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The HIO Conference Review - Part 2

Following a packed first day, would the second day deliver such a wide ranging set of presentations? The resounding answer is yes it did!

Watch the Conference on Catch Up here:

The first two talks given by Dr Chris Pearce and Dr James Cooling covered the subject of bitting but both complemented each other perfectly.

Comfort First and Foremost

Chris discussed bitting injuries and how to avoid them, and he started by quoting from a book, The Loriner by Benjamin Latchford published back in 1871

“The bit should be regarded as a key, to fit a lock – the perfect one should match and unlock the potential of the horse.”

How true is this?

Dr Chris went on to explain the seven bit contact points and stressed that when the horse’s mouth is closed, there isn’t much room for the bit. This is why correct fitting is crucial and every horse is different. Bitting injuries come in the form of damaging pressure to the sensitive soft tissue structures of the mouth, or the bone underneath, or when soft tissue is pinched, compressed against hard structures.

“There’s definitely the potential for damage to be caused to the mouth by bits,” stresses Chris. “We need to work more closely with the governing bodies such as the FEI to make sure the welfare of the horse comes first.”

He also discussed that it's important to start with a pain-free horse. There is no point in looking at bits/ changing bits, tack etc if the horse has discomfort in his mouth from a fractured tooth etc. The basic principle of getting the teeth in good order before blaming the bit is crucial.

"You can’t start the journey of bitting if the basics aren’t right"

Bit and Bridles

Moving onto Dr James Cooling’s presentation which covered bridle and bit fit. He stressed that there is a need for a clear and rapid development of ethical and welfare based rules across all disciplines and governing bodies relating to bit and bridle fit.

Good practice should be consistently promoted and demonstrated by all professionals within the industry.

He chatted in detail about the anatomy of the mouth and head, and how it relates to bit and bridle fit.

“Bit selection is for the horse – they are the customer. They have to wear it, so it has to be suitable for them,” says James. “If the horse isn’t comfortable with the fit or action of the bit it will cause tension and have an effect on the entire biomechanical function of the horse.”

The key things to consider when looking at bridle fit:

  1. Fitted to the individual horse. There is no single design that will fit every single horse.

  2. No pressure on the facial structures

  3. Browband length

  4. Buckle position – away from the TMJ

  5. Noseband shouldn’t interfere with bit placement and it should allow clearance of the facial crest. You should be able to fit two fingers under the front of the noseband.

Watch the Conference on Catch Up here:

The Buzz of Biosecurity

After the morning break Nic De Brauwere was up next to discuss infectious disease control and biosecurity. Since the pandemic we are much more aware of biosecurity and its meaning.

Protecting our horses from disease and helping them recover if they do fall ill has always been an integral part of good horse keeping so there is a lot we are already doing in the day to day care of our horses that are biosecurity measures. However, as Nic discussed there is still more to be done.

Effective biosecurity can be broken down into three main parts:

  1. Human behaviour – our own and others

  2. How we manage and keep our horses whether at home or when we are competing

  3. Medicines and wormers

Information is a key part in ensuring biosecurity remains effective and fit for purpose. It is essential that yards have a biosecurity plan in place that can be followed by everyone.

Here are some useful links following Nic's talk:

Surveillance of equine strangles:

Strangles awareness week and the temp check challenge:

The Future of Farriery

The final talk of the day was with farriers Mark Johnson and Robbie Richardson. This entertaining duo gave a thought-provoking presentation about optimising hoof care both for the shod and barefoot horse. They highlighted that everything we do with hoof has a consequence and questioning the use of nail on metal shoes – are there alternatives that are better for the horse?

We shouldn’t do what we’ve always done. Can the use of boots be the way forward? There is definitely more work to be done in this area but their talk was definitely food for thought and will make you look at the horse’s hoof in a whole different light and think is there a better way to ensure the horse’s comfort.

Watch the Conference on Catch Up here:

That's a wrap

After a packed two days of a selection of amazing presentation Gillian said,

“After a three year break, it was fantastic to see everyone again. It took a lot to get the conference up and running again, but all the effort was worthwhile. Although being able to do things online is amazing, I hadn’t quite realised how much I’ve missed being able to see people face-to-face, swop stories and network.

“Being an equine professional can be quite lonely, this weekend has be a great opportunity to get back together as a community and support one another."

Huge thank you to the speakers from the 2023 HIO Conference - What a weekend!!

The take home message from the 2023 conference is to take a whole horse approach and it's important to remember it takes a team of people working together with the welfare of the horse at the heart of everything they do. Everyone who attended the conference has embraced this and are keen to keep on learning about the horse to improve their comfort and performance.

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