Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride, friendship without envy, or beauty without vanity?
Here where grace is laced with muscle and strength by gentleness confined.
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent;
There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
England’s past has been borne on his back.
All our history is in his industry
We are his heirs.
He is our inheritance.
Ronald Duncan, “The Horse”, © the Ronald Duncan Literary Foundation
Horses have been a part of my family for many years. My granddad was a milkman who used a pony and trap to deliver the milk, and my mum was pony mad from an early age. I have ridden since I was three years old, been on the committee of South Oxfordshire Pony Club and South Oxfordshire Riding Club, and have worked with horses since before I left school. At home we bred Welsh Cobs and my brother, sister and I spent most weekends at shows with our ponies. My jobs have included working in private yards, livery yards, point-to-point yards, dealers’ yards, competition yards, a polo yard, and a riding school, amongst others. I have been a groom, rider and instructor before qualifying as a physiotherapist, and handled everything from Shires to Shetlands, with racehorses, showjumpers, eventers and dressage horses in between.
For several years I had a reputation for riding ‘dangerous’ horses, and at some point I realized that this was not what I wanted to be doing when I was fifty. It was around then that I decided to qualify as a riding instructor (BHSAI), and to study the Monty Roberts Preliminary Certificate in Horsemanship and become an intelligent horsemanship recommended associate (IHRA). When I was working with horses with problematical behaviours, I could often see that there was some kind of physical problem – perhaps the horse was stiffer on one rein than the other, one hip was lower than the other, or he didn’t seem quite sound. I would advise people to call someone to fix the physical problem, then to let me know it was fixed so that I could come back to work with the problematical behaviour. The trouble was that, when I went back, it often looked to me as though the physical problem was still there. I decided to follow the maxim that if you want a job done properly, do it yourself, so I went back to university as a mature student to study physiotherapy at King's College, London. I then worked in the National Health Service for a couple of years as a physiotherapist, and then did a master's degree in veterinary physiotherapy at the Royal Veterinary College, London. I count myself incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to do all of this, and also to be a mum.
This combination of knowledge, experience and qualifications has given me a unique approach to assessing physical, performance and behavioural problems. I work to help owners make the most of their time with their horses, and to promote welfare, safety and enjoyment of horses. In my experience, owners want the best for their animals and I aim as far as possible to help them to listen to their horse – to interpret for him to the best of my ability –particularly when he’s communicating pain or discomfort.
I feel incredibly honoured to have received contributions to this book from eminent horsemen and horsewomen from many parts of the equestrian world, and also from clients who have agreed to share their horse’s story for the benefit of others. I am eternally grateful for the willingness of these people to stand up and be counted, to speak up on behalf of the horses, and for their support and encouragement in the writing of this book and of my goal to make a difference. I wanted there to be a message within this book that would speak to you, the reader, whatever your interest in horses and whatever your specialism. I wanted the message to be written in many different ways, so that for every reader there would be something that would strike a chord. I am so incredibly excited that, with such a network of like-minded people, I believe we have been able to achieve this.
My goal is to make a difference to the lives of horses throughout the world. You may have bought this book to help you make the most of your time with your own horse, to help you overcome a ‘sticking point’ in your training, or to help you offer that ‘something extra’ in your work as a professional in the equestrian field. I know I can help with each of these ambitions. This book is part of my effort towards making that difference and twenty-eight incredible horsemen and horsewomen have joined me, lending their voices as guest contributors to spread the message that horses can only communicate pain or lack of understanding through their behaviour or performance. If you believe this message and would like to join us in improving the lives of horses, please use your sphere of influence to let your friends and colleagues know about the concepts that form the subtitle of this book –Brain, Pain or Training – so that, if they so wish, then they too can apply these concepts in their efforts to be the best owners they can be.
You know your horse better than anyone else. You are his strongest advocate, his ‘best expert’. This book is about helping you to make the most of your time with your horse, as opposed to making your horse do the most. To achieve success with a horse in any sphere you need to understand him and he needs to understand you, because good communication is key in any successful relationship. Understanding horses comes through education and experience, and leads to improved welfare, safety, and enjoyment. That is my motivation for writing this book. I’d love to hear what your motivation is for reading it, if you’d like to drop me an email via my website www.thehorsephysio.co.uk.
The content of this book is very much a road map, offering different routes to the same destination, making the most of your time with your horse. My aim is to give you an awareness of the different roads available (brain, pain or training), and to help you decide how you might choose a particular one to follow. I give you some ideas to get you going and pointers to look out for, but I don’t try to tell you how to travel your road, what speed you might go, if you need any rest stops, etc. At the end of the book I’m hoping you’ll have as many questions (if not more!) as you did when you started, but they’ll be different questions, and you’ll have much more of an idea where to look for the answers. This book in itself does not give the answers; it helps you to know where to look.
I suggest that you begin by reading the book all the way through, to get an overall feel of the ideas it generates. Then read it again in more detail with a particular horse in mind, making relevant notes on a notepad, smart phone or tablet as a reminder of the pertinent points. Work through the practical exercises, and again make notes of what you find. Read through your notes, perhaps with a like-minded, non-judgemental friend, and decide whether you should begin by taking the road labelled ‘brain’, ‘pain’, or ‘training’. Probably you’ll find that you’d like to investigate a combination of two or even all three of these routes. Finally, look in the appendix to find the relevant organisation(s), and contact them to help you begin the next leg of your journey with your horse. Remember, it’s not the destination that counts, but the journey.
“Success is not a destination, but the road that you’re on. Being successful means that you’re working hard and walking your walk every day. You can only live your dream by working hard towards it. That’s living your dream” Marlon Wayans
Sue Palmer, aka The Horse Physio, is an award-winning ACPAT and RAMP registered Chartered Physiotherapist, an Intelligent Horsemanship Recommended Trainerand holds an MSc. Formerly a competitive rider and BHSAI, she works full-time treating horses. Sue shares her passion for ethical and harmonious horsemanship through multiple courses, books, and articles. Sign up at www.thehorsephysio.co.uk to be the first to hear about new releases.
Available as an in-person, hands-on course with or without your own horse. Contact Sue for dates, venues and availability.
Coming soon: ‘Horse Massage for Horse Owners Online Course’ (sign up here to be the first to hear more information).
Other online courses coming soon include:
Confidence from the ground: Exercises for the horse owner
Finding the sore spot: Exercises for the horse owner
Polework: Exercises for the horse owner
Warm-up: Exercises for the horse owner
Stretching: Exercises for the horse owner
Easing stiffness: Exercises for the horse owner
“Harmonious Horsemanship: How to use the Ridden Horse Ethogram to Optimise Potential, Partnership, and Performance” (due for release summer of 2023)
Coming soon: 100 Handy Hints On Horsemanship (with illustrations by Sarah Brown)
!!!Coming soon!!! Sign up here to be the first to hear more.
!!!Coming soon!!! Sign up here to be the first to hear more.