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As equestrians, we spend a lot of time justifying our sport to other people. The fact that it is in the Olympics doesn’t even seem to matter some days. Instead, I have had people argue that ping pong is an Olympic sport, trying to prove that not all Olympic sports are sports, I guess. As we make that argument, and as we push ourselves and work to climb up the levels, to prove ourselves as a competitor in this sport, we lose sight of why we started in the first place, and what is most important. Recently the quote “Love the horse first, and the sport second” has been circulating Facebook, and it really resonated with me. I’ve written a bit about how moving to Alaska, and having Wyatt have challenged me to refocus my riding, and truly helped me to live up to this quote.
A few months ago, I discovered that Wyatt developed Melanomas in his mouth right where his bit goes. While we waited for him to have surgery to remove them, I started riding him in a cross under style bitless bridle. While I helped eliminate the discomfort caused by the melanomas, he did not love it, so I figured at some point we would go back to riding in a bit. After his surgery, we continued to try different bitless options while his mouth healed, and I was shocked to find that he absolutely LOVED the pinwheel hackamore I tried. He was a WHOLE different horse. At 12 years old he has always been a bit crocked, and required some work to ride straight. The crookedness would also lead to the occasional missed canter lead. In the pinwheel hackamore those problems went away. He became straighter, and hasn’t missed a canter lead since the change.
A few friends have asked me when I will switch my horse back to a bit so that we can pursue our horse show goals. The answer is I don’t know that I will. Wyatt being happy and comfortable with the tack we use, is way more important to me than winning ribbons at a horse show. Some times what is best for your horse isn’t what is best for your show career, and that is okay. Don’t get me wrong, I am painfully aware of how hard this decision can be. I have had to make it on a few different occasions for the horses I have been blessed to have in my life, but at the end of the day we are responsible for the health and welfare of the amazing animals that make this sport possible.
Horses are extremely selfless, in so many ways I think they give us way more than we can ever give them in return. The days when they stop at a jump, spook in the middle of your flat class, or hit the barrel killing the time of your run it can be hard to remember all they do for us. But without them we wouldn’t have a sport. We wouldn’t have met countless people who have become our closest friends. Without them we wouldn’t have a shoulder to cry on or someone to tell our deepest secrets to. Horses make us better, so in the end, even when the decision feels impossible the choice is simple, “Love the horse first, and the sport second”.