Rolex Riders Share Horse Health Insights

Rolex Riders Share Horse Health Insights

The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is the only four-star competition in the United States.

Photo: Erica Larson, News Editor

Every April, some of the world's top three-day eventing horses and riders descend upon Lexington, Ky., to vie for one of the few four-star events in the world: the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by Land Rover. This year's competition takes place April 25-28 at the Kentucky Horse Park.

With handling, caring for, training, and competing high-performance horses comes a wealth of knowledge about what these athletes require to stay happy and healthy. caught up with a few riders slated to compete at this year's event to talk horse health before the competition kicks off.

Sally Cousins

Rolex veteran Sally Cousins, started eventing internationally more than 20 years ago and has been the United States Eventing Association's leading lady rider since 2008. This year she’s riding Tsunami, a 14-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred mare who raced primarily at Penn National Race Course, said West Grove, Pa.-based Cousins.

"She's a very hot Thoroughbred mare, but she's a great athlete," Cousins explained. "She tries to find her way to the other side of anything you point her at, so on Saturday (for cross-country day) I'll be very happy to be tacking her up."

The Horse: What is your best piece of horse health advice for other equestrians?

Cousins: "I think the best piece of horse health advice I've given is to let the horse let you know how it's doing. If you really pay attention to how the horse looks and how the horse is acting, I think it'll tell you—maybe even ahead of time—if something's starting to go amiss.

"Whether they go off their feed a little bit or if they're not looking as well as they should, or maybe they're a little quieter than they have been, I pay a lot of attention to that. Sometimes I walk by a horse's stall and look in, and it just kind of looks a little funny to me. Then I go and pursue it further."

The Horse: Looking back, what's something you know now about caring for horses that you wish you'd known back then?

Cousins: "I think the biggest thing I wish I knew about is ulcers. When I look back 20 years ago at some of the horses that I rode, I now think, Oh my gosh, it was probably ulcers that were bothering that horse. We know so much more about that now. But, for sure, if I could do something over, I would have treated a whole bunch of horses 20 years ago with omeprazole."

TheHorse: What's the best piece of horse health advice someone has ever given you?

Cousins: "Get a good veterinarian and good professionals around you, and develop a good relationship and work with them. For example, I grew up riding with (American Olympic eventer) Mike Plumb and he used a vet called Dr. Churchill. They worked extensively together and Mike didn't expect him to be able to solve a problem in one appointment. They developed a working relationship over the years. So I try to do the same thing with my professionals, whether they be vets or farriers or people that do body work. It's an ongoing process and it has a give and take to it."

Boyd Martin

Boyd Martin, of Cochranville, Pa, has ridden at Rolex many times, and this year he'll pilot Trading Aces, an Irish Sport Horse, during the event. Martin has only had the ride on Trading Aces for about a year and said he's one of the youngest and greenest horses in the field. While this will be the gelding's first four-star competition, Martin has high hopes for his mount.

"I think he has about as much quality in a horse as I've ever had before," he said. "I feel like he's really well-prepared for this event and, if everything falls into place and the eventing gods smile on me, I'm expecting him to finish within the top five in the field."

The Horse: What's the best piece of horse health advice you've ever received?

Martin: "The great Australian show jumping legend Ron Easey once told me when I was a boy that whenever you get a new horse in training the first thing you should do to the horse is deworm it and then get the dentist to come look at the horse's teeth to make sure all the money you're spending on the horse to make it fat and shiny isn't going to waste."

The Horse: What's something you know now that you wish you'd known in your early days of eventing?

Martin: "How rare and difficult it is to not only find a four-star (eventing) horse but to keep it at that level for long periods of time. When I was young I was lucky enough to have horse after horse at the four-star level, but it's not until now that I look back (and) I understand how amazing these horses were and how hard they are to come by."

Lindsey Oaks

Lexington-based rider Lindsey Oaks will be making her first start at Rolex this year, as will her 13-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, Enchantez.

"We've come up the levels together, he was my first FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale) horse, and hopefully will be my first four-star horse," she said. "His love for his job shows in his exuberance out on the cross-country."

The Horse: What's the best piece of horse health advice a veteran horseman has given you?

Oaks: "Nearly every horseman that I have looked up to over the years has said to me at some point to listen to my horse. If he's a little sore or a little under the weather, never push him and only work horses that are healthy."

The Horse: Looking back, what's something you know now that you wish you'd known in your early riding days?

Oaks: "I wish I'd have known as a younger rider how much daily grooming and good housekeeping (or stall keeping) really affect the horse. Putting my hands on my horses every day helps me mind bumps, scraps, and loose shoes before they become real issues."

The Horse: What is your best piece of horse health advice for other equestrians?

Oaks: "Pay attention to your horses' habits and quirks and if ever something is out of the ordinary, you'll know to have a closer look at him. For example, if my horse always whinnies to me and checks my pockets for treats when I walk in the barn and one day he's hanging in the back of his stall and doesn't get excited about my offering of cookies, I'm going to, right away, check his temperature, his gums and skin for dehydration, and listen for gut sounds as he may be feeling a bit under the weather."

About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, news editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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