By Dinah Rojek

Maggy Price, her husband John Potter, my husband Steve Rojek and I traveled to the country of Turkmenistan to give an endurance riding clinic at the turn of the century. The invitation was extended by the country’s “Minister of the Horse,” and the prospect of going to the homeland of the ancient Akhal Teke breed was irresistible.

The goal of the clinic was to provide enough education to riders, veterinarians and management to then put on a ride. The Turkmen hoped to ultimately promote the Akhal Teke breed by competing in endurance rides internationally.

Attempting to jump the language barrier by use of multimedia–and given I was the “geekiest” of the group–the Powerpoint task fell to me. Things seemed to go reasonably well; before we left I had designed cute little drawings of a hold flow pattern, pictures of what to feed a horse at a hold, and of how a cardiac recovery index (CRI) might be used. The classroom situation was smooth, but when we actually saw the horses everything fell apart.

At the initial vet check, stallion after stallion reared straight up and walked at the veterinarians. It seems this was the Turkmen way of presentation of this breed. We had no language with which to explain what turned out to be a rather complex situation and no visuals to explain the basics of presenting a horse during an endurance ride.

It did make us think about appropriate behavior of the endurance horse. Why should a horse quietly approach and stand still while being handled/pulsed? Why should a horse tolerate handling of its entire body without an aggressive or frightened reaction?

The following is a list of expectations during a vet check. I believe these are held by most experienced distance riders.

1. Safety

2. A better pulse recovery

3. Faster time through the vet box, allowing more time for eating and drinking

4. Shorter vet line times for everyone if there are no “problems.”

A great way to lose every vet check popularity contest is to bring in a horse who is whinnying, flinging its head, running sideways and bumping into other horses, rearing, kicking, lunging, biting. If a horse handler has to resort to yelling and yanking, something important was left out of the at-home training program.

A well-trained distance horse must passively tolerate the following:

1. Allow all parts of the body to be palpated including eyelids, gums, legs, feet as well as jugular, girth and flank areas on both sides

2. Accept thermometer insertion and anal tone check

3. Accept the number drawn on the rump

4. Tolerate other horses in its “space.”

It is unreasonable to expect a horse to accept this without training. Depending on the disposition and experience of the horse and rider, this training can take days to months. There are no tricks to it and no shortcuts–only slow, fear-free handling works.

Most endurance riders spend more time with their horses than average horsepeople, and if those guys can teach their horses to be mannerly, so can we. Some riders take an extra few minutes to run their hands over their horses and down their legs after a ride. Perhaps this would be a good time to handle other body parts, too, like gums, eyes, etc.

Or, as AERC President Stagg Newman suggests, “One way to train your horse for the vet check is to do your own ‘vet check’ after every training ride, including a trot-out, pulse check, a check of the dehydration factors, and a check for wounds and muscle soreness. This only takes a couple of minutes, accustoms your horse to the routine, and enables you to assess how your horse did on the training ride.”

Sometimes friends set up riding dates, and that can be an excellent opportunity to have someone else “play vet” and handle the horse. This can give information on how the training is coming along.

If there is a particularly difficult behavioral problem, there are lots of “horse whisperers” around these days, so guidance is available to all in the form of books, television, videos, clinics, mentors or friends.

At a competition, as a courtesy, I tell the veterinarian/pulse person if I am unsure of a new horse’s reactions, but my expectation is that I have done my homework.

Also, out of courtesy, I like to present a clean horse to the veterinarian. This is not horse showing, but does any veterinarian really want to handle a horse with manure- encrusted legs?

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