Horse fitness in spotlight as experts converge for forum

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Dr David Marlin told delegates to the National Equine Forum that we had a "moral responsibility to make sure the horse is fit enough to do the job that is required of it".
Dr David Marlin told delegates to the National Equine Forum that we had a “moral responsibility to make sure the horse is fit enough to do the job that is required of it”.

Unsung equestrian hero Gordon Wesley has been honoured at this year’s National Equine Forum in Britain, and a packed house heard the latest knowledge and know-how on horse and rider fitness and equine stereotypical behaviours. 

A packed audience of more than 200 attended this year’s renewal of the National Equine Forum (NEF) in London on Thursday, with more than 1200 people from around the world watching via live streaming.

Field-leading scientific, veterinary and educational experts shared their knowledge of fitness and its direct bearing on performance, across the equestrian disciplines.

Dr Rachel Murray talked about cardiovascular fitness in the horse.
Dr Rachel Murray talked about cardiovascular fitness in the horse.

The three-part practical and educational session commenced with Dr David Marlin presenting an overview of cardiovascular fitness, the background to cardiovascular fitness training and how it can be applied to different equestrian disciplines. He stated that we have a moral responsibility to make sure the horse is fit enough to do the job that is required of it.

“We don’t necessarily have a problem getting horses fit, but it is clear that the training methods we use generate a high level of injury, so we need to focus on this area to reduce lameness.”

Dr Rachel Murray, Senior Orthopaedic Advisor at the Animal Health Trust, followed up by explaining what cardiovascular fitness means in reality, focusing on core stability and muscle development of the horse. She explained that when the horse does not have a strong core, he will compensate through the body to cope with the work that he is being asked to do, which compromises his soundness. Consistent and regular stable exercises, groundwork and ridden exercises are the route to developing a strong core bit it is important that the work is always tailored to the specific horse and done slowly to build strength, she said.

Ashleigh Wallace, Human Sports Science Physiotherapist and Medicine Lead, of the World Class Programme at the British Equestrian Federation, rounded off the fitness session with a look at the rider, and how an asymmetry can impact on the horse, whether an elite athlete or a grassroots rider. She reminded the audience that the most dangerous phrase in the language is “we’ve always done it this way”.

Ashleigh Wallace
Ashleigh Wallace

Dr Andrew Hemmings, Head of the School of Equine Management and Science at the Royal Agricultural University gave a fascinating insight into Equine Stereotypic Behaviour. He explained feeding in relation to brain function and crib biting and the learning difference in horses that perform weaving and crib-biting and associated training implications. He concluded that reducing palatable concentrate feeds will reduce crib-biting, that crib-biters and weavers learn simple tasks quickly and that with crib-biters, unlearning will be difficult.

Bringing aspects of the UK’s equestrian sector into sharp perspective Claire Williams, Executive Director and Secretary of the British Equestrian Trade Association, presented the initial findings of the BETA’s latest national survey. She delivered optimistic news that the figures showed a stabilising of the riding population, and a tentative recovery from the decline of 2014. A total of 1.8% of the population are riding once a month up from 1.3% in 2014.  The full results of the survey will be published in May.

Dr Simon Curtis, a practicing farrier in Newmarket, Suffolk, who won the 2018 Sir Colin Spedding Award, was invited to give this year’s Memorial Lecture and enlightened the audience on fascinating advances in farriery during his career. He explained that for the future “we need apprenticeships, monitored by a master farrier. We need more research and science to guide our methods so farriers continue to help horses’ welfare and performance.”

Longstanding equestrian leader honoured

HRH The Princess Royal summarised the day and announced Gordon Wesley as the winner of Sir Colin Spedding Award, in recognition of his longstanding dedication to many aspects of the equine sector, both at home and abroad. Wesley, 90, was not well enough to attend the forum so the award was presented to his daughter, Boo Powe, on his behalf.

Boo Powe receives the Sir Colin Spedding Award from the HRH The Princess Royal on behalf of her father, Gordon Wesley, who was not able to attend the forum.
Boo Powe receives the Sir Colin Spedding Award from the HRH The Princess Royal on behalf of her father, Gordon Wesley, who was not able to attend the forum. © Craig Payne Photography

Wesley developed his passion for equestrianism during the final years of his 31-year Army career when he was invited to run the School of Infantry Saddle Club. He went on to qualify as an equestrian coach and joined New Hall Catholic School for Girls as Riding Manager, turning their stables into a British Horse Society examination centre. During this time Wesley became an instructor for the Wylye Valley Pony Club, marking the start of 30 years of commitment to the organisation and culminating in him becoming Chairman of The Pony Club UK.

A senior and ultimately chief examiner for the BHS for 18 years, Wesley was also a loyal volunteer for the Association of British Riding Schools for 42 years. He was chairman of every committee and also introduced the ABRS examination system in Spain. He still works as the ABRS’s moderator for examination papers.

Wesley is a founder of the Jeffress Scholarship Trust and has worked tirelessly for 23 years, even in poor health, to help trainers and coaches achieve their goals and realise their teaching dreams with the support of scholarship bursaries. He was also a member of the National Equine Forum committee for 17 years.

Gordon Wesley being presented with the Sir Colin Spedding Award Certificate by NEF Administrator Dr Georgina Crossman.
Gordon Wesley being presented with the Sir Colin Spedding Award Certificate by NEF Administrator Dr Georgina Crossman.

NEF administrator Dr Georgina Crossman presented the Award certificate to Wesley at The Queens Arms, Corton Denham, last month.

The Sir Colin Spedding Award was introduced in 2013 in Sir Colin’s memory. It is presented annually to an exceptional unsung hero or heroine of the equestrian world. Any individual or organisation from any equestrian field in the UK is eligible, as long as their outstanding qualities have not been formally acknowledged elsewhere.

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