Cooling Out With … Greg Wilder
Greg Wilder doesn’t really identify with one particular job description.
He’s not a chiropractor, or a massage therapist or a vet. Yet Wilder has had his hands on some of the top equestrian athletes in the world, helping them increase flexibility and range of motion.
In 2000, he received a personal request from the U.S. Equestrian Team to be available for quarantined event horses leading up to the Sydney Olympics.
Wilder and his wife, Woody — director of the upper school at The O’Neal School — have a farm just below Pinebluff, where they keep 11 horses, five dogs, four goats, and one cat. All of the animals, including most of the horses, were abandoned or adopted strays.
Q: What was your first job working with horses?
A: I grew up in Wake County and started riding at around 9. I actually got my first “horse” job when I was 12 — working at a sales yard once a month. The owner of the yard would pick up horses that were spoiled, barn sour or having problems.
We worked with each horse as an individual puzzle. A lot of times, the answer was as simple as a tight back from bad saddle fit, shoeing problem or confusion from training contradictions in their past. It was a good lesson at looking at the whole picture.
When I was 15, that barn was destroyed by fire and a nearby barn became available for lease. It turned out to be a great place to start a business training horses before and after school.
Q: How long have you been based in Southern Pines?
A: I’ve lived here for 12 or 13 years, but have been working in the area since 1969.
Q: Is there a job description for what you do?
A: Performance enhancement is the best description.
The first information I need from the owner is to know what types of training problems they’re having. Then I watch the horse move to determine flexibility issues.
The basis of the system is pretty simple. There are four things a horse has to be able to do to perform most any job: He has to be flexible in the poll, he has to be laterally flexible in each direction, he has to be able to lift his back and be able to drive from behind. If he can do these four things better, his job will be easier, and he’ll have a longer stride and a better attitude.
The system works on most any animal or human. Some of my clients have included camels, dogs, goats, llamas, pet pigs ... I once worked on a 14-foot python for the Denver Zoo.
Q: What led you to this field?
A: Horses that couldn’t bend in one direction or the other, couldn’t pick up a lead, had tight backs, along with an array of other problems. Sometimes it was a tack problem, sometimes the program the horse had been in.
My job is to figure out what to leave, what to take out and what to keep the same.
Q: Have you ever traveled to work on a horse?
A: To start out with, 29 years ago this was not a popular thing. I’ve gone to California, Colorado, Wyoming, Michigan, up and down the East coast, and Spain, Costa Rica, England, and Scotland, to name a few.
Q: Do you remember the first horse you worked on who really showed improvement?
A: Three or four come to mind. But the great epiphany was, wouldn’t it be great if we could teach Pony Clubbers and 4-H kids how to think about keeping a horse flexible and comfortable?
Q: Are there exercises you do with a horse that an owner can also do?
A: Definitely. I always leave the owner with effective exercises and stretches everybody should do before they crawl on their horse.
Q: Do you work on horses from one particular discipline more than another?
A: Eventers, dressage and hunter/jumpers are the biggest part of the business. But it works for all disciplines and breeds.
Q: What are the common issues you see with sport horses?
A: The biggest issue that pertains to what I do involves over-confinement. That’s over-confinement in the bridle, in a stall, in a saddle that doesn’t fit, in shoes that don’t fit or aren’t balanced. A lot of people don’t want to turn their horse out; they’re afraid of him getting hurt.
People often say, “I bet the eventers have a lot of problems.” My answer is “not usually,” because eventers turn their horses out more.
Q: For a horse that’s competing pretty regularly, how often would he need work?
A: It’s entirely different with each horse. It depends on the things I talked about before. The training program. How many jumps is he jumping in a week, and how often is he competing, etc.
Some clients like to be on a once-a-month program to keep them in good shape. Others I might see only twice a year. Olympic hopefuls have me in more often than once a month because they want a new set of eyes on a horse … to catch small things before they turn into big ones.
Q: Does one particular breed have more issues than another?
A: Each breed has its own set of issues, as does each discipline. The discipline and job and trainer will create more issues than the breed itself. How hard they’re working the horse and looking after his needs is more important than the breed.
Let’s face it. Horses didn’t evolve over millions of years to carry this extra 150 lbs. on their back. If you overstress a machine for the job it’s intended to do, it breaks down. The minutes you put a saddle on a horse, you’ve overstressed it for its intended purpose.
Horses have an amazing ability to adapt to the stresses in life. They just need a little help.
Q: How many horses do you see in an average week?
A: It can fluctuate. Right now, it’s busy because people are getting ready for the AECs (American Eventing Championships, to be run next weekend at Chattahoochee Hills in Fairburn, Ga.).
I don’t travel as much as I used to because I want to have access to my own horses. I make my living in the rigors of the competitive horse world; my personal horses are just pure fun.
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