I just came back from the World Cup in Las Vegas - the competition was amazing and there were a number of competitors there who were just fabulous. The most fabulous of all was Charlotte and Valegro - they are in a class by themselves. I got to thinking about all the people behind the scenes who help these athletes compete in top international competition - there are so many who are incredibly important to each and every horse and rider. Every rider needs a team of experts who they can trust implicitly. This trust is crucial - improvement happens when commitment is 100%, and a rider can only commit at that level when they trust their teammates to be behind their success.
The most accomplished of riders have eyes on the ground to help with both big and little training issues. Carl Hester is ringside with Charlotte and “Blueberry” at home and at all the competitions - it’s obviously a winning combination! We can’t all train with Carl Hester, but it does help to have a trainer who has ridden to the level you are aspiring to, hopefully with more than one horse, and has the ability to teach his or her knowledge. Some super riders are not great teachers, and some average riders are wonderful at imparting their expertise - which means excellence in riding isn't always necessary - but make sure your trainer has the knowledge to impart.
Most amateurs and even some top riders groom their own horses - I love this and think it’s best for everyone, including the horse. The groom knows best what is going on with their horse; riders who are too busy to groom (many professionals are in this category) need a caring and knowledgeable groom. A good groom is worth their weight in gold, and loves the horses in his/her care. The groom should know every inch of a horse’s body, and needs to know what is normal and what is cause for alarm, before it’s a cause for alarm. A good groom works long hours (horses need to be fed and cared for from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm - and sometime overnight) and never takes short cuts.
“No Foot No Horse” is absolutely a truism. It may seem that lots of horses get suspensory issues, but in reality most lamenesses originate in the foot. Your farrier will be crucial in minimizing these problems - I never believe in cutting corners in foot care. When I was a kid we shod horses every 8 weeks, now I have horses which have the blacksmith in every 4 weeks because their hoof balance goes off. Most go 5 weeks. I also think it’s mandatory to have conversations with your farrier all the time - talk to them about your concerns with how your horse is moving, how his feet are balanced, what shoeing might be appropriate given your footing, the workload, any lameness issues etc. I always walk and trot my horses for my farrier, so we can analyze the balance. It’s important that your farrier will talk to you - they should be able to explain what they are doing and why to the greenest horse owner.
Now we have a good team in place: a horse, a rider, a trainer and a farrier. Next cog in the wheel is our veterinary care. Dressage horses are performance machines, and sometimes need medical expertise that is specific to performance horses. The veterinarian who helps to keep your horses vaccinated, wormed and in general good health may not be the best one to assist when you have a lameness that is not easy to diagnose. There are vets who specialize in performance horses - and then there are vets who specialize in International performance horses. Regardless of expertise, any vet worth their salt will be happy to discuss with you and your trainer their findings and their recommendations for treatment. Top trainers have valuable insights into how a horse is going and should have extensive experience with keeping performance horses happy and sound; it’s very important that your veterinarian has a great relationship with the trainer.
Last but certainly not least are the supporters who really want you and your horse to do well. We are a social animal, we all need supporters to succeed! For many of us that will mean our spouses, our families and our friends. For World Cup riders it also means their federations, their sponsors, their owners, and their fans. I know for certain that keeping the positive people close and shooing away the negative will only help you achieve happiness in your life and your riding goals. Build your bubble and guard it well. I know that this is sometimes easier said than done, but I also know that keeping negative people close in your life is a recipe for unhappiness and failure.
Las Vegas World Cup showcased the best of the best. These horses and riders did not get there without a team of wonderful experts behind them. If you can find your team keep them close and value them. It doesn’t matter if your goal is to do a wonderful Shoulder In at 2nd Level or to perform a piaffe for a 10 at the World Cup. Build your team and it’s all possible!