In this modern Age of the Internet, you can post any question online and hundreds—if not thousands—of people will read your words in a matter of moments. In many cases, you’ll even get responses offering support, opinions, or advice. Internet forums and social media can be solid resources for information, but there are questions that when asked online could lead you and your horse into a dangerous or unhealthy situation.
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We’re going to identify three questions to think twice about asking online resources—especially when you don’t personally know potential “advisors” and “experts.” These queries could lead you to disaster because they involve many variables that can’t be accurately conveyed in a simple post on a forum or social-media platform. We’ll also give you suggestions for what types of questions might actually work to net you valuable advice.
Question #1: ‘Should I Call the Vet?’
The potentially hazardous post: “When I fed my horse this morning, he was sweaty, wouldn’t stand up, and ignored his food. Should I call the vet?”
Why it’s bad: The potential risk is too great. What if you took unqualified advice from a stranger online to “wait it out” and it led to the death of your horse? Home remedies can also be dicey. Just because Jim Bob’s great-grandmother once cured a colic case with blueberry juice doesn’t mean it’ll work for your horse—or that the story is even truthful. Unless you’re posting on a forum moderated by veterinarians who regularly answer questions, stay away from seeking this kind of health advice, especially in an emergency situation.
What to do instead: Call your vet! Describe your situation in as much detail as you can—vital signs, visual appraisal, odd behaviors, etc. If there’s value in visual information, such as with a wound, snap a picture to send to your vet, asking if you should come in. Time is often of the essence, and getting quick and accurate care from a veterinary professional is always the safest bet for your horse. It can even save you money by handling the problem immediately, rather than dragging it out and leading to more expensive treatments. Veterinary expenses are part of owning horses. Don’t take the cheap way out. It’ll almost always lead to higher costs, and even possibly the “expense” of your horse’s life.
[READ: Your Horse’s Health Team]
Question #2: ‘How Can I Fix This?’
The potentially hazardous post: “My horse bucks when I ask him to lope. What can I do to fix it?”
Why it’s bad: The question lacks essential details. You wouldn’t go to an auto repair shop without your car and expect the mechanic to somehow fix it. He wouldn’t have all the information he needed to diagnose the problem. Furthermore, you don’t know the experience level or training philosophies of strangers offering advice. While some might have good advice to share, others could use questionable, quick-fix training techniques. And it’s not always easy to discern the difference.
What to do instead: For the best information, find a trainer whose reputation and training style you respect, and haul in for a lesson. From there, the pro can put together a plan that might include further instruction, depending on the problem, that’ll keep both you and your horse safe and happy. Or the pro might recognize a physical problem that needs the involvement of your vet in order to resolve.
If seeking online advice is your only option, do your homework first. Investigate the background and training philosophies of anyone you’ll ask for advice. When you request input, provide as much information as possible, including a video of you riding. Recognize that you’ll need excellent lighting and someone with a steady hand to run the camera. Supplying a poorly lit, shaky, low-quality video won’t get you the best possible advice.
Question #3: ‘What Bit Should I Use?’
The potentially hazardous post: “I ride in a snaffle. My horse tosses his head when I pull on him. What bit should I try to fix this?”
Why it’s bad: This might be the winner for “Question With the Most Unidentified Variables.” What type of snaffle? Does he toss his head only in the stated situation? How (and why) are you pulling on him? There are so many factors to consider when choosing a bit. A good bit can be a wonderful communication tool—or a horrendous torture piece, depending on how the rider uses it. And the wrong bit can severely damage a horse physically and mentally, setting your training back exponentially.
What to do instead: Before you even consider changing a bit to resolve a behavior issue, thoroughly consider your horse’s dental health. Keep in mind that not all float jobs are created equal. Erupting teeth causing pain (in young horses) or an injury such as an abscess, ulcer, cracked/broken tooth, or damaged tongue can be the root cause for sudden behavioral changes in a usually well-mannered horse. Along with dental problems, consider the horse’s mouth shape and size. Think about your goals, your horse’s training level, and your own experience. Even after considering all of these variables, you’ll have thousands of bits and combinations to choose from. Save yourself and your horse endless frustration by hiring a professional to help you assess your horse’s needs, find the right bit, adjust it properly, and use it correctly.
[READ: Bob Avila’s Favorite Bits]
When Should I Use My Online Community?
Your virtual equestrian community actually can be a fantastic wealth of information, if used thoughtfully.
What should you be asking? If you’re traveling, ask questions about gas prices, hotels, layover options for horses, road conditions, and hazards to watch out for. When you’re hauling to an unfamiliar arena or trail, query about ground conditions, amenities, and unusual rules. Buying a new truck or trailer? Ask about others’ experiences, both good and bad. Barn hacks, tack hacks, trailer hacks, equipment reviews and opinions—your online connections probably have a wealth of tips to share. The possibilities are endless.
Other than the three “don’t-ask” types of questions we’ve identified, you can query about almost anything online. Just use good judgment, and always consider who’s going to be answering on the other end. And remember: Free advice may be worth only what you’ve paid for it. So take all suggestions offered online with a grain of salt. Then think carefully before implementing them in order to do what’s best for you, your horse, and your unique situation.