By David Mikosz
Doing well in the show ring is not just about getting around the ring with as few mistakes as possible. It also means taking an Arabian horse in the ring that is in top health inside and out. Without daily quality care and nutrition a horse cannot perform its best in any discipline.
Wading Through the Sea of Information
A lot of information is available about care and safety for horses on the Internet, in books, and out of the mouths of each passing horseman. The difficult thing is that among this plethora of information, there are a lot of contradictions and myths among the gems of truth.
It's important that horse owners qualify where they get their information. So much is done out of tradition and superstition rather than science or measurable evidence. Many horses are fed based on anecdotal advice rather than with a real nutritional plan. Instead of getting information and making informed decisions, owners sometimes follow every piece of advice they come across from friends, the Internet or magazine advertising.
So, how to sort through the mire and determine what is best for your horse? One way is to find a good veteran professional horseman you trust and let them teach you. Posts on Internet discussion boards, facebook, etc., may or may not have good information. Even if it is factual, it may not be what's best for the particular needs of your horse.
If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. I believe there is a significant amount of money wasted on redundant nutrients and unquantified supplements in the equestrian world, quite possibly to the detriment of our horses.
Good quality grass hay and a commercially prepared balanced ingredient based feed with the minimum of carbohydrates and fillers is all that is needed for most show horses. Occasionally a horse may have trouble assimilating a specific nutrient. Once that is identified then supplementing with just that specific nutrient may be required until the cause of the deficiency is identified.
That said, I have seen horses not just survive but thrive, at least temporarily, with feeding programs that bordered on ridiculous at both ends of the spectrum. Just more evidence as to what an amazing creature the horse really is.
Injury and Illness
In addition to needing proper nutrition for good overall health, show horses are susceptible to injury and illness due to the amount of travel they experience and the number of unfamiliar horses with which they come in contact.
While not everything can be prevented, a little careful planning and care can help stop some illness and injuries before they occur--and we all know prevention is worth much more than a cure. One problem that is very common for show horses is dehydration, due to spending hours on the road or being in an unfamiliar place with strange water. Proper hydration is an absolute key to good health. Prior to traveling or other stressful conditions, like extreme heat or unseasonably cold conditions, you can give them electrolyte paste or powder or even just feed them a handful of salt to make them thirsty so they'll drink. When we ship horses long distances we give them IV fluids and hyperhydrate them before they get on the trailer to make absolutely sure they are well hydrated through the whole trip.
As far as injuries are concerned, many of them are the result of an accident. However, muscle or tendon strains are often a result of improper warm up or conditioning. The best way to avoid injury is to make sure the horse is properly conditioned for his job. You can't ride your horse once a week and then ask him to fully utilize himself at a competition without a greater risk of injury. You have to do your work at home and get him in the proper condition, and then make sure he's properly warmed up before you ask him for his best.
If an injury does occur, it's important to act quickly in order to minimize the lasting effects. Get cold on it really fast. One thing I learned for sure is if a soft tissue injury is incurred the faster you can get cold on it the shorter the healing time.
As you wade through the sea of well-meaning advice and anecdotes from fellow horsemen, it's important to understand that there are as many right answers as there are wrong ones. You're going to get different answers from different people. All of our opinions are based on personal experience. It doesn't necessarily mean anyone is right or wrong, it's just each has learned through personal experience. My best advice is to find a good, seasoned professional you can trust and let them mentor you.
Learning how to keep your show horse healthy and fit is part of the responsibility of horse ownership. Finding what is right for your particular situation can be tricky and require a great deal of discernment filtering through the suggestions you receive. The effort will be worthwhile when the result is a happy, healthy, well-performing horse.