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If You Don't Use It, You Lose It....

‘If you don’t use it, you loose it’ or ‘To rest is to rust’, two phrases you will often hear Gillian Higgins share in her lecture demonstrations in reference to joint mobility and muscle memory. However, on a recent trip I took to Sweden to assist Gillian with not only a lecture demo but also a day of teaching students to develop their palpation and anatomy, I realised it applies to your memory too!

Gillian Higgins and Horses Inside Out in Stromsholm, painted horses, musculoskeletal system

Last year I was very fortunate to be able to join Gillian as part of the Horses Inside Out team to visit Flyinge in Sweden for a lecture demonstration. You can read more about this in my previous blog.

This year Gillian asked if I would join her once again, this time to visit Stromsholm , another of the Equine schools in Sweden, where she would not only be presenting a lecture demo but also teaching an Anatomical Painting Day and a Pilates for Horses workshop.

Gillian Higgins and Horses Inside Out in Stromsholm, painted horses, musculoskeletal system, venue

Unfortunately between then and now, I have been out of action for a few months with a spinal injury, and although I have been taking part in lots of online CPD, I have only very recently started to return to by job as an Equine Massage Therapist and getting my hands on horses again.

When you are working day to day as a therapist, you are not always thinking about the exact positioning and names of the structures that are under your hands. You are aware of how the soft tissue is feeling, how the joints are moving and the body is functioning. But not always naming the structures as you go along.

Gillian Higgins and Horses Inside Out , painted horses, musculoskeletal system

But what I began to realise during this trip was that not only was I there as an assistant to Gillian, I was also on an anatomical revision week!

I have assisted Gillian with lecture demonstrations and some other filming and courses before, but this was the first time I had been at one of her Anatomical Painting workshops.

It was so much fun, a fantastic way to learn and definitely showed proof of the palpation skills of the students - as well as my own.

It was extremely cold in Sweden, being mid April, we even had a sprinkling of snow whilst we were there. Luckily the Stromsholm school is well adapted for this as they are under a blanket of snow for 4 months of the year. The school has 120 horses, 5 indoor arenas (3 of which are heated) and 4 outdoor arenas as well as grass arenas, a XC course, Point to Point track, Canter track and hacking trails. What incredible facilities!

One of the arenas is the oldest riding school used in Sweden today, built in 1855!

Stromsholm -One of the arenas is the oldest riding school used in Sweden today, built in 1855!

They also have lovely indoor areas with cross ties and solariums so that the horses can be prepared in a warm dry area.

It was one of these areas that we were in for the Anatomical Painting course.

We had 7 school horses for the morning and 12 Students.

Gillian was teaching the students in English of course, which is not their first language. The students were 3rd year university students, and having to learn horse anatomy in Swedish, English and the Latin names. I think this is incredible, as throughout the morning there were very few English words they were not familiar with.

Gillian Higgins adn Horses Inside Out in Stromsholm, Sweden, Anatomical Painting Workshop

Unlike Gillian’s usual colour scheme for painting horses, and because the course was all about palpation and location of the structures, we mixed up lots of different colours for the students to use, these were going to be some very colourful horses. Gillian set the students a challenge: there would be a prize for the most anatomically correct, and most artistic painting at the end of the course.

 Gillian Higgins and Horses Inside Out - paint brushes

The way this course worked, Gillian had her own horse to paint, and she would demonstrate how to palpate a structure (this day was all about the skeleton) and paint it on her horse. The students would then go to their own horse in small teams of 2/3 and paint the structure on.

The challenge here was that, of course, no 2 horses are the same shape and size, so it wasn’t possible to just copy the painting Gillian had done on her horse. The students genuinely needed to feel the bony projections under the skin, the placement and size, in order to paint it correctly.

Gillian Higgins and Horses Inside Out i n Stromsholm, Sweden, doing an Anatomical Painting Workshop

For example the scapula (shoulder blade), needed to be palpated to find the dorsal cartilage, the spine of the scapula and the scapula-humeral joint, in order for the student to be able to paint it in the correct size and placement on their own horse.

Gillian Higgins and Horses Inside Out i n Stromsholm, Sweden, doing an Anatomical Painting Workshop

I found this process so fun and also such a good test of anatomy knowledge and palpation skills. And as I found myself helping some of the students as Gillian’s assistant, I did think how the process is not just great for students learning anatomy and palpation for the first time, it’s an incredibly useful way to test the knowledge you already have.

Once we had run through the skeleton and finished painting, it was time for a parade of the horses and for Gillian to choose her winner.

These students had done an incredible job. Their skeletons were in the main anatomically correct. There were a few sacrums with incorrect orientation of the spinous processes and a couple of horses with very straight ribs, but overall they were excellent and Gillian found it hard to choose a winner!

Gillian Higgins and Horses Inside Out, Lecture Demonstration, trotting poles, ridden horse

What a fabulous morning. And the following evening in the lecture demonstration, I heard Gillian say ‘If you don’t use it you loose it’ and thought - ain’t that the truth!

Being an equine professional really is a never ending journey of learning, sometimes learning something new, sometimes re-learning something you thought you already knew.

If you'd like to attend a Horses Inside Out lecture demonstration or anatomical painting workshop, see if there is one coming up near you by checking out the Horses Inside Out WHAT'S ON Page or if you would like to arrange a workshop or clinic at your yard do get in touch:


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What a wonderful article and very educational, as always!

Cat G.

Anacortes, WA USA

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