We prefer riding horses to motorcycles for the companionship the horse gives us, for the sheer exhilaration of feeling his responses to our (almost) every command.
No one thinks it strange when we talk to them, hug them and love them. But the fact remains that they are not machines and, as such, at each endurance ride a number of horses do not complete the ride.
The diffcult part is t the metabolic status of the horse. Veterinarians look at recovery rates (using pulse rates as the main parameter) and the horse’s general metabolism (level of dehydration, gut sounds, appearance of mucous membranes, muscle tonus) and have to make a call based on these few parameters. But they are not equipped with bionic vision to see whether all the internal organs are still doing well, or to see whether the mineral (sodium, chloride, calcium, potassium, magnesium) balance in the body is within the acceptable range. Furthermore, veterinarians cannot evaluate the impulsion and general habitus of the horse when under saddle. Sometimes they are put under unnecessary pressure when too few veterinarians do duty at a ride.
Riders, on the other hand, do not have the training to interpret the parameters evaluated by the veterinarians. But they should read the horse and should be able to feel whether the horse is his usual self, or possibly not as strong as expected. This calls for some degree of horsemanship, and the less often the rider rides the horse in training, the more horsemanship is required to still be able to read the horse.
Trainers (or owners) also cannot interpret the veterinary examination. But they know how well the horse was prepared, and what the horse should be capable of doing. They also should be able to assist the rider in interpreting the general signs the horse is showing.
So who is responsible when a horse collapses? Everyone. The trainer, who should guide the rider and not expect miracles when the horse is not really fifi t. The rider, who should read his horse and be willing to call it a day when the horse doesn’t feel well. The veterinarian, who should do a thorough examination at all times and should clearly convey his opinion to the rider. The organising committee, who should make sure enough veterinarians are called upon to do duty at the ride.
Who is to blame? Often no one. Sometimes the rider, who did not heed advice or did not read the horse. Sometimes the trainer, who wanted to win above all else. Sometimes the veterinarian, who rushed through the examination. Sometimes all of them together.
Blaming people does not change the situation. Let’s all rather learn from each unpleasant experience, and improve on what we are doing. Concentrate on your contribution, and set the example!