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Horses Inside Out in South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA TOUR 2014Beaulieu College

Report on the Horses Inside Out South African Trip

In true English form I have to start by reporting on the weather... For the first 3 days sunny South Africa did not live up to expectations with relatively cold weather we were not prepared for. We did, however, still manage to swim in the outdoor pool! This created much amusement amongst our hosts!
The day after we arrived we painted the mare in foal as part of the Breeding and Stud Course arranged by Kim Hughes (organiser extraordinaire, our host and Manager of Beaulieu Equestrian Academy). This painting was greatly appreciated amongst the students and visitors alike. It provided much clarity and created a good deal of discussion.
The following day we visited a warmblood stud an hour north west of Kyalami. This was fascinating. Hennings, the owner, had a different farm and yard for the stallions, mares and foals, mares to be covered, yearlings, young stock and for those in training. They even had a farm especially for hospitalised and poorly animals. With thousands of horses to see this was an eye opening visit.

ColtsI was perhaps even more inspired by a visit to a private yard that evening. Di Slade had adapted her yard and land for the best possible natural management for her 8 horses. Every horse was barefoot and looking sound, comfortable and performing well at 1m30 – 1m50 show jumping. She appreciated the amount of work it takes to properly manage barefoot horses from a nutritional, holistic and training perspective.  I especially liked the use of different surfaces around her yard including large granite stone gravel as well as sand and concrete which the horses were walked on daily to help harden the hooves.

The weekend brought the Horses Inside Out Conference at Beaulieu Equestrian Academy. This was a great success. For Saturday, The Musculo-Skeletal System from the Anatomical Perspective, we painted up 2 horses, Capricorn and Apollo, and Candice our rider volunteer wore the body suit so we could look at how the rider and horse’s skeletal system interacts. Every demonstration is different as we have an opportunity to watch horses of different types and conformation, ridden by riders with different styles, habits and training methods. I learn something new at every demonstration and this weekend was no exception!

Gillian Beaulieu Equestrian Academy Digestive System


Gillian at KyalamiSunday brought the Internal Organs, for the morning I painted the digestive system on the left and rights sides on Gracie, a retired show-jumping mare, for my talk on anatomy of the GI tract. Penny Barnes, nutritionist and lecturer from the Academy, followed up a practical and applied talk on feeding and nutrition. For the afternoon session and my talk on the anatomy of respiratory tract I pain ted 2 different lung “designs” on Cotton, the same mare who had been “in foal” on Thursday! Painting a 3D structure on the side of a horse is not easy, but these 2 designs really helped delegates to get a good perspective of the contents of the thoracic and abdominal cavities within the horse.

With a individual musculo-skeletal assessments today, riding safari in the Okavango delta (to collect more video material for biomechanical comparisons), followed by more talks and workshops at Beaulieu Equestrian Academy and more paintings and material collection the following week we will certainly be kept busy in (now, very) sunny South Africa!
Best Wishes
Gillian and David

Gillian Higgins and Horses Inside Out in South Africa 2012

We got our first view of Africa from the plane. Looking over the Sahara desert from 35,000 feet up, not a cloud in sight, sand dunes the size of hills looking like ripples on a beach, made us realise the immense size of this country. Although we expected it to be hot and sunny, somehow it is still a surprise waking up at 6am to a bright blue sky and the sun pouring in through the window, when you’ve just been getting used to the English winter setting in!

It is fantastic to see another country and a privilege to experience their way of life. We are staying in Kyalami just North of Johannesburg, with Kim Hughes who has organised much of this trip and is a fantastic host, showing us around. This area is one of the most densely horsey populated areas, not only in South Africa but within the world! Every property we drive past seems to be some sort of Equestrian Establishment. We have visited dressage, driving, eventing and Hippotherapy yards and the Western Shoppe, the largest horse shop in South Africa with branches in Cape Town and Durban as well as Jo’burg. At the South African Lipizzaner Centre we met Lillian Moller who kindly agreed to lend me one of her best horses for my demonstrations. We have met so many fascinating and welcoming people, including SA team vets, trainers and the chef d’equip for the SA para team. All this has really wetted my appetite and I am really keen to see more of the equine industry in South Africa.

The SA Horse Expo was held at Turffontein Racecourse just south of Jo’burg. Having had slight logistical issues on the first two journeys we got to see more of the area and experienced South African traffic and road works... I was amazed by the flag wavers – instead of having flashing lights on cones at road works they use people who stand all day and wave bright orange flags at the cars!!

The Horse Expo on 4th and 5th November had an excellent line up of speakers with specialists from all over the world, including, Pat Harris, David Marlin, Hilary Clayton, Lesley Young, Cathy McGowen, Rene van Weeren and Lars Roepstorff to name just  a few. It was also great to meet familiar and new faces at the exhibition stands. David Marlin and Madaleen and her team from vetlink did a great job organising this event.

Most of the people attending my demonstration at this expo were vets and physiotherapists. So this demonstration was more technical and a faster pace than usual. My lecture focussed on:-

  • Back movement and posture,
  • How positioning of the head and neck and hindquarters affected back posture
  • How the muscles chains worked to create movement and maintain posture
  • Isometric vs. isotonic muscle contraction in collection

Using Siglavy Cimbola a 9yo Lipizzaner from the South African Lipizzaner Centre meant I was able to really demonstrate the changes in the musculo-skeletal system between a looser and more novice way of going compared to collection and engagement. Watching Cimbola in the Piaffe and Levade with his skeleton beautifully painted on his side was spectacular. It really demonstrated flexion in the haunches, rounding of the back and lightening of the forehand. It was amazing! With the sparking gold mine dumps and a rainbow as a back drop it was really very special and different.

The demonstration at Beaulieu College, Kyalami, just north of Johannesburg on Sunday 7th was fantastic. Kim Hughes from Beaulieu Academy did a brilliant job organising this demonstration We had two fantastic horses; again we used Cimbola with his fabulous examples of extreme engagement and Ability a Novice Event horse ridden by Renee.

During my week spent around Turffontein and Kyalami we met some fantastic people. Kim and her family made us feel so welcome. I am really looking forwards to coming back in 2011 to do more demonstrations and courses! For more info on Kim’s courses at the Beaulieu Academy visit


The rain missed just!

Muscles in trot

Lillian with Siglavy Cimbola

Busy painting

Gillian Lillian and Cimbola

Gillian explains pelvic movement

Head and neck position

Kim Renee and Hakahana Ability

Cimbola Piaffe

Lillian with Cimbola at Turffontein Jo'burg

A Comparative Study of Equine and African Game Anatomy!!

After two fabulous demonstrations in South Africa we moved on to the Limpopo Valley in Botswana. The object of this visit: To the study the anatomy and biomechanics of other animals in Africa. To do this we went on a riding Safari with Limpopo Valley Horse Safaris. This was a fantastic experience. Riding will never quite be the same again. It reminded me why I love riding horses so much!

We stayed in tents in the bush, getting really close to nature. At night the place came alive with the noises of bull frogs, insects, hyenas, lions and leopards!

During the day was really when the studies took place. We started at 5am in the morning and were on the horses by 6am. Riding and looking for animals, tracks, fresh droppings and bones!! It was a fabulous experience. I bombarded the guides with questions about the anatomy and habits of the different animals. In comparison to the horse we studied:-

  • The Zebra, a relation of the horse of course! These animals were much smaller than I expected almost like new forest ponies in size.
  • The Impala. These common animals had a fantastic ability to jump due to the elastic recoil capacity of the hamstring tendons in the hind leg. Also present in the horse but to a lesser degree. We really tried to get some good photos and video clips of impala jumping because they would be fantastic to use in my video based demonstrations however, they were very shy so it was difficult to get close enough in the right position.
  • The Giraffe – With the same number of neck vertebrae as a horse these animals posed interesting questions about neck anatomy and biomechanics. With such a long thin neck they must really use their nuchal ligament for support. Their hearts can weigh up to 12kg – it needs to be so large and strong so it can pump the blood all the way up the long neck. Anatomical problem: when they put their head down they can die from the blood rush to the brain! So at the base of the neck there are valves in the arteries which they can shut just before they put their head down to drink – then open them again when they put their head up again.
  • The Elephant – Often weigh up to 4 tonnes; equivalent to the weight of 8 horses! Because they are so heavy the bones in their limbs are vertical columns with very straight joints – this tells us their limbs are designed to carry weight (a little like the horse’s forelimb). The elephant cannot perform a gait with a moment of suspension (so no trot or canter) The fastest pace an elephant can do is a running walk. The African elephant particularly the females when they are protecting their young get upset easily. Consequently they also tend to rampage relatively easily! A rampaging elephant can do a running walk at up to 40km per hour!!
  • The Lions and Cheetah – I particularly loved seeing the cheetah. The cheetah relies on speed for hunting and not being as big as the lions he doesn’t pick fights for food. These big cats have very angulated joints and limbs so much so they look like they are semi crouching when they are walking. The angulation of the joints in their limbs tells us they are clearly designed to create powerful movement. The biomechanics of a cheetah’s limb movement, flexing in the stance phase then pushing to create spring, is a more exaggerated example of the action of the horse’s hind limb.

I thoroughly enjoyed this trip, the riding, the scenery, the animals and the people we met along the way. Best of all I now have some great photos and comparative information which will be really useful in the future. A big thank you to Louise, Saskia, Maloura, West and David from Limpopo Valley Horse Safaris.

Elephant our favourite

Giraffe 7 neck vertebrae

Cheetah resting


`Zebra at Mashatu


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