A few months ago, while at a horse show, my horse, Ego, suddenly seemed extremely sensitive to my leg. He was acting completely out of character and felt so uncomfortable, something I had never experienced with him in the almost 10 years of our partnership. I of course had the vet out when we got home, and we treated his skin, which seemed to be inflamed, but we weren't sure why.

While we continued to investigate and see if anything else was bothering him (continued vet visits, I tried different tack, acupuncture, etc), I decided to try a belly band on him. He's a sensitive horse to begin with, so I wasn't sure if it was going to help him or make him explode, but I figured it was worth a try. Much to my surprise, after putting on the belly band, he felt like himself again. He was back to being quiet, soft, and happy; maybe the happiest I had ever felt him.

So, I then of course went down the road of it's me. My leg is bothering him. It's something I am doing. I thought maybe it was his lack of winter coat. Growing hair didn't help. When I clipped him, I left patches on his sides just in case. I worked to keep my leg still. I tried riding without spurs. I put my sister on whose leg is stiller than mine. The only way he felt his best was with the belly band. It’s almost like a weighted blanket; he felt safe and secure in it. 

So, I continued to ride in it. But then posed the question, how would I ever show? I have shown in the hunters since I was 7 years old. That's what I've always known. Well, the hunters won't allow a belly band. While I understand some reasons why, it does seem like something that could be addressed on a case by case basis. This isn't something that is new to us either. Ego has had horrible allergies for most of his life. He flips his nose, especially in the warmer months. So, I've used a nose net on him for as long as I can remember. I ride in it year round, but have to take it off to show. The rules used to be that you could ask for permission to show in it, but you can't anymore. I’ve always felt horrible on days that his allergies are acting up, and there's nothing to do to help him legally so that he can show more comfortably.

After countless clean bills of health, I wanted to try to go to a horse show, but we weren't willing to give up the belly band. I tried to ride without it. The first day he was ok, but on edge. The second day he felt like he was going to explode. So it was the belly band or nothing.

The only thing to legally show in with the belly band is the jumpers, so we decided to try it out. In 24 years of riding, I have never stepped foot into a jumper ring (except to walk the course with barn mates), and I'm not sure if Ego ever had before he came to the U.S. at age 5.

We went to a local show that we are both familiar with, learned what the different jumper courses meant, made a plan with our trainer, and she told us to just go and have fun. And boy did we! Ego was so into it; excited for each turn while listening to me and being so adjustable. He felt amazing! I came out of the ring after both classes grinning ear to ear. I felt relieved that my horse felt so good and happy, and we had such a great time just enjoying each other.

Me & Ego, very proud of our first jumper round.

A few months down the road (and one more jumper show under our belt), as I look to the future, I am having a hard time thinking about going back to the hunters. I now ride him every time in his belly band, a hackamore, and a nose net, and he feels like a million bucks. However, none of this is allowed in the hunter ring. It seems like it should feel natural to go back to the hunters, but it feels so wrong; I don't want to compromise my horse's comfort. While the hunters are what we've always known, there are so many limitations, and forcing him to go in a way that is not comfortable to him is just not an option for me. 

I want to use the equipment that makes him feel his best. I want him to be happy, healthy and enjoy his job. Otherwise, what's the point? So, at 31 years old, I find myself considering a shift from hunters to jumpers. Is that crazy? Well, I guess we'll find out 🤪

The cutest boy rocking his jumper gear.

June 07, 2024 — Chelsea DiPeppe

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