It’s a nice, zeitgeisty phrase, and no matter how independent and hardworking you are with your horse(s), it’s true… you can’t possibly do everything yourself, so it’s worth finding people for your ‘team’ who really know their stuff, and you’re sure you can totally rely on. I’ve made the mistake in the past of putting my trust in the wrong people, so you might be able to learn from my mistakes!
As a minimum you will need:
A farrier you can really trust. Is s/he ace on foot balance? Do they know their way around a stud hole? (Don’t laugh – I had a farrier tap the holes from the wrong sides of the shoes at the beginning of one season, because he was out of practice.
Cue 6 out of 8 studs falling out on an Intermediate XC because I hadn’t been able to tighten them enough, as they are supposed to taper slightly the further in they go. I was unamused, as you can imagine!)
Will the farrier shoe to support the heels enough? Just because the horse keeps his shoes on, that doesn’t always mean he’s being shod well!
Will s/he come out at short notice to put a shoe back on before an event? (I groomed for a friend once, and her farrier arrived at about 4.30am on a Sunday morning to put a shoe back on before she left for an event, because she wasn’t sure the on-site farrier would be there early enough. I’m not sure mine would have done that!)
A vet who understands competition horses and their needs. Vaccinations done a day too late (yes, I’ve had this, too) can seriously screw things up further down the line for you (plus a whole new course of vaccinations has to be started, costing ££s.) Are they happy to indulge your paranoia about tendons and do precautionary tendon scans, if you are concerned? Many top riders get scans done as a matter of course. Will your vet see the whole picture with a competition horse, and advise accordingly?
In addition to the vet, many riders use an equine body worker of some description. There are various types, and it’s a total minefield deciding which one to go for, for a particular horse. A physiotherapist is always a good start, if you can find one (they seem to be very few and far between and always booked up months in advance!) Then there are Chiropracty (McTimoney and others), Osteopathy, the unqualified ‘back man’ (some of whom have many satisfied customers), Equine Shiatsu, Equine Sports Massage Therapists, and probably others I have never heard of. Some are mild, some are strong, some are appreciated by some horses, some by others. It took me a good while to find ones that I really rate, and that I know improve my horses every time.
Of course, someone similar to work on the rider’s body is a good idea too. Are you symmetrical? If not, where/how, and how do you work on it? A good pair of eyes on the ground is really essential – or mirrors, if you have them. (Recently I was told something that has made a huge difference to my symmetry… apparently I have one leg longer than the other – not just a pelvis that twists, a lot, as I thought… and no wonder that it does, in fact! Nobody has EVER pointed this out before. Having the other stirrup leather slightly shorter, to make me sit in the middle, is working perfectly. I do realise that sounds like backwards thinking, but it works. With equal stirrups, it didn’t matter how hard I tried, repeatedly, to stay exactly in the middle, my longer leg was always pushing me across.) I usually get regular chiropractic treatment to ensure I am as symmetrical as I can be – a wonky rider will really struggle to make a straight horse!
An instructor (or perhaps more than one) who teaches the way you need to be taught (visual? verbal? feel? which work(s) best for you? strict or tactful? shouty or gentle?), who really knows their stuff, understands your goals, doesn’t have their own agenda (such as angling for the ride on your horse!), likes your horse (if they don’t, it’s usually best to find another instructor, unless they have very good reasons for saying your horse is not right for you), and has time for you, and will tell you honestly what you need to work on, and when you are ready to move up the levels, for example. You should come out of every lesson feeling you’ve got somewhere, and with stuff to work on before you next lesson, and they should ideally take an interest in your overall progress, how you do at events, etc, not just take the money for an hour and ignore you otherwise! One who’ll be at events with you, walk courses etc is a bonus, sometimes they will point out something that you hadn’t noticed, and it can make a huge difference.
Either a qualified Equine Dental Technician or a vet who is good at teeth, to keep the horse’s teeth in perfect order. (Usually an annual check is enough, and before the start of the season is the ideal time.) Many years ago, just 2 weeks after having my horses’ teeth done by a vet I really trusted, I was waiting to get their backs done at a yard, and got chatting to an EDT whose next client was running late. He offered to have a look in their mouths, and put the gag on, had a feel around, laughed wryly, and invited me to have a feel in there. I CUT my finger on one of my Advanced mare’s molars. I was very annoyed that I’d trusted the wrong person on that one… and of course I got them both done again as soon as I could, properly!
A saddle fitter you can really trust. This is easier said than done, as many seem to prioritise their profit above your horse’s comfort. After wasting spending many many thousands of pounds on saddles over the years I have come to the conclusion that when a saddle is being fitted, the only expert in the room whose opinion should carry any weight is the horse! But some horses are very stoic and will put up with an uncomfortable saddle (including a brand spanking new one which the saddle fitter is convinced fits perfectly) for a while before betraying their discomfort, while others will tell you immediately (and sometimes painfully) if they are not 100% happy.
Possibly a nutritionist from a feed company. Many companies employ in-house nutritionists who are happy to advise on your horse’s diet, for free. As long as everything is going well, your horse is the right weight and has the energy levels you want, your system is probably ideal already, but otherwise, experimenting with new feed types is always worth a go. There are new advances in the feed market all the time, and it’s worth keeping an open mind. (I’m feeding something very new to all my horses now, Equidgel, and hugely rate it. I was very happy with my feeding regime before, but… it’s improved! They’ve never looked better.)
I’ll add in a farmer who makes super hay (or haylage) that’s absolutely guaranteed free from ragwort, unless you make your own!
A bitting advisor. It might be trusted friends, in real life or the internet, or your instructor, or someone in the industry, but sometimes you’ll be stuck, and I can guarantee that it won’t be a new problem… someone, somewhere, probably a thousand times over, will have encountered that exact problem, and a solution will be out there too. Those who can see the problem, understand what you’re going through, and know the short routes to the solutions are worth knowing!
Someone really sane to talk it all over with. It might be your yard owner, or instructor, or friends who know their way around the sport… or, strangers on the internet (but as they don’t know you or your horse, their advice might not always be apposite!) Sometimes you just need honest perspective, and that’s not always easy to keep about your horse, your riding, and your progress.
That’s the day to day stuff. On the day of an event, of course you CAN cope on your own, but event organisers would probably rather you didn’t, and it’s more fun with friends. (As long as they aren’t too much of a distraction… I turned up for the dressage warm-up once minus my stock, and lost vital time riding back to the lorry to put it on, because I’d been distracted talking to friends while I got ready, oops!)
Your personal back-up team. Do you have a supportive partner, and/or parent(s) or friends to go to events with you? If so, are they smart enough to know when to say something, and when to keep schtum (an absolute art form)? If they’re there on the day, will they force you to hydrate yourself if you forget, or to eat something before you risk passing out?
Someone to take boots off the horse and remind you to drop your whip before going into the dressage arena, to get control of the SJ warm-up fences for a few minutes so you can jump exactly what you want before your round (invaluable, since this can be THE most stressful part of the day for a lot of riders), someone to check your girth just before you go xc, is incredibly useful. Afterwards, a hand to hold the horse and strip off tack and boots, and help with washing it down and scraping, and someone to walk the horse around and then let it graze while you clean your tack and tidy everything away, is invaluable. Of course it’s possible to do these things yourself, but it’s a lot easier with willing hands around!
Someone to take photos or video, which is SO useful for tracking your progress and deciding what to work on (it can feel very different to the way it looks!) as well as being a great memento of the day. The support crew is really important, never to be underestimated.
A word of caution though – try not to take anyone who winds you up. However ‘helpful’ they might think they are being, it really doesn’t help at all, there’s already more than enough pressure at an event! I’ve experienced this too, and being criticised for how I drove the horsebox the whole way there (including being told not to use the indicators, because the warning noise they make hurt the person’s ears!) meant I arrived at events already very rattled. Not good, and not at all conducive to riding calmly and having a good day…
Someone very famous once said “it takes a village” to produce a horse. Make sure you assemble your ‘village’ with care, and the rewards will come… and, remember to reward your ‘team’! Buying the bacon rolls and coffees at an event is guaranteed to keep the guys happy (says the voice of experience!) Beers later on, as long as someone stays sober to drive the lorry home, also help, especially if you all have to wait for a prize giving. And if someone I don’t know very well comes to help, I will do my best to buy them a present from 1 of the on-site shops. It all helps!