Christmas dilemmas…

Christmas should be magical. Roaring fires, too much food, nice drinks, bad sweaters, presents, Christmas trees, hats, mittens, family games, the list goes on… Sadly in reality that magic has to be generated and managed, often (I’m not trying to cause a row!) by the “mum.” As always the potential for arguments is high.

Our household argument is over whether the kids have too many presents. I like to give things that are useful, clothes, books, games, rather than endless plastic tat that gets broken, thrown away ignored. I also like to give experiences, lessons, days out rather than things. When people ask me what my children want, I generally ask for clothes, or money towards something that they actually really do want. Some people would consider this boring…but you can have fun without money. We make stockings for the animals, so that they can join in. We make gifts for people, and enjoy the time we spend together doing this.

When you are thinking of presents to buy for people, why not consider a book or DVD? Learning a new skill appeals to everyone, and is a great idea for those who are tricky to buy for. And if you are really stuck for present ideas for your horsey friends, why not make them horse shaped biscuits!

There are some great subscription gifts that will be really well received, like Intelligent Horsemanship which for a surprisingly reasonable price gives you great magazines throughout the year, discounts and free online access to brilliant resources. If you think this sounds like a great gift – click here!

But remember that the most important thing you can give this Christmas is your time. Time spent with your loved ones, time spent chatting, sharing, laughing, time spent playing and eating, and when it all gets a bit much, you can always escape to the stables!

What is it with women and horses?

By guest blogger Sue Palmer

Over the years I’ve met many incredible horse men and women, and I’ve been very lucky to build a great network of people I can turn to for advice on a wide variety of equestrian subjects.  We don’t all need to ‘follow’ the same people, and this blog is about being open minded to many different approaches to horsemanship, as long as those involved are, as I aim to be, doing their best and actively engaged in ongoing learning.

One of my favourites is friend and mentor Kelly Marks of Intelligent Horsemanship.  I’m jealous of Kelly’s insight in choosing the name ‘Intelligent Horsemanship’, as to me this says it all! Kelly has an apparently insatiable appetite for reading and learning, and embraces the emergence of science into horsemanship. The Intelligent Horsemanship magazine is always a great read and I highly recommend it. This quarter’s edition includes:

What is it with women and horses?
Dr David Marlin:  ‘Roadwork’ – Get the FACTS
Intelligent Horsemanship Debate – What comes out best – Man or Machine?
Lameness – Are we looking at it all wrong?
IH Training – The Angel is in the detail.
IH Training – Bonding with your new horse
Monty’s Spring 2018 tour report
The totally INSPIRATIONAL Tim Stockdate Big Interview
PLUS all the usuals AND
Do you know someone who could be our IH Young Equestrain Photographer of the Year?!
For details of IH Membership and entry to the competition go to

Sue’s blog

The most recent edition of the Intelligent Horsemanship magazine (an excellent quarterly magazine for members of the Intelligent Horsemanship Association, included articles such as “Man or Machine: which comes out best?”, ‘Roadwork: Dr David Marlin gives us the facts”, “What is it with women and horses?”, an interview with Tim Stockdale, a plea to find the IH Young Equestrian Photographer of the Year, and one of my favourites, “Lameness: Are we looking at it all wrong?”. Client of The Horse Physio, Lisa and Chris Harrison, were featured with their horses Bluebell and Harvey, in the ‘IH Members Pictures’. the ‘In Other News’ section included a piece on microchips soon being the law for all horses in England if you want to avoid on the spot fines, and Lizzie Hopkison (of Ethical Horse Products, provided an excellent article on “Building a bond with your horse”, inspired by my book “Understanding Horse Performance: Brain, Pain or Training?”, explaining how to determine if your horse’s performance or behavioural problem is due to ‘brain’ (i.e. the horse is taking advantage of the owner), rather than pain (i.e. the discomfort the horse is feeling is leading to this behaviour) or training (i.e. the horse doesn’t understand what’s being asked of him).


The lameness article was written by Daisy Smith ( and consultant Dr Jessica Kidd MRCVS. They begin with a ‘lameness dictionary’:

Lameness / Unsoundness = an abnormal gait or stance of an animal that is the result of dysfunction of the locomotor system. In the horses, it is most commonly caused by pain, but could also be due to neurologic or mechanical dysfunction.

Mechanical Lameness: is caused by a physical abnormality, such as scar tissue, that prevents the normal motion of a limb. Mechanical lameness does not typically cause pain.

Poor performance: is defined as a situation in which a horse has had a decrease in performance levels, or one that has not reached it’s expected potential. Poor performance can be caused by lameness, but also respiratory and cardiac conditions.


Daisy and Dr Kidd discussed questions such as ‘Should we ride lame horses?’ (sometimes, yes, but the key is to get advice from a professional you trust), ‘What is lameness and is there mechanical lameness?’ (yes, there is mechanical lameness, but it’s uncommon), ‘In an ideal world all horses would be perfectly sound, but that is surely not realistic?’ (absolutely, and as people we’re not all sound either), and ‘If a riding school pony is not 100%, should it continue working?’ (perhaps, as the degree of lameness does not directly correlate to a pain scale).  The article is well worth reading.  In my work as an ACPAT and RAMP registered Chartered Physiotherapist, I’m often asked the question (usually by others on the yard who are concerned about a friends horse) whether it’s ok to ride a ‘lame’ horse.


My favourite definition of lameness comes from a talk I heard Sue Dyson give at the Saddle Research Trust conference a few years ago (don’t miss this year’s conference by the way,!).  She described lameness as “an asymmetry that can be changed with nerve blocks”.  Most horses (and most people!) are asymmetrical to some degree.  The question is whether that asymmetry is caused by pain – and if it can be changed by nerve blocks, i.e. by removing the pain, then clearly it’s caused by pain.  Finding and removing that pain can be another problem altogether, of course!


As a physiotherapist, I see plenty of horses who are very sore through their back, but their attitude does not indicate significant (or even any!) discomfort in their ridden work.  And I see other horses who are hardly sore at all on palpation and limb range of movement, but who are clearly saying they don’t want to work.  I specialise in figuring out whether the ‘I don’t want to work’ attitude is actually caused by pain, or whether the horse is taking advantage of his owner, or not understanding what’s asked of him.  I wrote ‘Brain, Pain or Training?’ ( so that you can figure this out for yourself.


So my overall answer to the question ‘Lameness – are we looking at it all wrong?’ I think is often ‘Yes’.  I think that some horses are retired due to lameness when they would happily keep working, and there are many physical and psychological benefits to exercise for people that can be assumed to transfer across to horses in my opinion.  And there are many more horses who are actually lame, but not recognised as being so.  The key, in my opinion, is listening to the horse, as well as having a trusted team around him to advise you.  Dr Sue Dyson is a pioneer in this field, and her Equitopia videos ‘Recognising subtle lameness’ ( and ‘Diagnosing subtle lameness’ ( are two of my all time favourites.  Every instructor, saddler, farrier, physical therapist, and all other equestrian professionals should have to watch those videos as part of their training, in my opinion.


Do you have a horse who is lame, but still in work? Have you retired your horse due to lameness? What can you share from your experience to help others who might be in a similar situation?