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Answers to HORSE-SENSE questions

From: Alyssa

Dear Jessica, please don't be mad with me but I have to ask you this. I have noticed that sometimes you get questions about the same subjects but you don't give exactly the same answers, why is that? Do you change your mind about things?

Thank you for answering me. Alyssa

Hi Alyssa! That's a very good question, and there are several answers. First, YES sometimes I do change my mind about things - there are new products (blankets, feed, supplements, medicines, saddles, bridles, trailers, etc.) available on the market every year, and I need to be aware of them so that I can give people the very best answers I know how to give. There are new medical studies all the time, too - you'll notice that your vet does the same thing. Ten years ago, you might have asked "Should I vaccinate Star against rabies?" and been told "No", and now your vet (same vet) might answer the same question with a "Yes, definitely!" because even though you and Star and the vet and the disease haven't changed, the circumstances and the situation may be different. Today, there may be many more cases of rabies in your area. And this brings me to the main reason you'll see different answers to different questions on the same subjects: IT DEPENDS.

The answer can depend partly on what's out there in the way of equipment and treatments. It can depend on what time of year it is, or on how old the horse is, or how much the rider knows. It can depend on how much information I get from the person asking the question! When I answer a question, I have to take into account everything I know about the situation, the circumstances, the horse, and the person asking the question. I can usually figure out quite a lot about people and their horses and situations, either from what they say or the way they say it - or from what they DON'T say.

The more specific question, the more SPECIFIC I can be when I answer, and the more useful the answer is likely to be. For example, let's imagine that someone writes to me and says "Dear Jessica, my horse bites, help, what should I do?" I would have to say "IT DEPENDS", and then go on to list various possibilities according to various likely situations. This is why clinics and lessons are so much easier than questions via e-mail - if I can SEE the horse and rider, it's usually very easy to give a good answer! And if the rider is right there, I can ask questions, too, and use the information in the answers to help me make MY answers better and more useful.

Remember our hypothetical biting horse? Before I would suggest any answer to that question, I'd want to know a lot more, like... what the circumstances of the biting were, and what kind of biting was involved. Is the horse biting humans, or other horses, or pesky dogs that get into the pasture, or is it chewing the fence? If the horse isn't actually biting, but chewing, and simply grabs everything in sight - leadropes, chains, jacket sleeves, basket handles, and other horses' tails - then it may simply be a case of a youngster teething. If the horse is an older, trained animal that has suddenly begun twisting its neck around and making horrible faces when the rider mounts, I would suspect pain, and suggest that the rider have the horse's back checked for soreness, and that the saddle (fit or position) might be at fault.

If it turned out that there had been actual contact between the horse's teeth and the human's body, I would want to know what led up to it, and exactly what kind of contact was it? Not all encounters between humans and horse teeth are bites, even if the human experiences a painful pinch. There's a huge difference between an angry horse trying to grab a human's arm with its teeth, and a horse that accidentally nipped someone's finger because that someone offered the horse a cookie or a piece of carrot held with fingers instead of placed on a flat hand. In the first instance, the horse had biting on its mind, and whatever the reason, must be STRONGLY discouraged from trying to bite or even thinking about biting a human, ever again. In the second instance, there wasn't a bite. The human's finger got pinched, but what happened wasn't a bite, it was an "eat", with no aggression involved, and no intention to bite, and the human got in the way. This problem wasn't a horse problem at all but a human problem, the "bite" was accidental, the product of human error, and to "solve the problem" all the human will have to do is offer the treat correctly.

Similarly, "My horse backs up without me asking, what should I do?" might mean that the horse is uncomfortable, or that the horse is afraid - or that the rider, without realizing it, actually IS asking the horse to back up, by putting pressure on the horse with legs and reins. IT DEPENDS.

"My horse reared up, what should I do!" is another general question with an IT DEPENDS answer. What was the situation, what were the circumstances, what was the horse doing? If the horse was under saddle, what was the rider doing? Different horses rear for different reasons. ONE horse can rear on different occasions for different reasons. The same horse, on different days and under different conditions, might, for example, rear out of pain, out of fear, out of a reaction to being overfed and under-exercised, or out of sheer high spirits. I would need to know details before I could offer much help.

So if you ever have a question about a horse problem, Alyssa, don't worry about making it too long or putting in too much information. I won't be bored, I promise. If you make your question as complete and detailed as possible, and give me as much information as you can, I'll be able to give you a much more useful answer.


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