Sunday, December 26, 2010


I will admit I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to chiropractor's,acupuncture, massage therapy, horse communicators, herbal supplements, magnetic this and that's, cleansing the ora of the barn, aroma therapy to cure ulcers and most things we are driven to when looking for a reason/excuse why our training is not working.... sometimes we just need to get better.

But I also have to admit I have been wrong once or twice in my life ;) Sometimes I sit back and ask myself am I sticking to my guns and being tough or am I just being close minded and stubborn. I also find it less expensive to spend 20 more minutes in the dressage ring convincing myself Im making a difference then to fork out $100's to someone else to fix my problem ( hmm maybe im a bit of a control freak!)

Every now and then you learn a lesson the hard way. I really think my stubbornness with one horse in particular landed me with a broken arm and a relationship with the horse that could not be pinned back together. I have laid awake at night feeling guilt about not picking up on the signs that this horse was so clearly giving me. It seemed my training was actually making him more sensitive and irritable then helping him understand and even enjoy his work. I proceeded to take all the blame on my shoulders and school him more but with this came so much more frustration on both our parts. I had trained a multitude of horses without encountering this type of resistance but didn't stop to think maybe there is something else going on I stubbornly though I can fix this.

Eventually he just clean bucked me off and broke my arm. I look back and see so many signs of things that could have been helped. If I had just reached out to a massage therapist or even a chiropractor and accepted the possibly that this horses attitude may be that he was uncomfortable in his body we might have had a much better relationship. But he lost trust in me and I acquired to much baggage with him to be productive. The horse has since moved on to another professional whom I respect a lot and I know the best thing I did for the horse was to let my pride go, move him on and promise not to make the same mistake again.

I have recently bought a lovely athletic mare who is very green but is a born eventer! A few weeks ago I noticed some similar attitude issues the old horse had shown me in the early stages of training. Eager to not make the same mistakes again it took me less than a week to start looking outside myself for a solution. I started with changing her saddle which seemed to help. Then I actually rode her on bute for two days which is one of the best ways to find out if your horse has an attitude or actually in some pain ( its cheaper than a vet telling you the same thing).. Well she returned to "stella bella" instead of "hella stella" on the bute. I quickly asked Dana ( my barn owner) about her massage therapist, Heather Akers.

I had seen some amazing differences in some of Dana's horses that Heather had worked on. When Heather came to work on Stella I told her my issues with the her and told her I honestly am not a total believer in these types of treatments . I also told her that Stella was mine so I simply can not afford something on the idea "it cant hurt".. I have to know its helping then I will find the money. After Heather worked on Stella she said " well she is stubborn, but I got some good releases but nothing major. Ride her tomorrow and see if there is a difference if not there is probably not a lot I can do for you." Heather won points right away by not trying to sell me ten more sessions before I would feel a difference and after my initial attitude Im sure Heather was a bit tenitive in telling me to expect great things :) I can honestly say Stella was amazing my next ride. She was a little tentative almost waiting for something t hurt or be tough but when she found it easy she carried on like a champ and used her " athletic ability" in a productive manner instead of making me worried about keeping my nose in one piece!

What I found after Heather worked on two of my horses is where I thought the problem was in the back or hind end she actually found a lot of issues in the shoulders. When she worked out the "junk" in the shoulders the other issues seemed like much less trouble. I took this knowledge with me into the ring today on a young horse that I have been having problems "keeping the engine" going.. I couldn't figure out if he was just lazy, stubborn, unmotivated or simply didnt get it. I changed my focus to his shoulders in the flat work and after about 10 min its like I unlocked his whole body and everything was so easy and clearly made sense! I was so excited I literally said out loud " I love you Heather Akers!"

There are things to be learned everywhere and you just have to be willing to try new things and maybe make a mistake but learn from it. You might find your massage therapist being the best dressage trainer you have had all season! I gotta go I have the horse communicator on line 1! Just kidding ... sorta :)


  1. What a great (and helpful) post!

  2. Not sure if the idea of riding the horse on bute for two days is great -- in the case of a brewing soft-tissue injury, one could easily make matters worse. However, I get your larger point and feel that you are beginning to feel the difference between mental and physical resistance, which is an important step in your work as a rider/trainer.

    As a equine bodywork therapist and novice adult amateur rider, I can tell you that nearly all of the behavioral problems I witness at the 90-plus-horse facility where I board my horse are physical in origin. Most stem from bad saddle fit, many of the horses clearly have ulcers and nearly all of them could be helped by some sort of bodywork therapy. I'm speaking as someone that is and has been guilty of overlooking all of these problems. However, I've also worked "miracles" on some horses that were simply in need of a common-sense solution.

    I am amazed when I go to clinics and watch upper-level riders riding horses that can't learn a new movement or can barely do the work because their muscles are in spasm. It's as if some of these big-name trainers and upper-level riders are totally blind to obvious signs of discomfort. From my vantage point, I feel that riders and trainers who are striving to be well rounded horsemen need to have a firmer grasp of how horses' discomfort affects behavior and short- and long-term performance.

  3. I agree with so much of what you said and thank you for bringing up the bute bit..I was a little nervous when they used that in the tag line on eventing nation. I wanted to clarify that I only use bute when I have exhausted other options. Soft tissue injuries normally come with some type of lameness or inflammation. I always flex horses first whennthere is an issue and make sure to palpate all tendons and areas in which an acute issue would be obvious. If something came up in these checks i would call the vet right away. I feel that calling a vet is ideal especially if you are an AA or YR that has not had the experienses that you,someone in bodywork,or myself working with a multitude of horses for a living would have. I need to be more catious when putting those statements outvto the public..point taken. I hope for as many Upper level riders you see doing it the wrong way that there are enough people teaching and preaching the right ways to make a difference! Sinead

  4. We LOVE our massage therapist. Sure, he's still a lower level event horse, but I can always tell when he's in need of a good massage. He tells us by dragging his back toes and bucking. :)

  5. I thought it was odd that Eventing Nation chose to focus soley on the idea that you rode "naughty horses on bute" in their heading, and not the actual content of the blog..which to me seems that it's good to be open to alternative methods of helping a horse. Having said that, kudos to you, Sinead for being willing to look outside the traditional box for help with your horses. I appreciate seeing high profile riders who put their horses' needs above their own egos. I think that speaks volumes for the quality of both training and teaching that you offer.