National Equine Forum – 6th  March  2014

This was my first trip to the National Equine Forum and what a treat!  Jillie and I started off the day with coffee and breakfast near Big Ben and then moved on to the very comfortable surroundings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineering.  It was a delight to sit and listen to some really good speakers.  There were three themed sessions.  The notes from the Forum will be available online and should make good reading but I hope this report gives some idea of the topics covered.

The first 5 speakers all followed the topic ‘Are you riding straight?’ .  Line Greve MRCVSwho is at the AHT has done a study with Sue Dyson on saddle slip and hind limb lameness.  They used over 400 horses in work and interestingly,  of these,  she said that over 40% showed subclinical lameness.  She found that in 80% of cases the saddle slipped to the side of the lame hindlimb and when blocked out both saddle slip and rider crookedness were cured or significantly improved.

This was followed on by Haydn Price Dip WCF Lead Farrier World Class Programme.  In his inimitable Welsh accent he caught our imagination with his in depth presentation on theimportance of the limb and lever arm in asymmetry of movement.

Vicky Spalding MCSP ACPAT BEF World Class Programme followed.  Her job is to help the horse achieve dynamic symmetry and postural control.  She picks up compensatory changes which cause spinal midline deviation and potentially asymmetrical muscle development affecting straightness.  A couple of notes from her study….. riders unconsciously spend more time on the left rein in the warm up and horses tending to land more on the left lead had more jumping faults on the right rein.    She highlighted the problems of young horses being expected to work above their maturity level.

Mark Fisher RVM Consultant Master Saddler BEF World Class Programme followed exploring the role of the saddle in interaction between horse and rider.  He uses Gait analysis and the Pliance pressure mapping system.  We watched footage of a horse jumping wearing the Pliance.  Some points from this included:  The highest peak of pressure when the horse landed from the fence was when the second front leg came down, this horse had saddle slippage to the right on the left rein only and when he made the saddle stay straight the horse showed greater hock flexion, carpal and elbow flexion and a more symmetrical stride pattern.  Peak pressure was reduced by up to 20%.

Louise Broom MCSP then discussed the prevalence of rider asymmetry and possible causes.  She works with a mechanical horse and a camera behind the rider.  She demonstrated 5 types of crookedness.  1  Trunk lean  2  Ribcage lateral shift  3  Pelvic lateral shift  4  Shoulder girdle shift  5  Pelvic lateral tilt – her message was that if rider weight distribution is uneven there is a risk for the horse’s musculo skeletal system.

The strong message from this topic was that you need to identify the root cause of saddle slippage and not just treat the symptoms.  If only we could all have access to such a team of experts!

We then had a presentation showing us  A 3D interactive web tool which is being marketed as a new learning tool for vets, farriers and students.  It looks good. Have a look ‘

The second topic The World Scene kicked off with Andrew Finding who delivered the paper for Sonke Lauterbach Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer , German National Federation.  It was a hugely thought provoking consideration of the World wide challenges in the 21st Century for breeding horses, keeping horses and using horses in sport today and in the future  He touched on many subjects and I’ve included some of these below:

The importance of the public perception of horses is in a world where an increasing percentage of our population humanise animals and don’t have any contact with large animals.

Cultural differences , the horse as a sports partner or friend and in other countries as a common dish.

Business class travel for our World Class horses and long sad journeys for the less fortunate.  The need for a partnership between the FEI and OIE (World Health) to improve transport times, smooth travel and effective disease control.

The need for a central European registration centre for Health control and infectious diseases.

Another interesting one…training methods (microflexion) he spoke of the difficulty to judge in the warm up if it’s ok or aggressive riding ie when to intervene.  ‘If we don’t speak with one voice we remain vulnerable to rights activists – those who protest without technical knowledge.’

Top horses are competing 20 times or more a year helped by modern globalisation 5* all over the world aimed at a small group of riders and horses.  The idea of restricting the number of starts has been raised in the past but has not come back on the agenda.

The lowering of age of young horse classes is against the patient training of the up and coming horses.

Increasing costs:  travel, hotels, grooms, stabling – is the sport becoming one for the upper class?  Political and public perception of riders is already that they are upper class.

There is a consideration of a tax on each horse in Germany which would cause a strong decrease in sport.  In Swedish law a horse has to have access to 8 hours of pasture or meadow land a day.

Society does not accept a sport where animals are being manipulated  In extreme we have to defend ourselves in using the horse as a sports partner, one day we will all be confronted with such stupid discussions.

Anti Doping USA  versus EU discussion  Different cultural approaches needed.  EU couldn’t and shouldn’t accept rules which would put our sport in danger.

Endurance problems are putting enormous danger on sport as a whole and the work of the Endurance planning group is of utmost importance to all of us.

Species appropriate keeping and training is needed and we must not give way to idealogical animal welfare activists

The right answers are needed to idealogical people  Not a matter of being right but successful , not based on ideology but on science and facts.  He stressed the need to keep the public informed on horses needs.

The FEI, it’s growth and impact on developing nations was the next topic. Ingmar De Vos Secretary General, International Equestrian Federation spoke about the key factors that influence the growth and development of equestrian sport in developing countries.  Some key points:  132 member  nations  7 disciplines  3557 International events in 2013  At a meeting later this year in Paris the FEI and OIE are hoping to approve a High Health,  High Performance strategy.  Risk factors of growth:   Welfare, Doping,  Integrity (cultural differences),  match fixing  – an example he gave was the failure of a country running an International fixture to invite other countries to participate to ensure home side Olympic qualification!!)

Owen Paterson MP Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs was due to speak next giving the Defra View but had to be in Parliament so Alick Simmons Deputy Chief ‘veterinary Officer for Defra stood in and spoke about the problems of fly grazing, Passports, Ragwort, Central Equine Information System.

After an excellent lunch the afternoon session Responsible Breeding and horse ownership was covered by four speakers.  A passionate speaker Roly Owers MRCVS  ‘Do you need to breed’ – why we must address the root cause of the UK horse crisis  I guess we all know this one only too well?

Head of Welfare and Behaviour from Redwings Horse Sanctuary Nicolas de Brauwere MRCVSspoke on ‘What future for problem horses – irresponsible owners have created a problem of more needy horses than we can help, but are these really problem horses? ‘

Following this was an eloquent talk given by Stephen Potter.  He outlined the fate of horses at the end of  World War 1 and he ably defended the decision to leave the thousands of horses who had been taken from England and USA into battle in France to the French butchers and then went on to compare our present day horses who face a downward spiral of neglect rather than the abbatoir  He highlighted an ignorance of good husbandry and argued against a permanent exclusion of horses from the food chain.  He expressed no confidence from the horse passport review ID and Drug control regime for horses.  He said he would love a call from Owen Paterson.

Paul Bittar was the final speaker on this topic ‘Medication and Control in Racing’  an overview of the BHA’s anti-doping programme.  Are suspensions a strong enough deterrent?  Welfare issues in the USA have put racing into decline.

Driving legacy from  2012 Jennie Price Chief Executive Officer, Sport England followed .  She congratulated people who work in the horse industry   ‘Politicians who experienced London now ‘get’ sport and get it’s power and broader social benefits.’  |The Ebony project in Peckham S E London is one of it’s grass roots projects and has given children who probably would never have had contact with a horse great benefits.

The President HRH The Princess Royal concluded the day.

I would thoroughly recommend this Forum as a thought -provoking and  enjoyable day .  Definitely worth the trip to London.

Carol Bennitt