Last week I was on my way to an evening church activity with a friend. The roads were icy, and he drove slowly. We noticed a police cruiser facing us at an intersection a few hundred yards from the church. We turned left, and then as we started into the church lot, those blue lights came on and followed us in. While we were waiting for the officer to approach the car, we looked at each other and wondered why we had been targeted. My friend definitely wasn’t speeding; he had made a full stop, and had signaled his turn. After the usual license and registration checks the policeman told my friend that he had noticed that his registration sticker had expired 6 months before.
It was totally dark out, the windshield of our car was visible for maybe 5 seconds, and yet he was able to spot the outdated sticker! He knew what to look for and focused on it, probably totally unconsciously because of his training. He not only looked, he saw.
I went to vet school knowing that my career was in cows. I had plenty of experience on dairy farms, and even ran one for awhile. However, as I worked my way through vet school I found myself drawn to horses, even though my experience with the species was mighty slim. The fact is, I had ridden exactly one horse, several years before, and although I didn’t admit it at the time, the experience was terrifying. I had never groomed a horse or mucked out a stall and had no idea how to put on a halter. But despite all that, the horses I saw at the vet school clinic were getting to me. I felt stupid about the species, but wanted to learn. I started to hang out with students who had horse backgrounds. I watched closely how they handled horses in the clinic.
I remember the first time I was exposed to the importance of conformation in horses. I could see it in cows, but up to that point I was just looking at, but not seeing horses. I learned how to evaluate all the parts in relation to the rest of the horse. It took awhile, but finally I could see the hind end that was weak and the “upside down neck”.
You may have just bought your first horse, and maybe you are just as bewildered as I was in knowing much about them. Perhaps you’ve been around horses a long time, but you feel that there are some gaps in your knowledge. I have found that if you ask the right questions to the right people you can become quite knowledgeable. Let’s say for example that you would like to learn better how to evaluate a horse’s foot. Your farrier might be the best place to start. Ask him or her: “What do you look for in a good foot?” Listen carefully, take that answer, and build on it with other resources. Make use of trainers, clinics, books, magazines, videos, and of course the internet. Compare what you have learned to what you are looking at, and soon you will start to see. You will know far more than someone who never asks. You have learned to do this in other aspects of your own life. It’s the same with horse knowledge.
We have all not asked at times because it means we are clueless. I think that people who would embarrass you because you don’t know something are a bit insecure in who they are. If you would like to know more about any aspect of horses, just admit that you are ignorant in that area and would like to learn. The horse world is full of incredible people who would love to help you see.
–David A. Jefferson, DVM