Gillian Higgins is probably most well known for her anatomical painting on live horses which she uses to teach others all about equine anatomy and biomechanics. But where did her passion for horses come from and how did Horses Inside Out start?
In the first of this two-part blog and to celebrate the fifteenth birthday of Horses Inside Out Allison Lowther catches up with Gillian Higgins at her Leicestershire home to discover more about the driving force behind the brand.
Sitting in the pretty farmhouse kitchen of Gillian’s home making a fuss of the very cute Labrador puppy, Hugo, I notice several framed anatomical drawings on the walls – all Gillian’s work. Wavendon Grange is set in the quiet and relaxing countryside on the edge of the Vale of Belvoir and has fulfilled one of Gillian’s lifetime dreams of having her horses at home and having the ability to run course from here too. She has recently completed converting one of the barns into an amazing classroom where she can run courses from.
A love of horses from an early age
Although Gillian has always liked horses, she didn’t own her own until she was 16. Before that she had ridden while on holidays growing up and then had regular riding lessons at her local riding school when she was 11 or 12.
“As I was growing up, we did loads of outdoor sports,” says Gillian. “My dad was really into climbing and kayaking and sailing so we did a lot of these sports together. When I got into horses that was quite a big change, but I love it.”
Gillian then went on to have lessons with Anna Buntine and started to work every Saturday at the yard when it was the usual groom’s day off for Mrs Chatterton – Anna’ mum. At the time Anna’s husband Stuart was eventing. It was here that the eventing bug took hold.
“I've always loved jumping, and it was on Anna’s old pony that I first started having jumping lessons, which was fantastic. I then moved on to a retired hunter - being immersed in the eventing world from quite a young age is what made me want to do it myself,” Gillian says.
After taking her GCSE’s and before A-Levels Gillian did work experience with Caroline Moore, who is a fellow of the British Horse Society now. At that time Caroline was eventing and teaching.
“I had the most amazing summer with Caroline,” says Gillian enthusiastically, “I took my own horse with me, and I learnt so much.”
It was during this time working for Caroline and following a visit from the ‘back lady’ to treat Caroline’s horses that Gillian’s career path changed from event rider to therapist.
A new career path
“Before I went to university, I studied human sports remedial therapy and from there I went on to train with Mary Bromiley,” explains Gillian. “Mary used to run equine massage training courses and she was an incredible lady, and I was so lucky to have trained with her.”
Back then unlike today there wasn’t a degree available in equine physiotherapy but after her A-Levels Gillian went to study international equine and agricultural business management at The Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester.
After university she studied the McTimoney Corley course – a post graduate course. Gillian has continued to attend lots of other courses.
As well as all the therapy courses Gillian has done, she also took the British Horse Society exams – Caroline Moore was a big part of this really helping Gillian throughout.
“I really rate the BHS system of exams,” says Gillian. “I started taking the exams while I was still at school continuing all the way through university.”
A keen competitor
It was the summer with Caroline Moore when Gillian started eventing herself, and this continued into her 20’s. She had some fantastic horses including Noble Dreams, otherwise known as Nobby – they did some junior team eventing together.
Her main horse was a horse called Quake - he was a very special horse and they competed up to advanced level together.
“I remember walking back to the horsebox having just completed our first advanced cross-country with the biggest grin on my face, just to get round was absolutely amazing. We also competed in the two star at Gatcombe which was fantastic.”
The other big competition was at Necarne Castle under the long format that included the roads and tracks and steeplechase on cross-country day. Sadly, this was the last time Quake competed at that level but then Freddie Fox came into the picture.
Freddie and Gillian competed up to intermediate level. Freddie was a five-year-old and had done virtually nothing. He was quite naughty and nappy which was the main reason Gillian could afford to buy him.
“I took him right from the beginning all the way up to intermediate so that was quite an incredible journey.”
Combining a hobby and career
Gillian has always loved the jumping side of things and now being able to combine this with her knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics to help teach others through the Horses Inside out courses is something very special. The vast knowledge that Gillian has, not just in equine biomechanics and anatomy but from a coaching, riding and competing perspective it’s this complete package that offers something quite unique. Plus, Gillian has boundless enthusiasm and can make often difficult to understand topics and phrases easy for anyone with an interest in horses to understand.
A love of drawing
Gillian has always liked drawing and wishes she’d done A-level, art. Her grandfather was quite arty as well, so this passion could come from that side of the family.
“I’ve never had any formal training but I do remember when I was at school, we had to draw fairies for a project,” laughs Gillian “I remember my teacher saying to me ‘Gillian, fairies do not have black lines around the outside’ – I look back on what she said and laugh as all the work I do now - I black line everything, it’s a style that really makes the paintings on horses jump out.”
In the next blog we find out how Horses Inside Out started