Living life in the fast lane is not for every person and is definitely not for every horse. In the 21st century the pace of life is super speedy and I think this is reflected by the increase in the awareness of mental health issues. It is unfortunate that this is the case and we have moved from a time when a good chat with a neighbour or friend would rationalise any troubles we were harbouring and get things in line again.
Nowadays we ‘google’ things or compare our lives to our ‘friends’ on facebook, both methods serving only to make us worry more or feel completely inadequate. The life of a racehorse is literally just as fast as it looks as they are pushed to reach and exceed their potential in a short window of time, as their age becomes the trainer’s enemy. The mental adjustment for a fight or flight animal is huge as they try and cope with the routine of being stabled for 22 hours a day, and a Sunday in the field, if they are lucky.
The issue of time becomes tangible in a racing yard, and “if he doesn’t make it this season”, “we’ll give him till the spring,” can often be heard as the next batch of young horses are assessed for suitability. In eventing and show jumping, producing horses slowly is commended and generally sees the horses maintaining a longer career as their reaction to stress becomes slower and more reasoned. But for Tag, if there was always something to worry about, why would there not always be something to worry about? Everything had to slow down, he was/is a worrier and his digestive system has always reflected this. Even after 12 months he was still struggling to gain weight, it was like putting petrol into a Ferrari engine, when all you want is the horsepower of a Fiat Punto.
His body ate up any feed at a great rate of knots with the resultant energy heading north to his head or south, out the back door. He was hungry, grumpy and had such peaks and troughs of energy, it was all becoming a bit frustrating. Cool mix, conditioning cubes etc etc were all tried and either the grain aggravated his gut or the starch level blew his mind, and he was still hungry. Finally – I found a feed which was very simple; high fibre, low starch and as close to roughage with added vitamins and minerals, you could get in a nut. It was a turning point for Tag and as he started to gain weight the jangling of his nerves eased.
Once-a-week schooling with a shared trip in a trailer with a friend saw Tag’s flatwork developing and physically he became stronger. Obviously a quick learner the main priority was subduing the panic as his brain mentally galloped from one lateral movement to the next. He struggled to hold his canter and his trot lacked rhythm and softness, but it was the start of a journey and as long as he was prepared to give it a go, I was happy with that.
We did our first dressage test at Laurelview Equestrian Centre in their outdoor arena in a force 10 gale, and with more good luck than good management we managed to stay between the white boards. The judge kindly said “he just found it all a bit too exciting today,” understatement of the century, if only she knew! Strangely Tag is very good indoors and seems to find the walls comforting, conversely all weather and grass outdoor arenas are an opportunity to become nervous and only when he has been somewhere several times, will he let his demons go.