Who To Ask For Advice?
The range in experience and knowledge of horse owners across the UK varies remarkably. Many horse owners have owned or worked with equines their entire life and are a wealth of knowledge, others may be novice and inexperienced owners finding themselves in unfamiliar territory should problems arise. In either case, there will be times we need to seek advice- perhaps about behaviour of our equines, veterinary issues or just general horse care. But who to turn to for the best advice?
The first place to turn for many owners these days is online- to forums and social media. Much of the time any replies are most likely written based upon the initial information given, perhaps with not all of the background story. And, most importantly, most likely from complete strangers who have no direct knowledge of you, your horse or your circumstances. This can often result in unverified information and multiple suggestions- some of which may be completely incorrect or even misleading. Sometimes this can even lead to those who may reply clashing with one another about the information or reply they have given. Often this is non-productive and can simply confuse the horse owner further.
There are a plethora of equine websites all offering advice and ‘How To’ guides for various aspects of horse care and welfare. While these are often informative and enlightening as an article in general, they are unlikely to be of use if you have a specific issue or concern with your horse. Every horse, owner and circumstance is different, and you cannot truly base your own query on a generalised article- unless it is a generic problem!
You need to bear in mind, that any misguided advice can not only make a problem worse but may affect the health or behaviour of a horse long term which may take time and money to put right. Any problems should be correctly and thoroughly investigated before action is taken to ensure you have the right information and reasoning before attempting to resolve a situation. Hence the importance of asking those who are knowledgeable in that field and who have prior experience of your equine to accurately conclude what may be the problem and how best to treat it. It would be awful to incorrectly use new equipment or to make an issue worse based upon the advice of a complete stranger.
If you keep your horse at a livery yard, your yard owner, or their staff, should be your first port of call with most queries relating to your horse. At the end of the day, these people are likely to know your horse best and it could save you a costly call out for the vet or other equine professional if they are able to help resolve the problem. The yard manager and staff probably handle and observe your horse on a daily basis and should be able to give you a good indication of when things may be amiss and how best to approach them. Secondly, they will have many years of experience of caring for equines, and it is unlikely you will be the first person to have approached them with such questions or concerns. If you approach a member of yard staff and they are unsure, go directly to the yard manager- they will best be able to advise you using their experience and knowledge of your horse. They will also be able to make decisions with regards to yard policies or making changes to the management of the horse that may be able to help the situation.
You should bear in mind that yard owners and their staff will have your and your horses’ best interests as their main consideration with any response they give and will try to best advise you. In addition to this, if they feel you need to seek further advice, they will be able to advise you where to find this or who to speak to and be able to give you personal recommendations based upon past experience as to who best to contact. It may be that the yard owner is unable to give advice on your issue, or you wish to check the advice they have offered, in which case it is time to contact the relevant equine professional relating to your particular concern.
Most equine care and management professionals are regulated by officially recognised bodies, be these farriers, vets, instructors, equine dental technicians, nutritionists or suchlike. However, many roles are unregulated to an extent and just because someone advertises as an experienced instructor, saddle fitter, equine behaviourist, equine dentist, equine bodywork practitioner or the like, does not mean they are fully qualified either to practice nor to give you advice. It is important to check a person’s credentials before seeking advice or requesting treatment. Many remedial treatments require a veterinary referral prior to undertaking – hence why it is best to discuss any issues with your vet first.
Whilst a vet will be able to answer many questions relating to injuries, illnesses, health concerns and the like, it is not always necessary for a costly appointment. Many queries can be asked over the phone, which is much better than having to arrange an appointment and is likely to get you the answer much quicker. Many vets will happily give you a call back to discuss any concerns you may have, free of charge and without needing to arrange an appointment unless they feel it necessary. As well as vets, there are other equestrian professionals whose services cross over with that of vets- farriers, equine dental technicians, nutritionists and other service providers, who will all be able to help with their area of concern and give suitable advice as a first point of contact.
“As an example, if your horse comes in from the field showing mild signs of lameness, the best person to ask first is the yard owner or their staff to see if they have noticed this over the course of the day. They can help you identify which leg is lame, give a good inspection to the leg and foot to see if any cause or injury can be identified and if not, may suggest taking action such as hosing off and overnight rest which may improve the situation. You, or the yard owner or staff, can then see if this has improved by the morning. If it has not, you could call the vet, or alternatively if it seems to be coming from the lower leg or hoof, your farrier. As a majority of lameness originates in the hoof, farriers will more often than not be able to identify causes of lameness- especially if it stems from the condition or injury to the hoof – that will save a visit and investigation from the vet- and often cheaper too. Failing that, a call to the vets may be needed.”
If you receive guidance from an equine professional and are unsure if it's correct, or feel there may be a better option, then your best solution is to contact another equine professional for a second opinion. Do not just accept the first advice if you are unsure; or seek opinions on social media! The most important aspect of horse ownership is “do not be afraid to ask for help”. No one will frown upon anyone asking a genuine query that may affect the health or welfare of their horse. Even as an experienced owner, you will still come across unknowns and there’s always plenty more to be learned! New research and findings are being made all the time, and registered professionals and official bodies are the most likely to be up to date with current recommendations and advice.
There are several recognised bodies and charities that have good sources of general equine advice- The British Horse Society, Redwings, and World Horse Welfare to name but a few. Many veterinary practices and manufacturers of certain equine products will also often have information guides on their websites which can also prove useful for general advice. Many professional bodies and companies also have helplines designed to advise both generally or on specific cases. These should certainly be taken advantage of as these are more often than not manned by qualified professionals specialising in that field of advice, and also a majority of these helplines are free to call.
And yes, occasionally online forums and social media can be a good place to find information – but it should not be the first port of call, and any information given online should still be verified by a qualified person where necessary. Under no circumstances should you ignore professional advice for that offered online by complete strangers!
Below is our suggestion as to who to speak to as the first point of contact for various equine queries and any related links:
Veterinary (Emergency): Vet
Veterinary (Minor or Query): Yard Owner or Vet (by phone)
Lameness: Yard Owner, Farrier or Vet (by phone)
Behaviour: Yard Owner or Instructor
Bitting or Saddlery: Bitting Specialis ior Qualified Saddler
Dentistry or Mouth Related: Equine Dental Technician or Vet
Livery Related Queries: Yard Owner or Yard Staff
Feed and Nutrition: Yard Owner, Feed Manufacturer Helpline or Qualified Nutritionist
General Horse Care Advice: Yard Owner
Equine Welfare: Yard Owner, Vet (by phone) or Welfare Authority
Worming: Vet (by phone) or SQP
Legal Matters: BHS Legal Helpline or Equine Law Specialist
This article is not exhaustive, and there are many levels of advice and treatments available from a whole range of equine professionals. Most importantly, you should be confident in the credentials of those who you are seeking advice from, particularly if you are following a treatment or remedial action that they have recommended. If in any doubt, seek a second opinion or ensure you are seeking advice from a suitably qualified person.