International groom cautions that ignoring small details has big consequences for horse health.
By Courtney Carson
In horses I realized a long time ago that I will never stop learning. I’ve probably forgotten more than I would like to admit after 25 years in the industry, but I know that some of the things I’ve learned will stick with me forever. Unfortunately, that means that some of these lessons have been learned the hard way. But I always strive to educate others to my experiences in hopes that they won’t make the same, avoidable mistakes.
I learned a long time ago that safe handling and paying attention to small details are very important in the moment and in the long run. I’m sure several of the working students I’ve had over the years were annoyed with me staying on them for paying attention to small details, but I try to have a reason behind everything.
Snap To It!
Simply making sure that all snaps are turned “in” can save a horse from putting themselves in a very difficult situation. I had buckets hung in my barn with double ended snaps for years without paying attention to which direction the snaps themselves were facing.
I was in the barn one afternoon and suddenly there was banging and panic coming from a couple of stalls over. My young horse had rubbed his face on a bucket and gotten his nostril caught on the exposed part of the snap which was facing away from the stall wall. Thankfully he only needed some stitches for a nasty cut -- six inches difference and I could have been treating major eye trauma instead.
I’ve seen horses get themselves caught on fences, gates, hay nets and more because of snaps facing out. From blankets to halters, if they can find some way to attach themselves to a stationary object, our horses will.
Avoid Tie-Up Trauma
I have also been in dangerous situations when inappropriate equipment has been used to tie a horse up. It can be incredibly annoying to have your horse break a nice halter or get loose from the trailer because they pulled back, but it’s better than them injuring themselves because nothing gives when they do.
If you are going to tie up your horse, make sure to use something that will break if an emergency arises. Lead ropes will tighten to an impossible point if the right pressure is put on them, and don’t rely on quick release knots.
Having a halter with a leather breakaway point, or full leather, is one way to be safe because the leather will break. Another is to make sure the point where you tie to is breakaway material such as string, a zip tie, or a safety trailer tie that can be purchased from a tack shop.
Prepare For The Inevitable
No matter how many safety measures you put in place though, horses will find a way to hurt themselves eventually. If something does happen, having a first aid kit that is stocked and accessible will help you control the situation until you can get help.
Having a plan is another very important lesson I learned. Know which veterinarians near you works emergency hours - not all vets are on call overnight or on holidays. If you don’t have full time access to a truck and trailer, then make sure that you have an emergency vet who can come for a farm call.
I compare these plans to fire drills - I thought those were silly for us to do in school as a kid until there was an emergency and we needed to evacuate. You don’t want the first time you call a vet to be in the middle of an emergency and they tell you that their services are only for existing clients, or that they don’t do ambulatory services.
Be Open To New Ideas
Horses are all different, they have individual needs nutritionally, physically, and mentally. Recognizing this and not attempting to fit every horse into the same mold is an important part of caring for them. Researching products and treatments when you’re seeing a new development is one way to help your horses be their best.
I purchased many Thoroughbreds off the track throughout my high school and college years. These horses spent their early years in shed row barns with hay nets in their faces. I had one specifically who struggled with respiratory issues at the upper levels. I wish I had known to research options such as the Haygain Hay Steamer for this horse instead of just increasing his fitness, even though that had worked for previous horses. I think back to what his career could have been for me had I utilized these resources earlier in my career.
Better Safe Than Sorry
I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice -- Listen to your gut when it comes to your horses and yourself. Both our horses and us as riders are allowed a bad or an off day. If you find yourself in that position, where either you or your horse don’t quite feel in the right spot, don’t be afraid to take that day easier or off altogether.
There will be more days to ride, more competitions or clinics available. If you feel something is not right with your horse, even if it doesn’t outwardly appear to others, consider checking in with your vet. Don’t ever let someone pressure you into something you feel deep down is wrong.
I’d rather be safe than sorry. I would much rather walk away for the day or stop a thousand jumps too soon than one jump too late.
Remember that we can’t prevent everything from happening in horses. I’m sure I’ll make a million more mistakes and learn a thousand more lessons, but I hope that some of these tips above help prevent a few of the mistakes I’ve made or seen from happening to someone else.
About the Author
Courtney Carson is a lifelong horse person who has competed at the upper levels of three-day eventing and moved into grooming for U.S. Olympic eventer Doug Payne in 2016. Throughout her career she tended to top event horses and show jumpers, travelled the world for competitions, and was a part of the Tokyo Olympic team as groom for Vandiver.
Courtney prides herself on always advocating for the horses and good horsemanship. Since retiring as a full-time groom she works in a small animal veterinary hospital, serves on the board for the International Grooms Association, freelance grooms, and teaches grooming clinics.