Whoever came up with ‘healthy as a horse’ never met one. On an average day they are 1200 pounds of muscle with a tendency toward self-destruction. That said, luckily there are many equine professionals out there to help a hapless horse owner/rider along the way. Maybe some of these people show up in your stories. Let’s make sure the right people are working on the right things.
This topic comes up as I am helping a writing buddy with her fantasy novel. She has realistic horses but different people who care for them. Matching their titles with what she needed them to do in the story was difficult, so here is a quick run-down of some of the major players in horse care and what they do.
The Vet - Maybe the most obvious - a vet is essentially an animal doctor. They have knowledge of a wide range of species and ailments. Generally speaking, with large animals (horses, cows, livestock, etc) the vet comes to the animal. Only in special, often dire (or when a specialist is called for), circumstances does the animal travel to the vet. The vet treats injuries, illnesses, administers medication, puts in stitches, castrates the males, and takes x-rays (yes, those are also portable), among other things. There are also holistic vets—they may offer acupuncture, chiropractic, shockwave therapy, red light therapy, and even homeopathy.
The Farrier - A farrier takes care of the horse’s feet. Hooves may be trimmed (like you would get a pedicure) or shod (horse shoes made, fitted and applied - generally with nails [no this doesn’t hurt them; their feet are made from the same substance as a human fingernail]) Horse shoes are most commonly made of metal (steel), except in the case of specialty shoes for racing or show, which may be aluminum. A farrier will have expert knowledge about hoof shape, balance, and care. They may also offer input when a horse shows lameness, but their knowledge is about the feet and things associated with them. Don’t expect a farrier to give you in-depth info about equine reproduction (unless, of course, your question has to do with feet!).
The (horse) Dentist - Again, quite similar to humans. Horses need dental work too, though not in a cavity-finding, tartar-removing way. As a horse eats, they grind their teeth and the result can be uneven surfaces and sharp points. A horse dentist will use rasping tools to smooth those out and make sure the horse is capable of eating its feed. A vet *may* perform dentistry, but many horse people prefer someone with specialized dentistry training to work on their horses’ teeth.
The Barn Manager - If there is a barn in your story, someone has to be running it. Horse care is never-ending and often unforgiving. Someone has to dish out 2+ meals a day, schedule appointments, make sure there is hay in the loft, the arena is dragged, the fences are standing, stalls are mucked... you get the picture. The barn manager may not physically do all of it on their own, but they make sure it all gets done. They will probably also be the first to notice if a horse seems off in any way—ill or lame—because they are the ‘boots on the ground’. They have everyone on speed dial and probably have the vet’s cell phone number, too.
The Groom - Despite the title, grooms do more than brush horses. They are like a nanny to the horse. They may brush, tack-up and even warm up a horse for its rider, taking over again after the ride to cool down, untack—bathe etc. In a show setting, the groom also will do the braiding of the horse’s mane/tail for the show ring. In some cases, grooms are a bit like valets, if the valet had your car detailed every time you parked it. Also, a good groom is highly respected, and this is not an entry level position.
The Trainer & The Instructor- Sometimes these terms get used interchangeably, and that’s not wrong. Both are there to teach. To be precise, the trainer is teaching the horse, and the instructor teaches the rider. A trainer will often be riding the horse, but may be on the ground helping the horse’s owner. An instructor teaches riders, often on horses owned by the instructor or the riding school they are located at. Both have knowledge of horse training, because even when teaching people, it is important to understand how the horse thinks and remember that you are always teaching the horse too—but the focus is on the rider. A trainer may or may not have an interest in teaching students. Riding is an art form, and a great artist (trainer/rider) may not always be adept at teaching others. In the same vein, someone can be an amazing instructor without being a high level rider.
The Judge - #1 thing to remember - horse people are crazy. We literally pay people to judge us, often in very subjective sports. Judges are generally riders themselves (or retired riders) who have lots of know-how in whatever discipline they are judging. They go through certifications, training and lots of steps to become recognized (aka certified) judges. This certification is in a certain discipline, and sometimes region-specific. A person judging at a rodeo would be unlikely to judge a show jumping competition the next weekend. At a show, a rider is not allowed to approach the judge directly with issues; that is a huge no-no.
Cowboys - I know I will get crap for this—but cowboys actually have to cowboy! They are the dudes working the cattle, training the horses, and/or running the ranch. They know how to lasso, doctor animals, and take off their hats when they enter the house. They are not just some random dude who says ‘ma’am’ and wears a hat that has never seen a day of sun and dirt. Their hands are calloused and their days are long. They may wear chaps, but they are not ass-less. That’s just how chaps are made. They don’t tuck their jeans into their boots either. Please, if you’re writing cowboys, why not inject some authenticity into your writing and write cowboys who actually do the work they’re supposed to do.