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Learning to Listen to Your Horse

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

With life being such fast paced it can be so easy to overlook things that may be staring us in the face. This is also true for our horses – as we rush round trying to juggle family, work and horses we can be guilty of not listening to them and this is when the early signs of a health issue may be overlooked and not dealt with until the symptoms are really shouting at us.

The topic of biosecurity is now in the forefront of our minds and there is a lot we can do on a daily basis to ensure the health of our horses. What we can do to help the health of all horses is a topic that Dr. Nicolas de Brauwere is keen to bring to our attention.

At the Horses Inside Out Conference Nic talked about Infectious Disease Control and Biosecurity. Where we are now and what every equine professional needs to know?

He discussed some of the common diseases that affect horses and why we need to take them seriously.

He also looked at biosecurity and how we can incorporate practices into our daily routines -some of them you will already be doing but combined together they will help keep our horses healthy.

Nic is a well-known animal welfare professional who graduated from Onderstepoort Veterinary School in South Africa in 1991. He joined Redwings Horse Sanctuary over 30 years ago as in-house vet to provide clinical care and herd health to the resident horses, ponies and donkeys - and since 2002 heads the Welfare and Behaviour team.

He works with his team to rescue feral, unhandled and mistreated horses as well as supporting individual and large scale rescues alongside the RSPCA and other charities. Nic’s passion and focus supported the implementation of a behaviour program in handling and rehabilitation of feral, unhandled and mistreated horses at Redwings.

Horses have always been part of his family, Nic’s father had a deep love for horses and his sister had her own horse when she was younger, but didn’t get bitten by the bug until he was a little older.

“I had lessons at the only dressage focussed riding school in the country (South Africa),” explains Nic. “I rode a cob type and adored him – this is when I really took to riding. Then when my sister left home to go travelling, I took on her horse. He was an amazing horse to hack but dressage wasn’t his forte.”

Nic was fortunate to have an ex-racehorse on loan who taught him a huge amount about dressage and horses in general.

“I was very lucky - I had an idyllic childhood riding horses in beautiful countryside,” says Nic.

“It was when my loan horse had a bad case of colic and needed surgery that I realised how powerless you are when your horse is ill. That’s when my plan changed from being a rider to being a horse vet.”

“I joined Redwings at a period of exciting change. They had just built their own equine hospital and over the years working with feral and mistreated equines the team and I have come to realise that you can influence many of the conditions that horses suffer from with correct management, and I’m now able to pass this onto others to help the health of horses.”

Nic feels extremely lucky to have helped shape the direction of the vet work that is carried out at Redwings. Some of his milestones include introducing herd health, building stronger relationships with the welfare world and being part of changing legislation.

Nic has learn from the rescue work he has done and studying equine behaviour that it’s crucial to listen to the horse and look at the science behind animal behaviour. If we learn to understand and listen the horse we will notice more quickly when things change and act accordingly.

Here are just a few examples of what we can do as horse owners.

With good wound care there will be no need for antibiotics – and we know the issues that we have with antibiotic resistance.
Get into the habit of taking your horse’s temperature regularly – you’ll soon learn to recognise and act on any changes quickly.
“Observation is hugely valuable and there is so much power in developing this skill – all too often the horse is telling us he’s not happy but we don’t listen.”

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