Technology or Gimmick? A Personal Point of View
by Jeannette Orr
Things have changed a lot since I began riding. When I started riding, there were very limited choices in equipment, clothing for horse and rider, and in equine health care and training. I am going to highlight my likes and dislikes in this article.
One of my favorite technological evolutions is for protective equipment for both riders and horses. Let’s start with helmets. Back in my days of showing in the 70s, our helmets were more decorative than protective. They were just a hard shell with a hard brim and an elastic band for a chinstrap. And we all cut off the elastic band! While better than nothing, these helmets did little to protect your noggin in a fall. And the hard brims would always whack you on the bridge of your nose. I knew many riders with broken noses from their helmet brim.
Thanks to research into head injuries, helmet design is now state of the art. Today’s helmet offers much more protection than my old hunt cap. And with materials like titanium, and thick foam padding and proper head harnesses, riders are much safer than in the past. And having an ASTM rating is a very helpful guideline in seeing how safe your helmet is. Although some are pricey, you cannot put a price on your brain. Well worth the investment.
Protective vests have been around for a while, but the latest technology is an airbag design. The Point Two Proair jacket is a vest with a CO2 canister. There is a lanyard that attaches to the saddle and activates the canister once the lanyard separates from the saddle. The vest inflates within.1 of a second and protects the major thoracic and upper abdominal organs as well as s the neck, ribcage and spinal area. It deflates in 15 to 20 seconds and allows complete movement while inflated. It is reusable and you can purchase replacement CO2 canisters. This item retails for around $675, but if you are eventing or hunting, or just want to be safer, this sounds like a great device. It is completely flat, and less bulky than traditional protective vests. My only concern is accidentally activating the vest by dismounting while the lanyard is attached. This could cause an accident instead of preventing one.
My pick for technology for horse safety is the modern day galloping boot. Galloping boots used to be made of leather and sheepskin, or plastic. They were limited in fit and offered only a fair amount of support. With today’s modern materials, the choice for galloping boots, bell boot and skid boots is enormous. I favor the fetlock boots that are neoprene with Velcro. I use the SMB boot on my mare when hunting. They offer plenty of support, but are more flexible and contour to the horse’s leg better than the older leather models. My only complaint about the neoprene is that they can be hot and the horse will sweat underneath them. But they are durable, and clean up is a simple hosing off.
Saddle pads have also come quite a long way. We had sheepskin (which I still use) and cotton quilted pads. Now there are memory foam pads, and pads of many shapes, wedges, and half pads. I do like the memory foam as an additional pad to a sheepskin or quilted pad. These options can also help correct a saddle fit, and make your horse more comfortable. I also love Velcro straps on pads. The old pads only had a strap with a loop, and that gave you limited adjustability. Velcro makes the pad much easier to adjust, plus it is a simple on and off of the saddle.
My dislike in the equipment category is the jointed stirrup. I think that you should be able to get your heel down without needing a flexible joint in your stirrup. These stirrups do not provide the stable base of support that a traditional stirrup does. With that much flex in your stirrup, you are not able to keep your leg in a proper position. It is not hard to learn to keep your heel down, not sure why these stirrups came about at all. Definitely a gimmick.
For clothing for riders, my two absolute favorites are riding tights and half chaps. We rode in blue jeans with full leather chaps over. They were hot, uncomfortable and unforgiving if you gained a few pounds…. Riding tights are comfortable, easy to wash and affordable. Plus I think that they look much better on a rider when riding in a lesson or clinic. You can see the rider’s body better in tights than in chaps and jeans. And half chaps! Love them. Easy to get on, act like a boot and so comfortable!
My dislike, and to me this is a gimmick, is zippered tall boots. I know, they are easier to get on and off, but I have seen people break a zipper on a boot and then they can’t show or hunt. Until zipper technology improves, I will continue to struggle with pulling on my boots.
The change in horse blankets has been dramatic. We only had fabric blankets and sheets. These were useless out in the rain and snow. They got soaking wet, and you needed several blankets on hand to switch out. Today’s blankets, with their advanced fit, waterproof materials and different weights are a huge improvement. I have to say, I think my horses now have more clothing than I do. With the crazy changes in temperature lately, I have said that my horses are having more wardrobe changes than Cher in a Las Vegas show. But having waterproof sheets saves so much grooming time. No more muddy horses!
In the equine health care world, my number one favorite pick is the digital portable x-ray machine. Prior to digital, even with a portable x-ray, the vet would have to take the pictures and develop the films at the office in order to diagnose the problem. With digital, the diagnosis can be instant. We recently had a horse with a lameness issue. With the digital x-ray and one photo, the vet determined that the horse had an abscess. Treatment could begin right away. Plus this was more cost effective as the vet only needed to take one shot. With traditional x-ray, numerous shots would have been taken, costing more.
There are also thermography machines, standing MRI machines, so many more tools now than in the 70’s. Diagnosis of issues is simpler and faster, and as a result, our horses are healthier.
The biggest gimmick in the equine health world to me is supplements. It is not so much the supplements themselves that I object to as the marketing of them as a catch all solution. Is your mare cranky? Supplement will make that go away. Horse moving a little slowly? Supplement for joint, muscle, tendon, etc. Horse too excitable? Supplement. Now some supplements have been proven to help with certain issues, but by and large, there is no significant scientific proof that supplements do anything except drain your bank account. If your horse is having an issue, check with your vet first for any problem. If the horse is sound, then check your environment, your saddle fit, bit, etc. Don’t jump on the supplement bandwagon. To me, they remind me of the old snake oil salesmen.
And for the final gimmick, my big dislike is anything marketed as a “system”. The Myler bit “system”, the Parelli training “system”, The Sprenger stirrup “system”, you get my drift. My biggest beef with any system is that the system will magically change your horse over night, with little or no effort on your part. I have seen the Myler bitting system advertising, and they tout that a simple change to their bits and hey-presto!-you have a completely different horse. Bottom line, you can fit some aspects of a “system” to your horse, but no horse should be forced to fit into any system. I think these systems are marketed to people with very little horse knowledge and experience. I have seen Clinton Anderson seminars, and he is a “one size fits all” trainer. He expects every horse to fit his mold, instead of looking at each horse as an individual. And what is the rush? I see these demos with trainers breaking a horse in three days. And my response is why would you want to? But this looks impressive to the inexperienced owner, and as a result, they buy the videos, books, whips, halters, you name it. Systems are designed to sell products. They are not designed to truly facilitate proper training.
All in all, I think the horse world has seen some wonderful and amazing improvements. And I look forward to the new ideas and products. What are your likes and dislikes? Let us know here at Catskill Horse!