Updated: Sep 16
Whoop whoop after months of preparation July finally arrived and we headed off to North America for a couple of weeks of lecture demonstrations and courses here with our friends at the North American Saddlery School.
We flew out on Sunday the 9th arriving in Washington D.C. late in the evening to be met by Amber Markley from the North American Saddlery School. Our first day was spent acclimatising, while the temperature was something we were used to the humidity was definitely something else! It got us both thinking about how important it is that when you move your horse how important it is to allow them to acclimatise to the environment that they will be working in. They have an incredible ability to operate over a huge range of temperatures from Arabian horses in the desert to Icelandic horses in cold winters.
Day two was our first trip to see the Morven Park Equestrian Centre in Virginia. Morven Park is a multi-disciplinary venue and has a wide range of equestrian competition and training facilities.
This was to be our base for the next two days as we prepared for the evening painted horse lecture demonstration on the Wednesday night.
We spent the day meeting the wonderful horses and riders. Marion and Micheal Alway provided two wonderful horses in the form of Jethro an Argentinian sports horse (in Gillian's favourite colour of grey) and Whisper a wonderful 18 year old PSG Dressage Horse. Marion and Michal and their team were great to work with and we had a fantastic session working through our plan, working out the horse's skills and strengths and familiarising the combinations with different exercises and the venue. It is so important to get them familiar with their surroundings before any event.
Day three. Demonstration day! It was an early start as we all travelled to Virginia from Maryland. We set a record for the hottest Horses Inside Out lecture demonstration we have ever performed! So many things to consider when working in the heat and humidity. Hydration for the team was key but it is also incredibly important for the horses. The heat also made for challenging painting conditions, gone were the heat lamps we usually need in the UK and replaced with some high powered cooling fans.
The focus of the demonstration was on maintaining mobility and understanding the full range of equine movement. Gillian presented a comprehensive lecture in the first half looking closely at the neck, back, forelimb and hindlimb and how these all interrelate to allow the horse to support its incredible anatomical systems and also the weight of the rider. The second half of the demonstration focussed on movement with Jethro ridden and Whisper on the lunge. Both showed differences in range of movements using walk, trot and canter poles and it was great to compare and contrast. We were also treated to some in hand Piaffe from Whisper before we moved on to a jumping session with Jethro ridden by Michael Alway. It was fantastic to compare the shapes made and range of movements used through a combination of uprights and then a grid of wider parallel fences. Despite the heat the crowd loved the opportunity to see and spend some time with Gillian here in the States.
Here is a montage of some video clips from the demonstration:
Day four was a rest day and we were fortunate that our hosts sent us off through Maryland, Virginia and finally ending up in West Virginia on the Shenandoah river. We were fortunate to be able to see a very rare sighting of a wild black bear on the river.
Applied Anatomy for Saddlery Professionals
Day five was the start of the teaching courses. Working at the wonderful classroom at the North American Saddlery School. With all the humidity we were thankful to be back in the classroom which came with wonderful air conditioning. Our first course was attended by a wide range of saddlery professionals from across North America with participants coming from as far afield as Canada and Colorado. Functional anatomy is such an important item for all saddlery professionals to have a solid working understanding of to ensure that they can correctly fit and in some cases modify tack. The session was a mixture of both classroom based theory and practical hands on techniques to assess and feel a wide range of horses.
Day six was a much more practical and hands on day for the students. The focus was on putting the theory in to practice and the group was divided in to five smaller groups with the express aim of feeling and identifying the key anatomical points of the horse related to saddle fit and design. Through palpation the groups were able to identify the key landmarks and could then use paint to prove they'd felt them in the right place! A competition ensued for the most anatomically accurate painting. To complete the course US dressage rider Brandi Benedict rode her gorgeous advanced dressage horse, Gracie. With Brandi in a skeleton suit this demonstration focussed on the effect of rider balance, position and rider-saddle-horse interaction and Gillian highlighted all of the key points that the group had learnt over the preceding two days.
Assessing Posture and Movement
After another rest day which involved mountain biking, kayaking and a BBQ with the NASS team and course attendees, Day 8 saw the start of our final two day course. Here the focus
was on assessing posture and movement and it saw another group of eager participants, including bodyworkers and trainers as well as saddle fitters joining Gillian for two days of training.
The primary focus of the course was to develop the key skills necessary for students to accurately assess posture from the ground and assess horse movement both with and without the rider. These are key skills for saddlery professionals when they are fitting new saddles or correcting old ones. Through her work as a professional equine therapist assessing the posture of hundreds of horses and as an anatomy specialist and educator, Gillian has devised a clear structured system for assessing equine posture and movement. Everyone on this course appreciated the structure as well as tips, tricks and techniques that Gillian shared for helping to make complex horse assessments so much easier. The North American Saddlery School provided a lovely range of different horses from eventers and western horses to broodmares which was brilliant for the practical sessions and on the second day of the course event rider Julie-Anne Bingham and her lovely gelding Jamie joined us for a ridden movement assessment.
Thank you so much to everyone who joined the courses, for your enthusiasm and questions which kept me on my toes! We have been made to feel very welcome by everyone we met and particularly wish to thank our hosts Amber and Ben for looking after us so well. We do hope to be back again to do more courses and events in this beautiful country in the future so do watch out for updates.
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