Be the Voice: The Horse Owner’s Responsibility of Advocacy

By Nilani Trent

Recently, Bill Schaub wrote a post on Facebook about the overuse of show horses, specifically calling out against competing excessive weeks in a row.  I followed up on this topic the next day with my trainer, Chris Cawley, who remarked that the conversation needed to be taken a step further to the number of classes a horse shows in at a competition.  During week 6 of the Winter Equestrian Festival, I noticed a very quality show hunter who campaigned in two professional divisions, an amateur division, a two round International Hunter Derby and then again in the WCHR Hunter Spectacular – ALL IN FOUR DAYS!  That’s thirteen jumping rounds, multiple warm up fences and three hacks for one horse, not to mention it had also shown each week the five weeks prior.  As an amateur rider, who competes Casablanca 108 in the adult jumpers, and owner of derby horse, Autumn Rhythm, I thought a lot about my responsibilities as an owner.  I decided that other than as their perpetual treat giver, my role in my horse’s lives is as their advocate.

So what does it mean to advocate for your show horse?  I think it means being his or her voice and making decisions that are best for his or her longevity and wellbeing.  Here are a few example of how I advocate for my horses.

  1. Know the facts. I am not a veterinarian, nor a farrier, nor a professional horseman, so in order to know the facts I have to ask the right questions and I have to listen to the answers.  Sometimes there are MILLIONS of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask all the questions in the world.  Be an active participant.  Know your vet’s name and number.  Same thing with your farrier.
  2. Surround yourself with an advisory team. I have a small group of friends who are lifelong equestrians with backgrounds such as veterinarians, professional trainers, owners, grooms, etc, that I have known for multiple decades and trust with my life.  I know they have my best interest in mind when I ask them for advise.
  3. Create a bond. When you know your horse you can make the best decisions on his or her behalf.  I like being part of the grooming process.  Feeling my horses legs before and after I ride, as well as running my hands over my horses back and under his stomach is part of my daily routine.
  4. Think about the big picture. I have gone through highs and lows in this sport and the best way to move past the lows is staying focused on the big picture.  I may not have been champion every week in Florida, but the end goal is for my horse to be a strong competitor at Derby Finals.
  5. Don’t get too close with your veterinarian or farrier. I’ve seen good trainers unable to ask the right questions because they have become too close with their vets.  They trust them blindly and even the top vets can make mistakes.
  6. Work with a trainer you can trust. Ride with someone who knows how to properly tack up a horse, wrap, feed, medicate, etc.  This may seem basic, but it’s actually not unusual to find trainers that are slick riders in the ring, but terrible horsemen on the ground.
  7. Be a good sport. No matter what, the best way to advocate for your horse is to have a good attitude and love what you do.  Your horse deserves to be represented by your positive spirit.

Nilani Trent is an art advisor based in New York City specializing in Contemporary Art and the Art Market.  She is a lifelong equestrian who currently competes in the amateur owner hunters and the adult jumpers under the guidance of Norfield Stables.