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The HIO Conference Review - Part One

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

It was a year in the making but all the blood, sweat and tears was worth it as the Horses Inside Out Conference made a welcome return.

Our last conference was in February 2020 just before the pandemic and the HIO team wasn’t sure whether, after a few years away, the conference would still be popular. We needn’t have worried, the two-day conference held at the Holywell Conference Centre, Loughborough was a huge success.

The atmosphere was buzzing and everyone who attended in person seemed to be so excited for the face to face networking opportunities. Working as a professional in the equine industry can sometimes feel lonely and so it was great to be surrounded by so many like-minded people.

The topic for this year’s conference was Upwards and Onwards - an appropriate title for a number of reasons.

Upwards and Onwards:-

  • following the pandemic, following an injury, rehabilitation or another problem that the horse has had.

  • in our horse's training or referring to the biomechanics of moving forwards, propulsion and engagement.

  • applied to our own personal and professional development – striving to be the very best we can.

"I felt it was a great way to get that bit of inspiration needed at this time of year. It was a well thought-out and organised conference that links the scientific research and researchers in the University settings to the vets, paraprofessionals, and owners out in the field. It is welcoming, fun, and informative and an event that I would highly recommend. Thank you, Horses Inside Out. "

Liz Wenman, McTimoney Chiropractor

In this blog article we give an overview of the lectures presented on the first day including some top tips from each presenter. If you wish to purchase the recordings and notes from Day 1 of the conference you can do so here:

The Speakers on Day 1 of the Conference (from left to right): Gillian Higgins, Charlie Unwin, Dr Chris Pearce, Clare McLeod, Dr Jessica Kidd and Liam Gamble.

Back Disorders and Upper Hind Limb Lameness - Dr Jessica Kidd

On Saturday Dr Jessica Kidd gave two presentations – her first gave a detailed insight into the diagnosis and treatment of back conditions. She explained that it can be difficult to definitively diagnose issues in the back as there can be a very broad spectrum of clinical signs. Many horses come to her with the label of poor performance, or a change in temperament – so not necessarily with obvious back pain.

Jessica also stressed the importance of taking a thorough clinical history of the horse to help get to the real source of the problem. She also discussed the different types of imaging taken and how radiography, ultrasonography and scintigraphy are all very useful modalities. Her presentation also covered the different types of treatment available and the success rate.

It was fabulous to be able to go and see some of the structures and conditions Jessica referred to in the anatomy exhibition after the presentation. Gillian's wide range of bones and anatomical models included examples of kissing spines, arthritis, fractures, insertional desmopathy.

Jessica’s second presentation covered upper hind limb lameness, highlighting that this is becoming an increasingly recognised cause of lameness. Her talk looked at the various areas of the horse that can be affected, including sacroiliac disease and that the primary treatment in this area is direct medication of the affected areas.

“Sacroiliac region injuries can be frustrating to treat successfully,” Dr Kidd explains. “I don’t know a way to predict which horses will respond, and which will not. Some cases do very well, some never respond and some who respond have recurrent episodes. Keeping these horses fit and in constant work, where possible gives them the best chance.”

Other areas covered in this presentation included the pelvis, hip and stifle.

Dental Disease as a Cause of Poor Performance - Dr Chris Pearce

Dr Chris Pearce from the Equine Dental Clinic was another expert to touch on poor performance in horses and whether dental disease can be the cause. He explained more about what poor performance is and how vital it is to look at the whole of the horse and stressed that peak ridden performance requires excellent function and coordination between all body systems.

The majority of studies carried out suggest that the majority of poor performance issues are usually caused by lameness or musculoskeletal problems, respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological and gastrointestinal issues. However Chris illustrated many shocking examples where dental pain was clearly the cause of poor performance.

Although pain is difficult to assess – dental related pain shouldn’t be overlooked as a cause of reduced trainability. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence of horses demonstrating pain reactions, irritability, aggression, poor performance, and reluctance to do with dental disorders. Chris stressed that much more research needs to be done in this area and that it’s important that horse owner's learn to recognise behaviour that is potentially related to dental pain – and the need for detailed, regular full mouth dental examinations.

Chris's presentations were so popular we are pleased to announce we will be running a one-day online seminar with Dr Chris Pearce on Saturday 2nd December - details coming soon! Topics covered on the day will include: TMJ and Hyoid conditions as well as new standards for equine dentistry and bitting injuries and how to avoid them.

Creating a Psychologically Informed Environment - Charlie Unwin

There was a change of focus after the lunch break when sports psychologist Charlie Unwin took to the stage. His presentation focused on the subject of Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE). What is PIE, I hear you ask? PIE are services that are designed to directly address the client’s beliefs, attitudes, emotions and behaviours with the ultimate goal of enhancing the quality of the outcome.

Here are just a few take home messages from Charlie’s presentation:

  • Research that Charlie carried out revealed that the more worry you have or cognitive stress you are under, the worse you will perform.

“Worry doesn’t help us – it distracts us, it takes our attention away from what’s important in the moment.”
  • If someone isn’t feeling in control - maybe they are taking very short breaths, talking quickly and their voice is getting higher and higher. Be the change you want to see in that person – this is such a powerful thing to do. Be calm, be physically relaxed yourself and watch it transform that person.

  • The brain remembers things through emotions not necessarily logic, so you can have the best lesson of your life, overcome a barrier if you then get off your horse and immediately pick up your phone, go into a meeting, or get onto your next horse you completely dilute the learning that just happened. We need to take time to really feel what’s just happened - this is called savouring.

  • As equine professionals think of yourself as a leader – you’re not just someone giving advice to a client on what to do with a horse, or how to use a piece of equipment. You’re also trying to get them to visualise what success looks and feels like when riding a certain movement, for example.

"Be the change you want to see!"

Nutrition for Rehabilitation and Body Rebuilding with Clare MacLeod

The final two presentations on the first day of the conference covered Nutrition for Rehab and Body building with Clare MacLeod, and Equine Microbiome Modification with Liam Gamble.

Clare's talk discussed the role nutrition plays in rehab and she highlighted the fact that nutrition alone won't build a strong, conditioned body - exercise does that, however, nutrition provides the fuel and building blocks that are put in place by the exercise programme.

There were six key points to Clare's presentation:

  1. A balanced diet is key for rehab.

  2. Support the gut - keep forage intake consistent, make all dietary changes gradually, limit starchy concentrates.

  3. Support the mind - feed plenty of fibre and keep starch to a minimum.

  4. Feed quality and do not over feed - it's a delicate balance. Aim to keep protein level high and vitamin and mineral intake high and digestible energy intake marginal to requirements.

  5. Are supplements needed? The basic diet is more important than supplements. Feed a balanced diet first.

  6. Take an individual approach - every horse is different, treat them as individuals. Monitor them and adjust if necessary.

Bonus Material!

Our online host Tony Hobden, interviewed each of the speakers after their talks and the stand holders. Tony really made the online viewers feel part of the action. It was really interesting to have the continuity - just like a TV news/chat programme!

All this content is available on the Horses Inside Out Conference 2023 webpage to everyone who attended and if not... you can purchase access to the recordings here:

Equine Microbiome Modification - Liam Gamble

This final presentation of day one discussed the vital role of the over 100 trillion bacteria, parasites and fungi and how they can have a positive and negative effect on the horse's gut and general health.

The horse's gastrointestinal tract is home to a complex ecosystem of micro-organisms known as the microbiota. The microbiota carries out a number of vital roles for the horse, who can't digest fibre without the help of bacteria and fungi in the hindgut.

The microbiota also produces important vitamins and minerals, supports the gut lining and even influences behaviour.

The number of microbiota can be influenced in a number of ways. One common thing is the use of probiotics and prebiotics. Also, the horse's diet can have a major impact on the microbiota - for example, if you want more fibre digesting bacteria, feed more fibre.

There is a much wider range of probiotics available for humans with functions beyond gut health. There are products available that target weight loss, brain health and skin health. Could this be the way forward for horses in the future? There is a lot of research that needs to be done before this will be possible, but watch this space.

Your Questions Answered

At the end of the day all the speakers were on stage for a fascinating panel session. Although there was some time for a few questions after each presentation and Tony Hobden (our online host) interviewed each speaker after their talk the panel session was the time where the bulk of the questions were asked and answered.

All this is available to view here:


After a successful day 1 one of the conference it was time to enjoy some drinks and socialising at the bar. We were honoured to be joined by the hugely popular Caroline Moore who did an inspirational talk on Personal Responsibility in Delivering Excellence. I have known Caroline for years and it was fabulous to hear some of her stories and secrets of success behind training Ros Canter and All Star B as well as her motivation and moments of revelation such as discussing coaching with Sir Clive Woodward. What a night!

"I have attended two HIO conferences now and will be attending more in the future. I am an equine vet and I love the varied topics covered. The focus is ultimately equine welfare, the topics discussed are thought provoking and it is all heavily evidence based. The presenters are all highly respected in their respective fields and are engaging speakers. The best bit though is certainly meeting lots of people from different areas of the equestrian world, networking and having interesting discussions all weekend. The social on the Saturday evening is a must too." Jo Gwynne, Equine Vet

In our next blog, we will review day two of the HIO Conference.

Thank you to Matthew Roberts Photography


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