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Tips & Insights from the Horses Inside Out Conference 2024: Growth and Development - A Journey of A Lifetime

Updated: Apr 16

Wow! What an incredible weekend we had at the Horses Inside Out Conference. Engineered and collated by Gillian Higgins, the talks truely took us on a journey of a lifetime exploring every aspect of growth and development from many different perspectives. Two days dedicated to learning, re-evaluating how we train and manage horses – plus so much more, it’s tricky to sum up just how fabulous the Horses Inside Out Conference 2024 was. In this blog we pick out just a few tips, insights and take home messages.


Evidence based equine science conference

Equine Welfare and Responsibilities


With welfare a topic that is constantly being discussed and challenged in the modern equine world, Nic de Brauwere’s presentation on Saturday morning certainly hit the mark. There were a few things throughout his talk that stuck with me.

“We must all aspire to give horses a good life.”

There is still a lot that we need to learn about the feelings that lie behind the signals and behaviours horses show us, but we need to be better at ‘listening’ to our horses and using this to better understand them and adapt our own actions.



Nic pointed out that we too easily forget that humans control almost every aspect of a horse’s life. We decide when and where they live, eat, even rest. This makes us responsible for their welfare at almost every stage of their life. We must learn to show empathy and understanding by putting ourselves in the shoes of the horse rather than using our own human preferences.



To do this we need to learn more about what makes them tick, learning about their behaviour, and how an expression is a signal of a state of mind or experience – interpreting how the horse might feel based on the information they show us through their behaviour - altering our actions and behaviours accordingly to avoid causing distress resulting in a more positive experience for the horse.

“The duty falls on all of us to ensure the welfare of the horse."

Welfare, responsibility and the perception of equestrianism in our modern world was a topic discussed during the panel session. So many people compare domesticated horses to a utopian view of the wild horse, but this is unrealistic and not recognising all the facts. Although there is much we can learn from wild horses, we need to remember that domesticated horses are not wild, they live longer, and have a better quality of life in so many ways with reduced suffering and access to veterinary care. It is important that we as carers take responsibility for our horse's care and work with teams of professionals to achieve the best life for horses.


Gillian said: "Horses do so much for us. At the top end of sport they are pushed to their physiological limits. As soon as we add the weight of a rider onto the horse's back, we affect his posture, balance, movement and biomechanics. So it is up to us to make sure that we do as much as possible and learn as much as possible to ensure the best comfort, welfare and performance of our horses. The presentations this weekend have gone a long way in helping with this message."


"This weekend so many presenters have said "I don't know" or "We don't have the evidence for that yet". There was a time we knew everything!! There are a lot of bluffers out there. So find the expert. However, I have learnt that unless you get experience of every subject yourself, you don't know who the experts are. You need some knowledge to be able to pick the wheat from the chaff. So just keep learning as it's never ending - in a good way. "



Kelly Marks


"Go home and think about one way you can feed your horse in a more natural way. Think about the microbiome and feeding that. If you do, you won't go far wrong."


Professor Meriel Moore-Colyer


"The speakers this weekend have made everyone curious and curiosity is important as is challenging the status quo and not accepting everything as correct, but to always keep asking questions. I feel we have been preaching to the converted here as you are all here. but I would like each of you to go home and tell 5 friends about what you've learnt."

Dr Sue Dyson



"I am regularly asked to present at conferences about things that we have never perceived to be a problem, for example, the Hyoid apparatus and TMJ. There is actually a lot of research to show that the TMJ is not a problem. But everybody wants these things to be a problem.

In the equine dentistry world we call these UFOs because everybody wants to believe in them, but there isn't really any evidence for them. What we need to be focussing on are the basics, getting the basics right, using evidenced based research and focusing on welfare.

The biggest welfare aspect that we have at the moment is bitting and bitting injuries. Equestrian sport is not going to get banned in the future due to not enough people gave webinars on hyoid disease. It's going to get banned because there are pictures on the internet of horses bleeding from the mouth."


Dr Chris Pearce


The networking around the lectures have been just as constructive and I've picked up alot about what we need to do, to influence others around us, encourage them to stop, think, challenge what you are doing and be prepared to change; which is very difficult to do but very brave of those people who take it on.

Nic De Brauwere



"You can lead a horse to water, you can't make it drink but you can make it thirsty. I've come here as a presenter but I am going away thirsty to learn more particularly about depression. Thank you for making me thirsty."

Dr Russell MachKechnie Guire


"The more we can learn about how horses really learn, how they function and how we can manage them better, not only is it more effective for you as rider or trainer, but it is obviously much better for the welfare of the horse and the perception of the welfare of the horse. It is a worry that a few people question what we do. So how can we move this message to a wider audience?"

Richard Davison

Practical Advice and Tips


The Horses Inside Conference was full of top tips and practical advice that horse owners as well as professionals can use to help us achieve this.


First of all, Dr Sue Dyson’s presentation – Can Performance and Longevity by Predicted by Assessment of Conformation definitely got you thinking. It was full to the brim of really useful advice on how to assess horses and how to choose those with the best conformation and therefore the best chance of staying sound.


Sue gave a presentation which gave us all a schooling in evidenced based medicine. Sue is an institution, she is like Sir David Attenborough of the Veterinary World.


She started by stating that it would seem logical that a well conformed horse should be at less risk of injury compared with a poorly conformed horse.



However after discussing various pieces of research illustrating these facts, Sue concluded that there are many factors, not just conformation, that may contribute towards a horse’s soundness. Things to consider are foot symmetry – asymmetrical front feet will affect the length of a horse’s competitive career. Extravagant natural paces, ground surfaces and work intensity may all play a role as well as the rider’s ability and management of the horse.


Sue then went one step further to say,

“I believe that some horses are more prone to injury despite good conformation.”

 

If you want to watch any of the presentations from the 2024 Conference they are available on-demand from the Horses Inside Out Academy


On Sunday both Dr Chris Pearce and Dr Simon Curtis had similar messages when it comes to young horses and that’s to look after both the teeth and the hooves early on in horse’s life.


Chris highlighted that between the ages of 18 months and 5 years old, horses have a busy time with their teeth – they undergo a period of rapid eruption and development. He recommends a thorough examination and routine maintenance dentistry every six months between the ages of 18 months to five years. This will help to ensure that the teeth are in the best possible condition for when you start to put a bit in their mouth and their ridden careers begin. Regular visits also mean that any potential problems are seen early and appropriate treatment can be given.



Chris's answer to this question particularly stuck with me.


Question:

Can you effectively assess the back of the mouth properly without sedation?


Answer:

"No, I would say it's not possible, but my 'properly' might be different to other people's 'properly'. I want to make sure that when we do a dental examination we do not miss a thing because that is your horse's one chance, every 6 or 9 months or sometimes only once a year, to make absolutely sure that there is nothing wrong. Not.....probably there's nothing wrong. Not..... from what I can see there's nothing wrong. But absolutely definitively."

If you want to watch any of the presentations from the 2024 Conference they are available on-demand from the Horses Inside Out Academy


Simon’s presentation on limb deformities and how and when to intervene had a similar message when it comes to hooves – again having a foal looked at, and trimmed appropriately early enough to make a difference is key.


“In mature horses we try to maintain conformation. In foals we have the opportunity to improve it, if we start early enough.”

There were lots of take home messages from Simon’s presentation, here are just a few –

  • All foals are born with perfectly conformed hooves but they quite rapidly start to distort according to conformation.

  • Foals' feet grow quickly – things that grow fast can easily grow out of shape. Hoof renewal in a foal is 145 day on average, weanlings/yearlings every 283 days and mature horses 337 days. This is why it’s so important that young horses are seen by the farrier on a regular basis so issues can be spotted and corrected.

  • The best land for hooves is sand (it might not be the best for growing grass but it's good for hooves.

  • The best bedding for hooves is pine shavings.

Dr Russell MacKechnie- Guire’s presentation on Training aids and polework included information he thought all horse owners and trainers should know. He is an advocate for using training aids but pointed out there’s lots to be mindful of. First and foremost, training aids do not replace correct training and riding. Russell stressed that we need to get away from thinking that training aids are an alternative to correct training.



It is also crucial that before you start using a training aid, you must be able to lunge correctly as well as having a thorough understanding of how the training aid works.


“One of the big issues I see as a BHSI is that owners don’t know how to lunge properly." says Russell


He discussed research on the fit of lunge rollers and the high pressure readings that were recorded at each stride, in the region of T10 -T12 (top of the spine). It is important to ensure adequate padding under the roller. Finally, Russell asked us to consider that one training aid doesn't fit all - every horse has to be looked at as an individual.


There was so much amazing information presented over the two day and if I’m completely honest I’m still processing a lot of it. However, the quote that will stick with me was from Kelly Marks. She gave a thought-provoking talk highlighting how horses help humans – something I think many of us can take for granted.



Kelly finished by saying,


“Have fun with your horse. It’s an expensive way to be miserable.”

And she’s completely right – stop and take a moment to consider just how amazing horses are and how much they give.


Finally, when it comes to young horses and their growth and development – this is in our hands as their owners, carers and trainers. What we do with them and how they are managed shapes their entire lives for good and bad. With equine welfare and the question of the social licence to operate currently in the spotlight, we must do all we can to ensure the future of equestrianism by constantly learning, changing and re-evaluating what we do with horses from foals to maturity.


If you want to watch any of the presentations from the 2024 Conference they are available on-demand from the Horses Inside Out Academy

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Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you for the summary, and especially thank you for an amazing weekend! My daughter and I enjoyed meeting a lot of very, nice people and learned so much.

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