Would you recognise if your horse had laminitis?

By Sue Palmer

A recent study (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/evj.12963) found that out of 38 horses with Cushings disease, 76% of them had (either currently or in the past) laminitis, but that this was only recognised by owners in 37% of cases.  They looked at the level of insulin dysregulation (hyperinsulinaemia), and found that the greater the level of insulin dysregulation, the more severe the laminitis, and the greater the level of insulin dysregulation, the more likely it was that the owner recognised laminitis.


Looking into insulin dysregulation and metabolic syndrome (which is linked with insulin dysregulation), the main advice in relation to treatment or management is good diet and exercise.  I’m not a nutritionist so I can’t advise on diet, but there are plenty of excellent resources available.  With regards to exercise, I cannot of course advise on an individual basis through a blog, but I can say that the evidence base for regular exercise improving or maintaining your health is overwhelmingly strong.  I cannot, of course, help you figure out how to fit that regular exercise into your already jam packed life, although if you’re mucking out and turning out every day then you’re taking steps in the right direction!


I think the main take away from the study (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/evj.12963) for me is that low levels of laminitis, whilst presumably still fairly painful, are not always easy to spot.  The Royal Veterinary College has a fact sheet on Cushings disease (https://www.rvc.ac.uk/equine-vet/information-and-advice/fact-files/cushings-disease), and many clients have told me that the information on the laminitis trust page has been really helpful (http://www.laminitis.org).


Do you have experience of managing a horse with Cushings and / or metabolic syndrome?  I’d love to hear your experiences, what’s worked for you and what hasn’t, and in particular, which sources of information you found most useful

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Are you flapping?

By Sue Palmer

A recent study (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0196960) looked into rider stability on saddles with flaps (i.e. what we think of as ‘normal’ English saddles) versus saddles without flaps (EQ saddles https://eqsaddlescience.com).  It was a small study size (5 riders), but the research was headed by the well respected Dr Hilary Clayton.  The study was funded by EQ Saddles, but it’s stated on the study that they had no say in study design, data collection or data analysis, and that none of the researchers received salary support for the study.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I recommend these saddles – I haven’t personally come across them, so I wouldn’t be able to.  I’m also not saying that I disagree with them – but if they are supporting ongoing research, then I’m certainly interested in knowing more.  Evidence comes not only in the form of published, peer reviewed studies, but also through experience and knowledge.  Peer reviewed, published studies are certainly a good starting point though!

I’m also not saying that I support or don’t support treeless saddles – I think it’s very dependent on the saddle and the horse, and personally I’d recommend working with a saddler you trust and respect and taking their advice.  I’m a Chartered Physiotherapist, not a saddler.  So I can tell you if your horse is sore through his back, and if this might possibly be caused by poor saddle fit, but I certainly don’t feel qualified to tell you which saddle will fit your horse, or how to adjust your saddle fit.

I’m also unsure of any evidence as to whether or not a more secure seat is beneficial, but on the whole, I’d think yes, it is.  Certainly it feels better as a rider if you are able to sit more still.  From a behavioural / training point of view, I think it’s really important to be still in the saddle in order to be able to give subtle signals that the horse can distinguish from the ‘white noise’ of the general movement of your body as you balance.  I do, however, believe that there needs to be a degree of movement of the saddle on the horse, because if exactly the same amount of pressure is put through exactly the same area for a prolonged period of time (as would happen if the saddle didn’t move at all), this would lead to muscle atrophy beneath that entire area.  The movement need only be small, but capillaries must have the pressure removed intermittently in order to refill, and therefore to maintain healthy functioning of the muscle.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a saddle fitter or a Master Saddler, I’m a Chartered Physiotherapist.  This study interests me, saddle design interests me, the treed / treeless debate interests me.  I don’t feel qualified to advise as saddle fit is not my area of expertise. But I do want to remain open minded and to share new ideas and information, and this study fits squarely into that field for me.  I hope it’s of interest to you as well, and I wish EQ saddles the best with their ongoing research.



Routine / maintenance equine physiotherapy – your thoughts?

By Sue Palmer

A paper has recently been published in Equine Veterinary Education, by ACPAT Chartered Physiotherapist Gillian Tabor. Routine equine physio (and for that matter, routine physio for people!) is something I’m passionate about, as anyone who has heard me on my ‘soap box’ will know! I’m so, so pleased to see this subject being brought to the forefront in the scientific field, and I really hope this encourages the lay person to consider whether or not this would be something their horse (or themselves!) would benefit from. And please don’t let me hear the “I spend all my money looking after my horse and there’s none left for looking after myself”, I hear it every day – you’ve only got one body, and there’s only you who’s going to look after it! Well done Gillian, and thank you!

The abstract doesn’t appear to be available online, but Gillian has given us permission to share it (see below). For the full article, you must have a login to Equine Veterinary Education, or you can purchase it through this link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/eve.12940

“Equine physiotherapists work within the team of professionals supporting horses at both the national and international level of competition. In the non-elite equine population, physiotherapists are also commonly involved in the management of musculoskeletal injuries in partnership with the veterinary surgeon, as well as advising owners on regular assessment and treatment schedules for their horses. Routine or maintenance physiotherapy has yet to be defined fully for the management of horses but translation from human rehabilitation would suggest the aims are to prevent objectively measureable deterioration in a patient’s quality of life and or to optimise the patients’ functional capacity. For a horse in full work, demands on the musculoskeletal system may predispose the horse to minor tissue injury that left unchecked, could affect quality of life, welfare and performance capacity. Therefore routine physiotherapy might be indicated to manage these issues. To support the increasing demands of equine clients to manage their horse’s health and welfare, as well as supporting rehabilitation cases, a close working relationship between the veterinary surgeon and physiotherapist can be recommended.”

To find your local ACPAT Chartered Physiotherapist visit www.acpat.co.uk.
To find your local Registered Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioner visit www.rampregister.org

Angry words for angry actions

By Simon Palmer


We live in a strange world. I’m going to sound like my father now, and say that when I was a young child the only way you could hear about anything was through a newspaper, via gossip, or through the news on the TV or radio. But now, things are instant. We get to hear about things “as they happen” instead of after the fact. While this approach for instant news, or gratification seems to be the natural progression for all things media, it can lead to some very unsettling moments that I think we need to consider.


Now before anyone chides me for the following, read it through throughly, then think about it for 30 minutes, and then if you still feel aggrieved you have the right to take what ever action you feel like…


I want to talk about Oliver Townend at Badminton! Have your hackles gone up already? Good…


Step back and lets look at the underlying issue that I think exists with the whole situation. I make no claims as to knowing anymore than the next person. I’ve seen the footage, and seen the litigious comments on Facebook. I’ve read the statement from the British Horse Society, and noted the judgement from the FEI. But I want to talk about the elephant in the room.


Professional riders who compete at this level are very driven. They have to produce results to continue in something that is quite clearly a passion for them. They have the enviable role of doing a job they love, and as with all jobs like that, there are more elements to it than the romantic notion that they have the most amazing lifestyle.


I think this particular incident has and should open a far larger discussion than simply punitive measures against a rider for his treatment of a horse. He was clearly wrong to use the whip in the manner he did. We accept that, and because of that the bile has risen and many people want to see him suffer for making a horse suffer. Enough already!


The bigger issue is the treatment of horses in professional competition. Aggression is not and should not be part of this sport. Horses are living breathing animals, and it is widely acknowledged that they posses a level of intelligence that makes them more than a “dumb animal”, not that that makes it excusable for any animal to be treated cruelly. But the underlying driver for actions such as the one currently being debated is actually not the sportsperson who is being focused on. It is further down the chain than that.


The root of his actions is simply money. But not just his finances, the people who own the horses who give these riders their rides. If their horse exceeds expectations, performs well, and are lauded. The value of the animal either for breeding or simply selling goes up. It can always be argued that the costs of keeping animals is high and the return on investment small when you take into account the number of horses that rise through the ranks only to fail at the last.


The elephant in the room is greed.


Over the next few weeks we shall see what if anything happens regards Oliver Townend. But, you would think that anyone with a horse such as those seen riden by him would want to remove their horses from his business. They would believe the treatment of the horse should be better than that, and he should lose the rides. If the owners of horses at this level felt that treatment of animals was important, far and away above that of money, then they would either not be in the business, or would look for a better sportsperson.


We only saw what we saw though. It is widely accepted that the treatment of horses behind the closed doors of some professional yards is less than fair too. The point of this piece is that we should not be using angry words to vilify one rider. We should be using our anger to changed the whole business. Everything from Rolkur, blue tongue, and stories of electric tape on fences, through to changing the height of jumping poles as the horse jumps, placing weights on hooves to increase leg action should stop.


I recall a very dear friend (now departed) saying that the way to change a sale persons behaviour was through their pockets!


What could easily be done to start the process of driving change? The governing bodies should be more willing to give more than a warning, perhaps? But what if you provided a positive outcome for those who do rely on skill not aggression to win competitions? Instead of punishing the bad sportsmen, incentivise the good. Put accelerated prize pots for sportspersons who clearly demonstrate fair and equitable treatment to their rides not just at one event but through actively seeking spot inspections of training practices, along with  fair treatment in competition. Expensive? Undeniably, but then thats what sponsors are for?!!


It’s easy to come up with ideas that may or may not work, however, the start of solving this issue, is with the owners of the horses. They too should be held accountable if they are willing to allow this sort of action to happen with their own animals that they place with a rider who simply has anger issues, and I want to clearly point out that I am not talking about an specific rider at this point.


The judges at competitions should make a stand and where an animal is exhausted, stop the ride. If it means twenty rides are stop, then twenty rides should be stopped. Entertainment, or money is not, and I cannot stress this enough, it simply is not a good reason for what we see.


It is time to change. From the owners of horses, to the professional sportsmen and women who should remember that the paying public is where the money comes from. Would the FEI be able to run competitions if the sponsors were vilified along with the riders. I think the money would stop coming into the sport.


It is time to stop this….there is no excuse. I’m not angry, I’m concerned, worried, and sad, that humans believe that it is acceptable to be cruel.


What about you?