Box rest boredom!

By Lizzie Hopkinson


It is very difficult when our horses are on box rest. One of the main things I notice about getting older, is that time goes much more quickly. Six weeks as a child was an incredibly long period of time, and I remember the days passing in agonising slowness while my pony was on box rest. Nowadays, as an adult, I can cope better with periods of difficulty.

The first step is acceptance. There is no point raging about whatever happened to get you to this point, nor wishing it hadn’t happened. The quicker we accept our position the quicker we can adapt to our new scenario and find solutions to the problems that will inevitably arise.

For example, if your horse is on box rest and needs trickle feeding during the day, while you are at work. Consider different options, ask around your yard, someone may do you a favour in return for something else. There may be someone you can pay to pop in and look after your horse. If you are too busy being angry about your situation you won’t manage to find a solution.

Make the best of it. You might love riding your horse best of all, but time spent walking out with him, massaging or grooming him is all part of the relationship that we build with our horses. You never know it may strengthen your relationship with him. If you aren’t confident with massaging your horse, take this opportunity to learn a new skill. Horse Massage for Horse Owners book and DVD was produced for people who wanted help learning to massage their horses. Just walking with your horse even for 10 minutes will have a beneficial effect on fitness, your horse’s and yours!

Time will pass. Annoying but true. Don’t think about 6 weeks of box rest, just tackle one day at a time, or one week at a time. As with many things, breaking the challenge down into bite sized chunks will help us to deal with it. A day on box rest is far less daunting than 6 weeks, and before you know those days stack up into weeks and weeks into months. Time is a great healer, and time does always pass, and as long as you follow the advice of the professionals that you trust to care for your horse, your period of inactivity will pass and soon you will be able to ride again. Take the time to do stretches and mobilisation with your horse which will help his core strength. This will help him out when you start riding him again. And spend some time concentrating on your core strength so that you can hold yourself up when you get back on, which will help your horse out while he is getting fit again. Just remember to bring your horse back into work gradually, so that you don’t end up back at square one!

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Photo by Anna Kaminova on Unsplash

Loading the tricky loader

Potholing is one of my worst nightmares, anything where I am confined into a small space, sends adrenalin pulsing through my body and leaves me twitchy and unsettled. Loading horses can elicit much the same sensation in my body. I have travelled (I’m not advocating this, as I think it is now illegal!) in the back of a horse lorry and found it an alarming sensation. Because you cannot see where you are going you are left feeling strangely vulnerable with no sense of place, as well as nauseous with the motion. As you cannot watch the road ahead, you have no idea that the driver is about to break because a goose has crossed the road, and your balance is not quick enough to react in time. It left me exhausted and strained.

Consequently, whenever I travel horses I feel for them and their lack of enthusiasm for the whole endeavour. I do my very best to drive smoothly and carefully, and indeed have tried tricks such as placing a half full glass of water on the dashboard to help concentrate the mind. However, because of my empathy with the horse for the whole process, I find myself on their side when they refuse to load. I don’t see it as “naughty” but merely as a sensible reaction to an apparently dangerous metal box driven by an unreliable human.

Our job as horse owners is to teach our horses that we will look after them, and that we will do our best to keep them safe from harm. Much of the work that we can do with loading is around our relationship with our horses, not simply a battle of wills on the ramp of a lorry. Once the horse can trust us to remain calm, and to follow us over different surfaces, and into different spaces, we can take that trust and use it to walk together up the ramp.

I found, as I trained my own horses to load, that repeated exposure to the whole process reduced my own stresses around it. Nothing must be more unsettling for a horse than being led to the base of a ramp, where their human begins to panic. If you are panicking at the base of the ramp, spend time working on yourself before you transfer to working with your horse.  Alternatively ask someone more confident to load your horse for you. This can have the additional advantage of teaching both you and your horse that the process of loading is achievable and not terrifying. If you know someone with a good-to-load horse, it may be worth loading their horse a few times. Working out where to position yourself on the ramp, and turning in the small space inside, can be easier to learn with a horse that knows his job. Once you both know that you can do it separately then you can try together. Remember, that we can learn to do anything that we put our minds to, as long as we break it down into small sections.

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Cryochaps – reader’s review

Because we like to check products out thoroughly, we gave a pair of Cryochaps (the latest addition to the Ethical Horse Products range) to Helen and her lovely horse Bransby Lady Mianella to try out. Here is Helen’s feedback so far!

“I liked them from the moment I opened the package. The whole concept with the carry bag is excellent and they feel fantastic and well-made, which is always a great starting point. They are easy to keep stored, as you can keep them rolled up, so that hay or shavings don’t get stuck in the Velcro! (This is a pet-hate of mine!)
Once I had worked out how to use them, they were really easy. I found the instructions a little small, and would have liked them to be bigger, or at least on heavier card so that they didn’t get lost.
I took the Cryochaps with me to an event I was competing at, so that I could see how they worked out and about. I completely forgot to put extra ice blocks in the bag with them when I left home, which meant by the time I put them on after my event they were no longer frozen. However they were very cold still, and definitely helped cool Lady Mianella’s legs down quickly after our cross-country. Next time I will write a larger note to remind myself to add extra ice blocks to the bag!
Lady Mianella was perfectly happy standing with them on her legs. They were easy to put on her, she walked around in them and then stood happily on the trailer, while still wearing them.
I was really pleased with how easy they were to use, and will definitely keep using them after hard exercise to help keep my horse’s legs in good condition.”

If you are interested in learning more about Cryochaps and how they can help after exercise or injury, visit our Cryochaps webpage.

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Hacking – the best and the worst

By Lizzie Hopkinson

Hacking, for me, sums up the very best and the very worse of horses. Some of the best moments of my life have been spent in the countryside with my horses. I have been lucky enough to live in some beautiful places with access to endless stunning off-road hacking, forestry land, moorland and perfect English bridleways. I have ridden across Welsh mountains on Welsh ponies and across Irish heathland on Irish cobs, and I am grateful for those stunning experiences. Equally I have ridden horses in narrow hedge-bound roads, with dangerous traffic, ridden horses for people that have been less than truthful about their behaviour. I’ve encountered my fair share of near misses and moments that leave your heart in your mouth, and your pulse racing.

My problem has been that as my near misses have mounted up I have become increasingly worried about riding on the roads. Not in the fields, not on rocky tracks, or narrow passes, simply on the roads. The traffic has increased in both volume and velocity leaving us at the mercy of the drivers. I recently drove along a B road that I used to hack along as a child. In the mile long stretch I used to maybe pass one or two cars 20 years ago, nowadays is comprised of a stream of HGV lorries driving fast and aggressively along the bendy road.

The best piece of advice I was ever given about hacking out on the roads was “the horse has not won if you dismount”. For some reason lodged in the recesses of my brain, I had laboured under the idea that I had to stay on, that I was a failure if I got off. That one sentence changed my attitude towards hacking entirely. On a bad day (mine not the horses) I could spend half the hack on my feet, but on a good day was happy to hack past all sorts of obstacles. By removing the necessity to remain mounted I found that I was enjoying my hacking once again, and gradually the bad days became less and the good days more.

I would spend many happy hours playing with horses around obstacles in the field, so that by the time they were out hacking they had seen all sorts. I have also tried, wherever I lived to befriend farmers who would let me ride my horses around their tractors until they ceased to be bothered by them.

We live in a beautiful country for those of us lucky enough to have access to it. While we cannot change the behaviour of those around us, we can do our best to make ourselves as confident and as safe as we can, so that we can navigate the roads to hopefully reach the delights of the countryside that surrounds us.

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Presence not presents!

Don’t fall into the seasonal trap of over-spending! (I know this seems like a strange message for a company that sells products to spread!) But it is so easy at Christmas to get sucked into the compulsion to buy. And I am aware that it is easier said than done, to resist the endless barraging adverts, and the daily onslaught of advertising that tries to tell us that giving people things they don’t need equates to love.

Instead this year give the things that matter; give time, give hugs, give a handmade gift, give food to foodbanks, give love, give respect, buy cups of tea for the homeless, stop and talk to your neighbours, smile at that lady you pass everyday.

We don’t need more things – more pieces of plastics that will end up in landfill in a short few weeks, plundering the planet both in their making and their disposal. We need time, and conversation, love and affection, respect and gratitude.

Children don’t need the latest game, they need you to sit on the floor and pretend to be a plane, a train, a tree, a fairy.

Adults don’t need another clever piece of packaging, they need a hug, and to be told they are doing a great job.

Grandparents – they don’t need another set of glasses, they need a wonky biscuit made with love and slightly grubby fingers.

At the end of our lives we won’t remember countless gifts that were given to us; shower sets, over-packaged candles, books of bad jokes, but we will remember the people we love and the things we have experienced.

For Christmas I wish you all health, happiness and hope. And may 2019 bring you peace and joy.

Thank you to all our customers who have supported us throughout the year – I know that this is blog is all about encouraging people not to shop – but we are truly grateful to all our customers who help us to help people do the best for their horses.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


Everything you have ever wanted to know…part 11

We sent Sue Palmer from The Horse Physio along to catch up with the founder of Equicore Concepts, Nicole Rombach, to talk all about the Equiband System

You can watch the interview by clicking on the image below, or read the transcript underneath.

Sue Palmer MCSP: “In terms of how the bands work, I tell clients that it activates reflexes using the hair follicles and the skin receptors.  Is that the same as a resistance band, the Theraband type for example that we use in humans?”

Dr Nicole Rombach: “Bit of a difference there Sue.”

Sue Palmer MCSP: “You call it a resistance band when you’re talking about it…”

Dr Nicole Rombach: “I don’t actually know, now that we discuss that, I don’t know whether that’s the most appropriate term.  We’re using the proprioceptive mechanisms, so essentially the receptors that are found throughout the entire body, but also in hair and skin, as giving a feedback to a certain part of the body through application of the band.  And then in movement the body distorts, so through that movement that is, I suppose, where your resistance would come into it, and then that would work as part of the stimulus.  But perhaps it’s more passive resistance.  In the human field of both therapy and conditioning you can actually move the body part and the the person can consciously apply the stretch to move into resistance.  So either through isometric contraction, so the muscle doesn’t change length when it contracts, which is more perhaps what we [equine practitioners] are working with, or into eccentric contractions, essentially the phase where the muscle will lengthen during contraction and then that can be used as a very specific part of training of either a body part or a certain movement, a combination of body parts that move.  So yes, we are applying a resistance, but perhaps it’s more of a stimulus, thinking on that”

Sue Palmer MCSP: “It’s really interesting.  It’s a question that came up when I was demonstrating it [the Equiband system] to a large veterinary practice, and the guy said ‘So this is a resistance band’ and I said ‘No, it’s not’, and I looked and the instructions and I was like ‘Well, it says it’s a resistance band, but actually…’”

Dr Nicole Rombach: “I think perhaps we can wax poetic on this.  Use resistance as a portion in there, but when you’re looking at the activation, I don’t know that it’s consciously done in the same pattern as what it would be in the human field.  As in for human practice, you would use, for example, a resistance, be it a weight, a band, whatever you choose, to activate a certain muscle group, but you are still putting the body consciously through a certain movement pattern.  Whereas here it’s more of a constant contact that would give that impetus.”

Massive thanks to both Nicole Rombach and to Sue Palmer, you can view this and all the other segments of the interview here!

In hand mobilisation exercises to reduce stiffness and improve movement

The NICE guidelines for humans recommend exercise as the best treatment for osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of stiffness in humans and horses, and many of us know for ourselves the benefits of exercise. Simple tips such as turning your horses out whenever possible will make great steps towards keeping them mobile.

We use a series of baited movements (commonly known as ‘carrot stretches’) to encourage the horse to mobilise through a range of movements that will help to keep his bodies supple. It is important to remember that carrot stretches are not appropriate for all horses, and some horses may react badly to the presence of treats. Please be careful of your fingers.  There are a variety of options to help keep you safe, for example placing your hand inside a cardboard cup with the carrot sticking out the bottom, or using a feed scoop for your treats.

Exercises are focused around the three main areas. We begin with spinal mobilisation, as the spine is the epicentre of the body, and many issues or problem stem from stiffness or asymmettry in the spine. Mobilisation of the forehand will encourage the horse to go forward more freely, allowing him to swing through this shoulder and front end. Mobilisation of the hindquarters will encourage the horse to push off from his hindleg, work from behind, and travel forwards more correctly.

Gently encouraging the neck round slowly to both sides and down towards the floor will encourage the whole of the spine to stretch. A relaxed nod through the head will travel along the length of the spine in a gentle ripple. These exercises will result in increasing the flexibility in the spine. You should notice that your horse gradually finds the exercises easier the more often you perform them.

Forehand mobilisation includes gently moving the base of the neck from side to side as though he is shaking his head to say ‘no’, as well as mobilising the shoulder and the important musculature in this area by bringing the front leg forwards and backwards.

Hindquarter mobilisation includes moving the tail and quarters to encourage a ripple effect through the pelvis, sacroiliac region and spine from the rear end of the horse, as well as rotating and flexing the hind legs to improve the ease and range of movement in the hindquarters of the horse.

As with all exercises remember that horses can be dangerous. Only do these exercises if you consider your horse is safe to work with. Don’t expect your horse to be able to do all the movements perfectly from the first attempt. In doing the exercises regularly you will notice the improvement in the range and ease of movements in each exercise. Over time you will find that translates into greater relaxation in your horse’s general movement. Under saddle you will be able to feel the difference in the quality of the paces, leading to a reduced risk of injury, increased stamina, and improved performance. Your horse will be able to feel the difference in his body, and so will you.


These exercises are based on the Ten of The Best series, book 3 by Sue Palmer “In Hand Mobilisation Exercises to Reduce Stiffness and Improve Movement” 

Please remember horses can be dangerous, be careful when handling your horse. If in doubt, consult a professional.

Everything you ever wanted to know…part 10

We sent Sue Palmer from The Horse Physio along to catch up with the founder of Equicore Concepts, Nicole Rombach, to talk all about the Equiband System

You can watch the interview by clicking on the image below, or read the transcript underneath.

Sue Palmer MCSP: “With show jumpers, for example, would you use the Equiband system as part of their jump training?”

Dr Nicole Rombach: “Good question.  Yes, the abdominal band for sure.  It depends on the horses’ fitness and what the rider is looking to achieve.  But certainly for the lower fences, I feel that it can be used safely over a combination of fences.  Certainly on the days that you have cavaletti, so more of your motor training or retraining over lower fences.  I personally wouldn’t jump with the hindquarter band on, although I had one client who very proudly sent me a video of the horse jumping a rather large oxer with both bands – kudos, I personally wouldn’t try it!  Again, it comes down to the rider knowing the horse, and what’s most appropriate for that horse.  So, for example, on days of doing ground pole work, and the motor exercises or movement training over those pole exercises, I would happily use both the abdominal and the hindquarter band.

Sue Palmer MCSP: “In the past, I’ve advised using the bands for the beginning of the session and taking them off part way through the session. Would you suggest actually that you keep the bands on for the whole session and just make it a much shorter session, or use them at the beginning, or is it very individual and either can work?”

Dr Nicole Rombach: “It’s ideal certainly to introduce them at the beginning of the session.  When you introduce them later in the session you are already in a motor pattern and you already have an element of fatigue, so from the neural input perspective I wouldn’t call that ideal.  So start out with the bands at the beginning of the session, if they need to be removed do so.  So for example at the earlier stages of the horse becoming conditioned to longer use of the system, what folks will do is start the session then after 20 minutes or so remove the bands and continue the training.  In an ideal world, it would be the full session, but for a shorter period of time, and then graduating into longer sessions.  But that may not, you know if you’re in the middle of the competition season,  the trainer might not be willing or able to take out two weeks to truly introduce that horse to the bands and have them accustomed to the full session.”

Massive thanks to both Nicole Rombach and to Sue Palmer, and keep an eye out for the next in the series of blogs about the Equiband System…or if you can’t wait head over to watch the other interview installments here!

Why mobilisation is so important


By Lizzie Hopkinson

The NICE guidelines for osteoarthritis, the leading cause of stiffness in humans and horses, include appropriate exercise. Exercise is recommended by doctors to tackle a whole range of health conditions in humans, and the same principles can be applied to our horses. We know that general exercise, even if only for 20 minutes a day can have impressive results on our health and the same is true of our horses.

In an ideal world, all horses would have access to grazing and the freedom to move around. Failing this, we try to go some way to replicate this natural process to maintain the health of our horses. Whether your horse is young or old, in full health or in rehabilitation, a series of simple exercises can do wonders for his general health.

Just as we know that our own core strength is vitally important to maintain health and performance, so the same applies to our horses.  Stubbs and Clayton (2008) state “One of the best ways to both prevent and to treat back pain in horses is through the regular use of core training exercises”1.

Dr Narelle Stubbs and Dr Hilary Clayton devoted years of research to building a series of exercises to improve core musculature in horses. The exercises shown in the book and DVD “Activate Your Horse’s Core” have been proven in field trials, as quoted in the Equine Veterinary Journal: “Research has shown that regular performance of dynamic mobilization exercises over a period of three months stimulated hypertrophy (enlargement) of the muscles that stabilize the horse’s back.”2

But it is not simply their work that has been examined under research. Other studies have taken place at leading centres of science and research showing that using the correct exercises can greatly benefit your horse. “Exercises to increase Multifidus cross sectional area (CSA) have been shown to reduce the amount and reoccurrence of back pain in humans. Similarly, dynamic mobilisation exercises have led to an increase in multifidus cross sectional area in horses on box rest.”3

Here the study has focused on horses on box rest.  This is important, as bringing horses back into after work after injury can be a daunting and difficult process, and one that can be improved if you can maintain some level of strength and flexibility during the box rest. A further study discusses the effect of exercises on asymmetries in horses. As asymmetry can contribute to further problems at a later date, exercises to balance out the difference between the left and the right hand side can only be a good thing. “Between the initial evaluation and final evaluation m. multifidus cross sectional area increased significantly at all six spinal levels on both right and left sides. Asymmetries in m. multifidus cross sectional area between the right and left sides decreased between the initial and final evaluations.”4

And finally, research suggesting that mobilisation can improve the quality of your horse’s paces: “Gymnastic exercises performed three times per week improved stride quality at walk.”5 So wherever you are with your horse, you can safely say that simple mobilisation exercises will benefit your horse.


  1. Stubbs, N. and Clayton, H. (2008). Activate your horse’s core. Mason MI: Sport Horse Publications.
  2. Stubbs, Narelle & Kaiser, LeeAnn & Hauptman, J & Clayton, Hilary. (2011). Dynamic mobilisation exercises increase cross sectional area of multifidus. Equine veterinary journal. 43. 522-9. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.2010.00322.x.
  3. Tabor, G. (2017). The effect of dynamic mobilisation exercises on the equine multifidus muscle and thoracic profile. [online] Available at:
  4. Stubbs NC, e. (2017). Dynamic mobilisation exercises increase cross sectional area of musculus multifidus. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Available at:
  5. de Oliveira, K., Soutello, R., da Fonseca, R., Costa, C., de L. Meirelles, P., Fachiolli, D. and Clayton, H. (2017). Gymnastic Training and Dynamic Mobilization Exercises Improve Stride Quality and Increase Epaxial Muscle Size in Therapy Horses.


Image: Toa Heftiba

Everything you ever wanted to know…part 9

We sent Sue Palmer from The Horse Physio along to catch up with the founder of Equicore Concepts, Nicole Rombach, to talk all about the Equiband System

You can watch the interview by clicking on the image below, or read the transcript underneath.

Sue Palmer MCSP: “What length of time do you recommend people use the Equiband for, in each session?”

Dr Nicole Rombach: “When you first introduce the band system (and let’s focus on the healthy horse that is going to use it as part of the conditioning program), the horse will generally fatigue fast.  The muscle recruitment, especially of the deeper stabilising muscle, will cause the animal to fatigue faster.  So initially the suggestion is to halve your training time, so if you usually have a 40 minute workout on the horse, initially halve that.  Walk breaks are important to allow the horse to relax, to recover, and then picking up the work again. If the horse is healthy and it’s part of a conditioning program, by the end of week three or four you should be able to integrate your full training time.
Again it’s horse dependent, and if you have a horse who comes in, for example a broodmare whose had time off in the field, hasn’t been worked for 15 or so months, what you would do then is integrate that slower, so perhaps give a longer time of introduction.  Whereas fitting it on a horse where you would like to improve the general condition, for example a young show jumper who is in full work, you could increase the time of use somewhat faster.  Let the horse be the judge, and generally the rider who will use the system is already cognisant of where that horse is in its current training and will be able to read when fatigue sets in.  One thing that’s really important is that you do not enter into a fatigue stage because then the very pathways that you’re looking to activate will likely be circumnavigated and secondary or compensatory patterns will kick in to support those fatiguing muscles.  Essentially less is more.”

Sue Palmer MCSP: “I know that’s something that clients have said, is that they can see the horse working as soon as he starts moving with the bands on and they can feel him tiring much more quickly.”

Dr Nicole Rombach: “For sure.  In terms of feedback, you might notice that the breathing changes, the breathing pattern.  When the rider feels that the horse starts to fatigue, that’s the time to take a break, there’s no point working beyond that neural fatigue.”

Massive thanks to both Nicole Rombach and to Sue Palmer, and keep an eye out for the next in the series of blogs about the Equiband System…or if you can’t wait head over to watch the other interview installments here!