By Jaymie Klauber, Owner of Epic Equine Experiences, Epic Polo Club & Epic Equine Riding & Polo Academy, Polo Player and enthusiast of all things horse
Although it may seem the antithesis of the often zen-like digital detox that usually goes with a riding and barn experience, computer technology has entered the lives of every equestrian.
Smartphone technology has created a fun and easy connection among communities of horse people in general, or within a specific discipline like polo. You can reach out globally and ask for help, stay informed, or find your ‘people’ and keep in touch – electronically. A polo player, or just a fan, can find a polo club almost anywhere in the world and immediately pinpoint polo games to watch, horses to ride, and new acquaintances with whom you share this common interest/passion.
A small device strapped to an arm, stuffed into a pocket or tucked in a boot or bra, enables working people to stay on top of professional demands while pleasure riding or training, allowing more time to pursue the obsession/addiction of horses and all equestrian sport. On the track, trails and stick and ball fields at the polo club it is common to see someone on the phone; a groom taking a set of 5 horses, keeps them calmly in control, while having a smoke, and texting.
The safety advantages are significant. During a casual trail ride in the club with friends, a member fell off a spooking horse, shattering her ankle. Absent of their phones, her friends likely felt ridiculous, but the ever-prepared injured party herself called for help and within minutes someone arrived to assist and transport her to the hospital. These friends now are never without their phones attached to them, in case of emergency.
The A-type well-organized equestrian keeps detailed, records concerning their horses, including pedigrees, medical data, purveyors, contacts, grooms, feed sources, tack and gear purchases, as well as fitness regimens, photos, histories and barn upkeeps . With numerous horse management apps like Equisketch, Equiagenda, Horse Box, Horse Keeper, and the $50 Ranch Manager, all that information is right on their devices and instantly accessible with the swipe of a finger. Like any new computer program, it is initially time consuming to enter all the data and attach all related records, but once done, these apps make the multitasking horse person’s life much easier.
Very helpful, and often most humorous, is the modern equestrian’s use of the smartphone to play vet, mimicking people who self-diagnose their ailments on the web. At the first sign a horse may be ‘off’ physically, or mentally, the owner stands, bent over, often holding a leg, or pointing to/pressing on some lump, bump, cut, scrape, oozing, swollen, throbbing, heated, tender part of the horse’s grand and complex anatomy…. Or hand trotting the horse, while five of her barn-mates look on in horror, simultaneously grabbing their smartphones to bring up an article they read on that very thing, or to reference one of their many equine medical apps like Horse Side Vet & Equine Vet, so it must be “this diagnosis” or “that diagnosis”. Or they visit online forums, so it is certainly “other diagnoses” -- all dedicated to their horses’ well-being and recovery while trying to sell a panoply of natural and/or medicinal products to fix the issue. The friends compete for the status of being the most knowledgeable of equestrian know-it-alls, the one who offers the cure, because all along she knew hers was “the right diagnosis”, which the virtual vet just validated. History shows all equestrians are self-proclaimed vets, and now, armed with their smartphones, the extent of their knowledge (and delusion), has become limitless.
Currently, every state has numerous Facebook ‘groups’ that pop up for horse folks that help you buy, sell, rent, board and trade anything in the equine realm, as well as learn about fun group social or fundraising rides, poker runs, local shows. They have proven to be a handy beneficial resource, and our area alone has several, such as Sarasota/Manatee Horse & Tack Exchange, S.W. Florida Horse & Tack Trader, Florida Horses and Trailers for Sale and Horse Peeps. There’s always someone seeking a horse or used items, a boarding facility or trailer, that is “just perfect” for their friend, so they tell a friend …and the online chain of comments and tags effectively leads to that perfect thing. Nationally, groups within every discipline connect people and provide information and an audience. For polo alone, Facebook has many groups that include US Polo Connection, Polo Gear for Sale in USA, Polo Horses for Sale, to name a few.
Travelling with horses no longer seems lonely and frightening. Trailer-ing horses to other venues for a competition or match or to their summer or winter turnout in your own region or one many miles away, historically has been daunting: your truck could break down or trailer tire blow out, and fear of the unknown sets in. Where can you stop to give the horses, and yourself, a break? Towing ginormous live animals, often in hot weather, makes a simple flat tire a life-threatening situation, exceptionally stressful and miserable. When such a misfortune occurs, horses remain inside the hot trailer, often for hours, until help arrives, unless you can repair yourself. AAA does not cover large trucks or trailers. Now, with apps like Horse Travel Planner, a smartphone can help plan your trip and prepare you for emergencies. It is possible, if you’re enduring a road mishap, to post on Facebook that you are stranded with horses, and there is a very good chance someone in the area will see it, offer to come pick up your horses and keep them in a paddock until the problem is remedied. Knowing where to ‘layover’ is also important, and sites like travelinghorse.com and horsemotel.com make it easy to find a nice place to overnight your horses in stalls or paddocks, for a reasonable price. Many of these places offer a bunkhouse or room in B&B fashion, for the human and canine companions as well. Some boast quick accessibility to tens of thousands of acres of park land for great trail riding while on the road trip. One will even loan you a vehicle to go get a bite in town without having to unhook your rig to take your truck. Again, all at your fingertips.
Trail riding in state parks and in other unfamiliar areas has always given new meaning to the word ‘adventure’. Most long-time equestrians have a cache of scary ‘adventure’ stories that end with their gratitude to be alive to tell. Getting lost, falling off and having your horse take off, sustaining injury with no access to help, sudden and dramatic weather changes, are all risks equestrians take in pursuit of endorphin-fueled fun and freedom on horseback. Thanks to handy GPS apps like Equitrail and Horsetrails, designed specifically for horseback riding, your odds of finding the way back to your camp area or trailer increases exponentially – a HUGE help, though some of the excitement and potential for dramatic tales is sacrificed for safety and peace of mind. There are also apps for state parks that offer riding trails, and sites that link to all available trail riding spots within in a given area. Handy Facebook ‘meet-up’ posts provide opportunities to discover new places and have others to ride with who share your passion for the trail.
To the detriment of the independent local feed-store/general store selling tack and supplies, countless websites offer greater selections of equine-related products, at a lower price (sometimes half), often with free shipping. These convenient online resources have threatened the future of the mom and pop supply store, mirroring the general retail environment. But, consumers of equine products are a compulsive bunch who favor immediate gratification, and are drawn to more affordable and extensive options for their perceived need. Loyalty only goes so far; busy equestrians dislike traveling to town -- only to be reminded how costly their hobby/passion is.
Quick access to information is usually helpful, but be aware that minor equine-related issues can spread like wildfire and create panic that is often an overreaction. For example, and not to dismiss the dangers by any means, news of ‘Creeping Indigo’ appearing in Florida, and some horse deaths apparently caused by the poisonous weed, manifested in a local Facebook page called Nina’s Warriors. This post was ultimately shared to just about every horse owner in Florida, and had property owners and boarders alike on their hands and knees sifting through acres of pasture in search of the murderous, deeply rooted and sprawling stubborn weed. Upon a sighting of Creeping Indigo, or any suspicious vegetation remotely resembling one of numerous photos shown, the frantic weed hunters followed the detailed online instructions on pulling or killing the weeds, notoriously difficult to eradicate. For a year or so it was hard to take even a short ride on the polo club bridle paths or any nearby riding area without peering down the whole time, identifying the presumed weed in any number of places, then flying into a panic and repeatedly reporting it to management. We would then live in fear that all our horses were going to die. Although caution is a good path, the local vets, who did not entirely dismiss the gravity of the reported cases in the Tampa area, had never actually seen a case of CI poisoning. The hype eventually and finally has died down.
From intrigue back to internet… to assist in the success of any equestrian, an endless number of teaching and training videos are readily available at your fingertips: to name only a few, the poloskilz.com and polotraining.org websites, and sites for any discipline. Trainers and teachers for lessons, as well as horse trainers of all style, can also be found online for any equine realm.
The creator-managers of these super-helpful groups/pages, apps and websites should be applauded for presenting important information and convenient methods to improve and simplify all that is required to deal with each day in the equine community.
The speed at which technology is advancing makes future possibilities seem endless. Imagine a ‘fit-bit’ for your horses…. cadence, jump height, stride size, number of steps, heart beat… anything.