The Zebra and The Duck


Sometimes I think I attract difficult horses. Standing out in my pasture right now I have not one, not two, but three really tough mounts. Although, when it comes down to it, I realize I’ve chosen this life for myself. I’ve had lots of easy horses, horses that I could have taken through the levels and raked in the ribbons with, horses that could have had me in a totally different place by now. But, I moved them on, I let others take over and enjoy their wonderful brains and their solid foundations. The ones I decided to hold on to are the tough ones, the ones who enjoy testing me with riddles that seem impossible to solve.

I’ve chosen this path because I truly enjoy the puzzle. For me, the reward lies in the process of figuring out what pieces fit where and seeing the bigger picture when everything finally comes together.

It sounds romanticized as a write this, like I’m seeing the world through the rose-colored glasses of my computer screen. In all reality, those difficult horses frustrate me on a daily basis and make me question everything I think I know about training. They make me think outside the box to try to solve the problems they throw at me day and in day out.

However, I’m never alone in trying to put together the puzzle. Along with amazing trainers, good friends and as much training knowledge as I can possibly Google, I am fortunate enough to have a well-respected equine veterinarian and surgeon as a barn owner. I pick his brain about the issues I’m facing with my horses and every once in a while, between the conversations about work, clients and how damn cold it is outside, he teaches me a thing or two.

One day, as I complained about particularly frustrating horse, the issues I thought he had and the numerous different solutions I had come up with, he turned to me and said, “Lindsay, let me tell you something … Everyone wants to think they’re dealing with a zebra when, in fact, all you really have is a duck.”

I hung my head sheepishly because I knew he was reprimanding me in his own way for my crazy notions and fairy tale ideas.

He went on to explain that zebras are interesting and exciting, but they’re rare. Ducks, on the other hand, are boring and easy to overlook, but they’re common. He said that as a veterinarian for nearly 30 years, most of the issues horses have are ducks, and very few are ever actually zebras. That is to say, you should attempt to solve your problems using the most common solution before jumping to conclusions about a rare condition or treatment.

For example, when your horse is tossing his head under saddle, the duck tells you to check his teeth and possibly the fit of his tack. The zebra has you convinced that his TMJ is bothering him, he’s out in his poll and has kissing spine.

Once you’ve ruled out all the ducks, only then should you begin to think that maybe, just maybe, you have a zebra.