Book Review // Recognizing the Horse In Pain II
Updated: Mar 1
Spoiler Alert! I LOVED this book! Many of you follow my Instagram account and have probably noticed the many quotes from Robson. I pulled them all from this book, and it's safe to say I was tempted to quote this whole book.. piece by piece.. on all of my captions.
What's so amazing about this book you ask? Everything. First, Robson's dedication at the start of the book is in so many ways perfect.
"These pages are dedicated to the horses that do everything we ask of them, even when
they are in pain.
May your voices be heart and understood with compassion."
Next, we've got the opening letter to the reader. I found myself so aggressively nodding in agreement with every statement, every sentence, I was giving myself a headache.
"We have lost our way, and the horses are paying the expensive price. The equine industry is filled with gadgets and gimmicks, promises of quick fixes, magical supplements and ever conceivable product under the blue sky that guarantees you a competitive edge or a happier horse. Time-tested traditions stand-off against novel breakthrough research, Western and Eastern medical philosophies are pitted against one another instead of being integrated for the well-being of the patient, and true horsemanship has frequently become a thing of the past, a lost art. The living, breathing, spirited creatures that carry us are ignored while we talk on cell phones or text while riding, they are assembly-lined to ensure that each gets its allotted daily exercise, and when human interaction isn't available, treadmills and eurocisers continue their conditioning. Money, ribbons, and egos drive the industry. So how is the well-intended equestrian supposed to wade through all the information out there to find the Truth about what's really best for their horses?"
From that point on I was both absorbed and having to force-ably pace myself to give the valuable information time to sink in.
This book isn't a typical 'way over the top of your head' kind of medical book though, it's very easy to read and the information is prepared in such a way that it's easily understood with plenty of pictures and examples for the reader. While Robson does list causes, conditions, and symptoms for many medical conditions, this book is not intended to medically diagnose your horse. Instead it's more of an inspirational push to really look into how your horse is expressing pain, or why it's acting up, when we often we just assume it's poor training or bad manners.
There are detailed sections about Anatomy, Non-Traditional Lameness, Saddle-fitting (and how this affects your horse), The Hoof, and finally a section explaining many of the options available to horse owners to help diagnose and treat their horses. Personally my favorite section was the anatomy section, as it wasn't just another description of the horse's body but actually a walk through of how their body works and abnormalities that can occur from trauma, training, poor husbandry, or poor conformation can affect them or be causing pain.
If I had to pick a second favorite section it would be the Non-Traditional Lameness section. I only didn't choose this as my favorite because personally I was already aware of a lot of these problems and symptoms. That being said, this section may be far more valuable to most readers as it encourages 'outside the box' thinking when it comes to behavioral issues, as they often are pain related.
My only critique on this book would be that more wasn't included on a horse's physical expression of pain in the face or even other parts of the body. Horses often show us pain in subtle ways long before training issues become apparent. Tight chins, tense lips, upright tight necks, ears back, hard eyes, tail ringing, tail swishing.. these are just some of the more subtle signs you can look for on an every day basis when working with your horses.
Perhaps some of that is because those symptoms fall into more of a "behavioral" category rather than a medical category in a lot of cases. Still, I find them extremely important even from a medical standpoint as they could be the beginning of something bigger... or.. they could be a sign of not so much pain but rather a mental or emotional state during handling.
Skipping to the very end of the book, Robson's personal story struck home in so many ways for me. As I was reading her explain her experiences with her late horse "Bud" I found myself thrown back many many years to the horse that changed everything for me; Romeo. His story, though not quite identical to Bud's, was so very similar and also led to a tragic end. Romeo was the horse that forced me to listen, as force and harmful training methods, combined with an unnatural lifestyle, had gradually turned an imported FEI ranked dressage horse to a dangerous and violent cripple... that eventually had to be euthanized as his pain was too great.
Robson talks about how even now, nearly twenty years later, Bud is continuing to teach her and how she recognizes now the symptoms of the pain he was in when back then they were ignored and suppressed through force. So was the story of Romeo, who tried so very hard to please until the pain was so much that his good nature was ruined.
When Romeo's necropsy was done after his passing they found a huge list of problems going on that not even the best vets in the country had cared to look for. Basic things like founder, suspensory desmitis, and so much more hadn't even been considered because his symptoms were not typical. Instead I was instructed to force him to work, that his behavior was uncalled for, that he was 'just being difficult'. My heart aches. It aches for what I did to Romeo, what I allowed others to do to him, and for other horses out there like Bud and Romeo.... all because we don't listen.
"As mammals, humans and equines share the same basic nervous and circulatory systems, the same physiology, we all start with the same embryonic cell structure. A horse reacts to the barely perceptible touch of a fly, so why shouldn't they respond to a seventy-pound roping saddle with an ill-fitting tree? They are social herd animals designed for constant grazing and movement, often forced into small, dark stalls with no equine contact, fed on our schedules, ridden on our schedules, expected to work, show, or perform without protest or individuality, put into tail sets, neck sets, weighted shoes, and shank bits. So why wouldn't they get stomach ulcers, develop nervous habits like weaving and cribbing, get food aggressive, or refuse to walk into a dark trailer that only delivers them to a place of dress? When we can put ourselves in their conditions, from a position of compassionate understanding, only them can we begin to find the road to partnership and harmony."
I'm absolutely determined to one day to meet and maybe even shadow Robson. This book is truly and inspiration. I've read it to death and it looks like it's been drug half way across the world at this point, which is unusual for me as I'm a "paranoid book preserver" (meaning I could return a book after having read it three times probably as it'll still look brand new), but not this one! I'll probably buy a few copies and lend them out to people too. EVERYONE who owns or who's around horses needs to read this book.