Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Friends at Work: Let's Clone Nicole Roberts!

You hear a lot these days about cloning horses. Top showjumpers, endurance horses, and especially those down-in-the-dirt cutting horses can now have their DNA recycled into a genetic match.

From where I sit, we need to not clone the horses but the horsemen, those people of either gender who are superb at understanding how to care for horses and, in particular, how to nurse them back to health after illness or injury.

We've always had layup farms, some of which include physical therapy, but most of which are benign holding facilities where racehorses can get some fresh air and a few hours in a paddock each day before they return to the track or maybe put on a few pounds and some dapples before they head to the sales ring.

But what if you had a dressage horse with a suspensory problem, a steeplechaser with a bad bow, a racehorse recovering from EPM and you couldn't provide the nursing care? Where would you send your horse? Who would you trust to bandage and medicate and just plain care for that horse? We live in a day of revolving barn helpers; if Miguel can't make it today, he sends his cousin, but his cousin isn't quite the poultice artist Miguel is. And if you're working on layups, poultice needs to be your art form.

My vote for cloning would be the people who are so good at care of lame horses. Whether it's a barefoot rehab farm or a high-tech racehorse recovery center, the care and results will only be as good as the skills and experience of the people who have their hands on the horse, day in and day out. The best intentions and Internet consultations won't take the place of "been there, done that, can do" and that takes years of experience and hundreds of horses to gain.

So we come to the story of Nicole Roberts. I'd like to say I know her, but I don't. I do know Dr. Midge Leitch, the vet who recommends that owners turn their recovering horses over to Nicole for care.

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer has an article about Nicole and her "halfway house" for recovering horses outside Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The point of asking you to read this article is not that you will learn something about lameness, but that you will remember that there are people out there like Nicole.

I hope she takes on apprentices. It would be easy to say that she should write a book or make a dvd, but there is no substitute for hands-on experience with horses. Combine that experience with a genuine "feel" for horses and you have a valuable, if oft unsung, hero of the horse world who can often bring a horse back without sharing credit with high tech treatment tools or holistic cure-alls.

That's what they are talking about when they talk about horse sense. I hope you will take time to read the article and reflect on the role that people like Nicole play in our industry.