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  • Jo Parkman

Holistic Management - Introduction

“Welcome to Jo Parkman, our fitter for France, who is also a brilliant equine physical therapist (who can be found at She is going to be writing a series of articles looking at how to approach saddle fitting in a holistic way, how to see it as just a part of overall management of your horse, and how to manage these interactions, how each factor affects the other. Thanks Jo and over to you!”

Welcome to the first of our new blog series in which we will be looking at how different aspects of horse care interact to affect a horse’s ability to do the things we want them to do for us.

In the first of our series we are going to be looking at holistic management…what do we mean when we say this and why is it important?

Holistic management simply means looking at all the factors which influence the health and well-being of the horse rather than looking at individual bits in isolation. I always think of this a bit like putting a jigsaw together. When looking for the reason why a horse is not performing well, or is difficult to ride, or obviously unhappy and stressed, it’s important not to be too quick to home in on one thing and decide that that is ‘it’ but rather to look at the horse as a whole and try to untangle the picture, since very often the actual root of the problem can be hidden.

For example, a horse with gastric ulcers may have developed ulcers due to a poor diet – typically too much hard feed and not enough forage, or even just not enough forage. Its amazing how many people claim that their horses have ad lib hay only to find these very same horses standing in a stable with nothing to eat! But….we also know that ulcers can be caused by stress – for example a horse who is left on his own for long periods, or does not have access to turnout or the ability to be in contact with other horses. But a third reason is pain from undiagnosed lameness or another physical problem or even from a badly fitting saddle. Since the level of cortisone in the body causes the ulcers. So, in order to resolve the ulcers its first necessary to be sure why the horse has developed them…

So what ‘factors’ are in our list? I am afraid our list is a long one! In no particular order we have:

• Type and fitting of bridle and bit

• Mouth conformation and dental health • Saddle fit, and suitability for both horse and rider • Structure of saddle including symmetry, flocking and soundness of tree • Lameness and other musculoskeletal problems • Other health issues such as metabolic or hormonal problems • Shoeing and hoof balance • Diet and management including type and extent of turnout • Experience and capability of rider • Suitability of the horse for the work being demanded • Arena surface and work ‘environment’ • Previous experiences of horse and/or rider

I am sure you can add to the list!

Deciding whether the cause of a problem is physical or behavioural is one of the most difficult things to get right and definitely a hot Facebook topic! With the two extremes of some people being certain that all problems have a physical cause whilst others are loathed to admit that a horse can possibly ‘misbehave’ because of pain….and everything in between.

One of the things I really believe in is being sensitive to your horse’s communication. Unfortunately, too many problems with horses escalate simply because the rider has not listened…and the result is a horse who is forced to shout…which in horse terms is a very physical demonstration of unhappiness.

For example horses who flatten their ears and bite when they are being saddled are very definitely communicating that they are not comfortable…..I always tack all my horses up loose in the stable. This way I can see how they are feeling, and they can express and communicate with me. For example, a horse that turns away when he sees the saddle, or will not stand still to be saddled, is making a point….and our job is to work out what that point is. Horses don’t use the same language as us ….but if we listen and think about the ‘big, holistic picture’ we can certainly become better horsemen and women. And our horses will thank us for it…..

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