you’ve decided to do something different---you want to try your hand at barrel racing. You’ve lined up a trainer, bought a new saddle and outfitted your arena with barrels for practice. Now, there’s one last thing you need to do: Talk to your veterinarian.
“An understanding of what a horse is asked to do on a daily basis is critical to his care,” explains 2016 American Association of Equine Practitioners President Kathleen Anderson, DVM, who is also a founding partner of Equine Veterinary Care PC, in Fair Hill, Maryland. “It’s always valuable to outline your competitive goals with your veterinarian so they are aware of your expectations and can offer advice regarding management for the best outcomes.”
Not only will sharing your plans help ensure that your horse receives any special attention he may need, but “it is often an opportunity for your veterinarian to research and learn more about a sport unfamiliar to them if they have the interest,” says Anderson. Of course, you’ll need to do your part, too: “Spend a weekend at an event, without your horse, to really understand it and know what will be asked of your horse,” she recommends. “Find resources within that community that can help you learn. That responsibility is on you.”
If you’ve chosen an activity that is somewhat exotic in your area or a sport you’re sure your veterinarian knows nothing about, consider asking for help in finding other assistance, says Anderson. “You can say something along the lines of, ‘I’m thinking of trying some cutting next year. Do you have any suggestions for anyone I can speak to regarding things I’ll need to know?’ This will open up the doorway for your veterinarian to mention a colleague more familiar with the activity if they think that could be helpful.”
Down the line, if your dabbling in a new sport ultimately turns into a serious pursuit, you may need a different veterinarian. “For treating and preventing injuries at the upper levels of a sport, a deeper understanding of it becomes important,” says Anderson. “Dressage horses and cutting horses, for instance, can both develop hock problems. But they are two very different problems caused by two very different sets of forces and stressors. At that point, a veterinarian does need an understanding of the sport to differentiate between the two and develop an appropriate treatment plan.”
In the meantime, however, any veterinarian can provide good, basic care to any horse, regardless of occupation, says Anderson: “A laceration is a laceration and a colic is a colic, no matter what type of horse they happen to. And good nutrition, parasite control and vaccinations are the foundation of any horse’s well-being. A veterinarian doesn’t have to have a discipline-specific focus to provide this care.”
Exploring new activities can be fun, for you and your horse, and the experience can enhance your partnership. And rest assured that when venturing into the unfamiliar you don’t need to leave behind the support of your veterinarian. Until you reach the higher levels of a new pursuit, you can stick with the professional who has taken good care of your horse through all your other adventures.
EXPERTISE: Kathleen Anderson, DVM, who has been involved with horses since childhood, began practicing veterinary medicine in 1986.