The 2020 NKC Equestrian Healthy Horse Conference was quite simply a wonderful day of learning and inspiration. Originally planned as an in person event, the ‘live and online’ day was a wonderful experience for all concerned, welcoming delegates from around the world.
Nicola Kinnard-Comedie opened the Conference with a call for unity, and the need for owners, trainers, equine practitioners and vets to all be on the side of #teamhorse. Nicola stressed the importance of the messages that would be shared at the Conference, and urged delegates to utilise their social media platforms and own personal networks to spread the word.
Dr Sue Dyson was the opening speaker, detailing a recent paper on the application of the Ridden Horse Ethogram to 5* Event Horses in the warm up of Badminton and Burghley in 2019, and how this related to their performance in the cross country. There were many interesting takeaways in this talk, a real highlight was how a horse could be passed as ‘sound’ in an in-hand trot up, yet display many characteristics of potential musculoskeletal pain when ridden. The talk concluded that there are many happy athletes competing at the higher levels of eventing, but some horses are not comfortable. With marginal gains being explored in many other sports Dr Dyson detailed how she felt this could be applied to equestrian disciplines as well. The presentation provided much to think about for all levels of the equine world.
FEI treating vet for Eventing Kate Granshaw, a partner at Lingfield Equine Vets in Surrey, followed with an interesting talk on the importance of warming up and cooling down. The need for consistency, to aid the horse’s mental and physical warm up, was highlighted and Kate echoed Dr Dyson’s thoughts that new movements should not be taught in the warm up. An effective and active cool down is often not used in the many equestrian sports, and the need to treat the horse as an individual and consider environmental conditions was a theme throughout.
Dr Andrew Hemmings from the Royal Agricultural University gave a very interesting talk on equine stress, and the need to rethink our pre-existing beliefs on crib-biting behaviour. After detailing how the brain works and how horses learn, Dr Hemmings shared some thought provoking research on the positive traits of horses who crib bite, and the correlation between palatable feed and cribbing. A change of environmental conditions is key to managing this behaviour, and thankfully more owners are becoming aware of how such behaviour can be a ‘coping mechanism’ for stressed horses, and should not be prevented with the use of a tight cribbing strap or similar device.
The final talk of the morning was from Dr Russell MacKechnie-Guire from Centaur Biomechanics on saddle and bridle fit. Dr MacKechnie-Guire stressed the need for regular saddle checks each quarter as a minimum, not once or twice a year as many riders adhere to currently. Russell used a powerful analogy to stress how a horse can feel an ill-fitting saddle, explaining that if a horse can feel a fly land then how could they not feel a poorly fitted, or badly designed saddle. Dr MacKechnie-Guire stunned the audience with the pressure measurements noted by parts of the bridle, and how this was considerably higher driving home the message of a well fitting bridle (and bit) as well as a saddle.
Dr Dyson opened the afternoon talks with an extremely useful presentation on canter, highlighting what is ‘normal’ in canter and what isn’t. Often ‘issues’ with canter are dismissed as a lack of training, or rider error, but Dr Dyson demonstrated how pain can in fact manifest in canter yet the horse can seem comfortable in trot on the lunge. Horses do learn fairly quickly so the inability to canter on a correct lead, or to maintain canter around the arena or on a circle should not take months to teach a horse. A change in the horse’s canter should also be noted, and indications such as tension, being overly on the forehand, spooking, loss of balance through transitions should not be missed, and investigated if necessary.
The final presentation of the day was on the interesting topic of rug slip, and how this could be used as an early warning system by owners to indicate possible movement asymmetry. Dr MacKechnie-Guire shared interesting research findings on the topic, again urging the audience to consider ‘everyday signs’ to help their horses.
The audience were encouraged to actively participate throughout the day, asking questions during each talk online. More questions were answered by the panelists in the ‘Ask The Experts’ section at the end of the day. The Conference was closed by Nicola, asking attendees to continue to share the takeaways from the day, and to continue to speak up for horses.
The 2021 Conference is running on 20th November 2021, you can find details here.