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Maintaining Mobility - A Live Painted Horse Lecture Demonstration

Updated: Nov 19, 2022

Last Wednesday we travelled north, with the car filled to bursting, to Netherton Equestrian Centre, Perth. Our journey to Scotland was to perform the first public live painted horse lecture demonstration since 2019. It was fabulous to be back out there again, to meet and chat to horse owners, trainers and other equestrian professionals in person.

gillian higgins horses inside outperforming a lecture demonstration with Perth Equine Vets painted horse muscles
Gillian Higgins performing a lecture demonstration with Perth Equine Vets

In this blog we share some of the top tips related to maintaining mobility from the night, what's involved on the day and a bit about the journey of organising a Horses Inside Out lecture demonstration.


The photographs in this blog were taken by professional photographer Andy from www.takenphotography.co.uk. On his website you can see more photos from the night (look in the gallery section - Horses Inside Out 14th April)

gillian higgins horses inside out painted horse demonstration

Organising a Lecture Demonstration

It's great fun putting on a live lecture demonstration but it does take a lot of time and effort from a team of dedicated people to make it all happen.


Camilla Church from Perth Equine Vets contacted us in November 2021. After an initial chat on zoom about how it would all work a date was put in the diary. Camilla then started to promote the event and make all the other arrangements necessary for the event to take place.

"The organisation of a Horses Inside Out demonstration was very straightforward. Gillian provides all the information and tips to make sure it is a successful evening. With an early bird price you encourage spectators early on - but with repeated emails and social media content people jump on the band wagon and want to come too! An interesting and interactive evening - the demo sells itself!" says Camilla

As an organiser of a Horses Inside Out lecture demonstration there's a lot to do - from finding horses and riders, booking a venue, ensuring the venue has appropriate facilities and of course telling all the local equestrians about the event so they can book tickets.

gillian hihhins horses inside out demonstrationCamilla Church and the team from Perth Equine Vets
Camilla Church and the team from Perth Equine Vets

If you would be interested in arranging a lecture demonstration for your organisation or equestrian centre please do not hesitate to get in touch. info@horsesinsideout.com


Team Work Makes the Dream Work

Camilla and the team from Perth Equine Vets did an excellent job organising the evening and sold over 250 tickets. Providing education is at the heart of Perth Equine Vets mission and this evening was the first of many events planned. The aim of this event was to educate and help raise awareness about the work Perth Equine vets do.


The venue for this event was Netherton Equestrian. This is a new training and competition centre with an enormous indoor arena. We were honoured to be the first to perform a lecture demonstration in this arena and also in front of a such a large audience.


gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration lecture

The day before a Horses Inside Out lecture demonstration we have a rehearsal, this allows everyone involved including horses, riders, the arena party and organisers to gain an insight into what to expect on the day.


After our run through at Netherton Equestrian, it was an early night for everyone as it was an early start on the day of the lecture demonstration to get everything ready in time for the evening performance.


gillian higgins horses inside out demonstrationGillian with Camilla Church from Perth Equine Vets and demo rider Kirsty Aird
Gillian with Camilla Church from Perth Equine Vets and demo rider Kirsty Aird

The Stars of the Show

The horses play a crucial role in our lecture demonstrations - in fact, we couldn't do it without them!


Finding the right horses and riders to help us is vital to the success of all our live demonstrations.


The ideal Horses Inside Out lecture demonstration horse not only needs to move well and be capable of demonstrating a variety of different exercises from in-hand, to flatwork to polework and jumping but they also need to have a calm, patient temperament and enjoy human interaction. This is important as we allow 6 hours to paint up 2 horses!


Meet the horses

Kirsty Aird, show horse producer and trainer based at Netherton Equestrian provided 2 gorgeous horses, Ollie and Tyzer.


gillian higgind horses inside out demonstration paintedKirsty Aird and Olliehorse
Kirsty Aird and Ollie

Ollie, co-owned by Kirsty and Mrs McCullen is an athletic 7yo Showjumper. He has qualified for the 2022 British Novice and Foxhunter second rounds and Kirsty is very excited about his future.




gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration painted horse skeleton




Tyzer (right) is a homebred 7yo show horse, the 3rd foal out of Kirsty's HOYS champion working hunter pony. Last year was his first competition season where he competed at 1m showjumping and working hunters.


The horses were painted to show the skeleton on one side and different muscles (colour co-ordinated as per their action) on the other.




"For me it is imperative that there is plenty of time so the horses can have breaks as required, whether that be walking or grazing in hand." says Gillian


Behind the Scenes

There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make our lecture demonstrations happen and that needs volunteers. One of the roles is an assistant painter, this means spending an afternoon with Gillian and the horses. This is a great opportunity to chat and ask Gillian questions as well as learning more about the anatomy we are painting on the horses.


As this opportunity is so popular, Camilla ran a competition and we had 4 very enthusiastic assistant painters to help with the process.

gillian higgins horses inside out demonstrationassistant painters Abi, Abie and Amy, preparing for the night!
Gillian with assistant painters Abi, Abie and Amy, preparing for the night!

"As assistant painters are involved in the process I feel they get even more from the lecture demonstration itself." says Gillian

The Aim of the Demo

The content of each of Gillian's lecture demonstrations vary according to the organiser's individual requirements, the chosen topic to be covered and type of audience.


The subject of this lecture demonstration organised by Perth Equine Vets was to look at ways we can help horses to maintain mobility and reduce the risk of injury through training and management.

"Gillian's lecture demonstrating was the perfect is of entertainment, yet educational. Her presentation ensures the audience is engaged, and thinking about her top tips long after the demonstration has ended. A fabulous evening, and one to be enjoyed by anyone who loves, owns or trains horses. " Camilla Church

Each demonstration is divided into two parts. The first part is usually an in-hand demo and the second part is ridden.


Part One - The Principles of Anatomy and Biomechanics
gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration painted horse muscles

The first half was a dismounted, in-hand demonstration supported by a presentation projected onto a large screen. Gillian explained the anatomical paintings on Ollie and Tyzer and the important principles of anatomy and biomechanics.


"If you don't use it you lose it!"

Gillian began by explaining about the importance of taking all joints through a full range of movement on a regular basis. This helps with the production of joint fluid as well as mobilising muscles and fascia. This is as important with us humans as it is with horses!

gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration painted horse skeleton carrot stretch pilates


However, in order to encourage a horse to use a full range of movement we first need to understand what the anatomical normal is for each joint then we need to look at which exercises encourage that movement.


This is where Gillian started, with a dynamic demonstration of movement within the different sections of the spine.





gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration small circles painted horse skeleton

She used various exercises and movements to illustrate the range of movement available and connections within the body. These included; walking, backing up, small circles as well as several reflex, carrot and Pilates-type movements.




Studying the biomechanics of spinal movement is fascinating - it not only makes us appreciate the variation of movement throughout the spine but also helps us to understand posture.


This is one of Gillian's favourite topics as improving posture can make a massive difference to range of movement, suppleness, strength and performance as well as significantly reducing the risk of injury.


If you would like to learn more about this check out Gillian's recorded webinar: Understanding the Horse's Back, Understanding and Assessing Posture or Gillian's book Posture and Performance




gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration painted horse neck cervical vertebrae real bones

During the lecture demonstration Gillian uses real bones to help illustrate the impact of posture on the skeleton.


The bones used at Netherton, and shown in these photos (left and below), were from a 16.3hh British Warmblood.






Break Time - An Opportunity to Keep Learning
gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration break time students real bones

During the break, as well as having the opportunity to get refreshments and visit the stalls, we encourage audience members to come into the arena and take a closer look at the bones and anatomical models. There’s also the opportunity to ask Gillian questions, meet the horses and take photos.



The majority of the questions at this demonstration were related to the pelvis and sacroiliac joint. Exactly how are these orientated? Where are the sacroiliac ligaments? How is the sacroiliac joint injected? and How can a foal fit out through there!?

gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration students talking asking questions real bones

As well as demonstrating using the bones to answer these questions, Gillian recommended her video course: www.horsesinsideout.com/sacroiliac to learn more.


Part 2 - Understanding Movement

The second half of the lecture demonstration is the movement and ridden section. Kirsty wore a skeleton body suit riding Ollie and her head girl, Emma Lowe, lunged Tyzer.

gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration painted horse skeleton lunging

Seeing horses move with the skeleton painted on the side of the horse really helps attendees to visualise what is happening under the skin.


During this part of the demonstration the focus is on one horse at a time. This means there was opportunity for each horse to have a short walk rest after performing an exercise while the audience focuses on the other horse.

gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration painted horse skeleton rider skeleton suit

Understanding how the horse moves in each of the 3 basic gaits is useful as from there we can understand how mobilise the musculoskeletal system. Because walk, trot and canter are so different the same exercise performed in the different gaits becomes 3 very different exercises. So understanding this can help us decide what is best for our horses.


gillian higgins horses inside out Gillian demonstrating the relationship between rib and hindlimb movement!!
Gillian demonstrating the relationship between rib and hindlimb movement!!

Everything is connected to everything else in anatomy so how we rider and what we ask our horses to do will affect how they use their musculoskeletal system and the stressess and strains placed upon certain structures.









The Benefits of Polework

With the skeleton and muscles painted on the horses it is really easy to see how the posture and way of going is changed over the poles compared to on the flat.


gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration walk poles in hand painted horse skeleton

Walk poles stimulate contraction of the core muscles particularly the thoracic sling muscles and encourage the horse to lift the base of the neck as Tyzer beautifully illustrated.




gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration trot poles painted horse skeleton rider skeleton suit

Trot poles, amongst other things, promotes symmetry of steps and encourages the horse to push evenly from behind.


Raising the poles increases the demand for core muscle stimulation as not only does the horse need to lift the legs higher but greater balance is required too as Ollie and Kirsty demonstrated.



gillian higgins horses inside out demnstration painted horse muscles canter poles

When performing canter poles or a series of bounces the horse demonstrates an even bigger range of movement both within the spine and limbs. The contraction and elongation of the muscle chains becomes more obvious so these are great exercises to watch to appreciate how the horse moves.



If you would like to learn more about polework check out the recorded webinar Poles for Posture


"Understanding the horse's anatomy and biomechanics can help us to improve harmony between horse and rider." says Gillian

Exercises to Try with Your Own Horse

Gillian demonstrated a number of ways to improve harmony between horse and rider. One way was all to do with the timing of leg aids, swing of the rib cage and contraction of the external abdominal oblique muscle (a superficial muscle which lies underneath the rider's heel).

gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration painted horse muscles rider skelton suit

gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration audience participation

Gillian is a dynamic presenter and as well as keeping her lecture demonstrations applied, full of tips and exercises that owners can do at home, she always gets the audience actively involved.

A Gymnastic Jumping Finale


At the end of this lecture demonstration Kirsty and Ollie performed 2 very different gymnastic jumping exercises to help demonstrate variations in how the horse uses his body.

gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration painted horse skeleton rider skeleton suit jumping

The first exercise consisted of 3 upright verticals on short one non-jumping stride distances.


This encouraged Ollie to compress through his body, hold himself together and sit back on his hocks at take off.



gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration painted horse muscles rider skeleton suit jumping

The second exercise consisted of 2 wider (and wider) oxers on a 7 non-jumping stride related distance.


This encouraged him to open up through his body, elongate through the neck, stretch through his back and extend his hip joint at take off. With Ollie being so exuberant in his movement he demonstrated a significant difference.



At the end of the lecture demonstration audience members went away buzzing and full of new ideas and exercises to try out with their horses at home.


gillian higgins horses inside out demonstration audience

We are really excited to have a number of other live painted horse lecture demonstrations planned for 2022 (See our What's on Page).


If you would be interested in arranging a demo for your organisation or equestrian centre please do not hesitate to get in touch. info@horsesinsideout.com

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