On Friday the RDS Dublin Horse Show welcomed Gillian Higgins and Horses Inside Out (HIO) to Simmonscourt for the first of her demonstrations. Gillian is an authority in equine anatomy and biomechanics, a British Horse Society senior coach, professional therapist and successful author, she also offers courses with expert insight into equine locomotion, training and management. The HIO presentations this week are sponsored by the Equine Science Department at University of Limerick.
Helen Sharp (HS): You’ve lots happening at Dublin this year, what’s in store for people?
Gillian Higgins (GH): I love the atmosphere at Dublin Horse Show, as well as the famous hospitality! I hope to get everyone looking at their horses from a different perspective with my Horses Inside Out presentations. With the skeleton and muscles painted on a number of different horses, the lecture demonstrations will not only be visually impressive, making equine anatomy and biomechanics fun and easy to understand, but will also be full of top tips and exercises that horses owners and riders can do to help improve their horse’s musculoskeletal comfort and performance.
We are doing a different presentation each day in the Simmonscourt arena at lunchtime, in-hand and lunging, pole work and gymnastic jumping, so there will be something for everyone. In the mornings we will be painting the horses (it takes hours to get them ready!) and in the afternoon we will be doing mini presentations on the hour at the Horses Inside Out exhibition zone. So there will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions and get up close to the horses and anatomy. I am really looking forward to meeting everyone!
HS: You started out as a sports therapist and have grown Horses Inside Out to a company with global reach. What was your initial motivation to become a therapist?
GH: I wanted to be a vet or a doctor when I was at school, but I did work experience with 5* eventer Caroline Moore when I was at school and I absolutely loved it. She had different therapists come to treat her horses and cold-water spas had just become a thing; we took the horses regularly for hydrotherapy treatment and I was just absolutely fascinated by it.
After my A-levels I did human sports and remedial therapy taught by osteopaths. That was really good grounding: it wasn’t just massage, it was mobilisations, understanding joint ranges and movement. It was testing the joints and seeing where restrictions lay and really understanding the anatomy and biomechanics of the body. I was always thinking how to this apply to the horse.
HS: You are a prolific and generous teacher, but what drove you to become an equine educator?
GH: I love seeing people learn, I love their responses and I love that sort of light switching on moment. I always ask lots of questions but I remember when I was studying we had a visiting lecturer come in, I’d ask a question and the answer was, ‘I can’t tell you that because it’s a secret of my business’. I was frustrated by that, I always thought if someone has the interest or the intelligence to ask a question, they deserve the answer.
HS: What do you think is the most common mistake people make with their horses?
GH: My immediate answer would be taking time with horses. I think that repeatedly we see horses that have problems in later life that are perhaps due to the way they have been started and the work that has been done initially. But I don’t just mean taking time in terms of building, I have a whole webinar on skeletal maturity and exercises for young horses.
I think posture generally. I think a lot of people just sort of turn up at the yard, put the tack on and get on their horses and ride. I think it’s important to take the time to assess a horse, to really just stand back and look at it, look at it in the field and look at it moving. I’ve got a course assessing movement and assessing posture, and I always say it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you are looking for, just do it anyway, professional or amateur, if you spot a change then you can do something about it before it turns into a problem.
HS: You’re incredibly busy, how do you stay creative with your content in amongst it all?
GH: I’m a very creative person, I think. I love making things, whether it be a painting of a horse or, you know, the drawings I did in my Exploring Equine Anatomy colouring book. Or whether it is making a video or making a webinar, I’m a bit of a perfectionist as well. But I have more ideas than I know what to do with, honestly!
HS: You have been doing dissections for many years, what has it brought to your practice?
GH: Every horse is different. For example, we learn a horse has number of vertebrae, but dissection teaches us there are anomalies. I would say pretty much every single horse that I’ve dissected has had a variation from ‘normal’; whether that be with the muscles, so say instead of a muscle attaching onto the first eight ribs, it attaches onto the first nine or something like that. There are so many misconceptions about anatomy. Seeing a picture in a book is one thing, but seeing it in dissection is another.
HS: You are a fan of Irish horses, who’s in your barn currently?
GH: I have had lots of Irish horses in the past. I love their reliable natures, soundness and versatility. I currently have two Irish horses, Killina Lad, a 10-year-old bay gelding and the new boy Forrest Fugitive, a six-year-old grey gelding out of a Master Imp mare who we hope will be the future star of Horses Inside Out.