Adelinde Cornelissen had to make the heartbreaking decision at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics to withdraw from the competition. Her equine partner Parzival had been bitten by an insect, had a swollen cheek, developed a fever, and just felt off when she brought him into the ring even though he’s symptoms were gone. Rather than push her horse to potential harm and injury, she retired from the ring. A human competitor’s partner’s health is as important as their own, and while there’s just some things you can’t prevent, such as bug bites, there are things you can do when competing away from home to make your horse’s life easier.
When you are competing in places you may not have been before, you never know quite what facilities you will find. Unless the location is brand new, (such as you may find at events like the Olympics) chances are you’ll be able to look up the barn and environs on the internet or talk to one of your friends or associates that have been there before. They can help you know where to find everything you need and how to navigate the grounds. The less stressed you are; the less stressed your horse would be. The less horse stress the better. If you can get them in and out of their stall, get them fresh water, all those necessities without the minimum of fuss, they won’t be worrying about you.
Horse hydration is important as we all know. Your horse can lose a lot of water while traveling and may not drink as much as you’d like when they’re being transported. Getting cool, clean, water available as soon as your horse is settled is so critical. If at all possible, bring your feed and water buckets, so there’s a familiar smell in an unfamiliar place. A horse is more likely to drink from a bucket they know than a trough they don’t.
Getting your horse’s guts going back to normal is also tantamount. You’ll want to stick as close to the standard feeding schedule as time zone changes and travel will allow. Try and bring enough feed, hay, chaff, and any supplements to last the time away from home, but if that’s not possible, ask friends and associates for a trusted feed store that can deliver. It’s impossible to know the quality you’ll be getting in that delivery, so at the minimum, bring a stash you can use to transition your horse from one feed to another; or if worst comes to worst, to tide them over while you find another supply! You can also give your horse a saliva-generating treat such as an apple to prevent acid build up while they adjust to their new schedule and location.
Most horse shows and events just don’t have the room or resources to do decent turnouts for the horses, so a good idea is just to take them out for a walk on a lead. Get their muscles and guts moving and warmed up. If they start to develop bad stall habits, that can be boredom, stress, or digestive issues. So keeping your horse interested and as unstressed as possible is key.
No one knows your horse like you know your horse. If they’re not acting right, or something is just off, you should listen to your inner voice. No one wants to quit a competition before it’s begun, but if it means your horse is healthy for the next one, we know it’s the right choice. Keeping your horse happy and healthy will hopefully lead to many fun and successful events! A great preventative to reduce horse stress is a maintenance dose of AbPrazole.