Horse grazing
Photo by Kelsey Pecsek Hruska.

Health Matters: Hidden Opportunities in the Current Times

A month ago, I could not have imagined the topic of this article. My inclination is to write about equine diseases that affect people in the horse industry, not the other way around. But, here we find ourselves dealing with a human health crisis that has had a profound effect within the horse industry.

It is certainly a new situation to us all, regardless of what segment of the economy you operate within. I have often wondered if, at some time, we would have to come to terms with a nationwide stoppage of equestrian events due to an equine origin pandemic similar to the human one we are experiencing now. The possibility is there, without question; however, through no fault of our own, we are dealing with an unprecedented stoppage of horse shows, rodeos, horse races and even small local events because they exceed the mandates given for public gatherings and social distancing.

Before all of this, I would have relished the thought of social distancing. Being an introvert in an extroverted world, all it does now is nauseatingly reinforce the point that I have very little control over this situation. So, to better understand the effects this unwelcomed visitor has placed on us all, I asked every trainer, rider, competitor, cowboy, loper and breeding manager I came into 6-foot contact with what they thought about it.

Since the livestock industry is considered an “essential business,” we have the unique classification to operate as others do not. Whether your income is derived directly from the horse or is depleted as a direct result of it, you have a say in the process.

Some things never change — horses have to eat every day. They poop and get their stalls dirty every day. You can plan on it.

What you had not planned on was the next show — the next cutting, reining or cow horse event, or the rodeo you made the short go for before it got cancelled — getting pushed off for several weeks or even months. What do you do now? It’s not just you; it’s all of us at the same time. God has, at the very least, hit the pause button for a time. So, what do you do with it?

In my mind, what your horses look like on the other side of this long-term time out depends on what you do on a daily basis. Visiting with so many folks gave me perspective across the horse industry.

For most aged event or finished horses, the best thing for them is to stay in a holding pattern.  Chill out, but stay fit. That’s my personal goal for my 40s, which I have yet to achieve. These horses are already trained, so give their mind and body a break. Or, this may be the opportunity you needed to focus on a project horse. The word is this will either be the best set of 3-year-old futurity horses ever or they will all be crippled by October.

The truth is when some trainers do not have enough horses to ride, they ride the ones they have to fill the void. That works and is needed for some, but more miles does not necessarily mean a better horse. The silver lining in all this seemingly endless delay comes in the form of extra and very essential rehabilitation time for the injured horse. Just think — no one is gaining points on you! No one had the opportunity to win more money than you.  It is the ultimate rain delay by which we all have to abide.

In my impromptu research for this article, the recurrent theme was that the end result of the time spent in “quarantine” is solely dependent upon whom you are talking about. It is the desires and goals of the rider, owner, trainer or whomever has a say in the day-to-day conditioning of the horse in question that makes the biggest difference.

So, you and I both want to know the same thing. What will it look like when it all starts back up? What will the new normal be? Just like life changed after Sept. 11th, it will change again to accommodate what will be required to resume our reality.

You may be as educated as I am in diseases and epidemiology or savvy cattle futures and macroeconomics as a profession, but when we are taken as a whole, we are no more than our collective opinions. We like to think we can control the future, but we can no more control the future than we can change the past.

All we can do is what we deem as our best … today. Take care of yourself and those around you the best you can. Take care of the horses entrusted to you as best you can. The end result is not ours to manufacture. We are solely responsible for the method by which we get there. We are the means to an end that is not ours to promise. The one who does control the future has made us all a promise, and thankfully, it is His alone to keep.