It lasted only two days, but the depth and breadth of material presented at the Equine Education Conference on January 21/22, 2012 made it feel more like an intensive college session. There were around 300 attendees from across BC, from barn managers to breeders, recreational riders to competitive athletes and even those who were brand new to the horse world.
Held at the Delta Airport Hotel in Richmond, the conference presented speakers consecutively throughout the weekend so you didn’t have to miss anything. We started with breakfast at 8am and then dove right into our first session at 8:30am. Short breaks between each speaker, plus a catered lunch allowed time to digest information and mix and mingle with other attendees. All of the speakers were excellent and presented their respective topics in a way that was accessible to everyone, regardless of their horse experience. Question periods at the end of each session allowed attendees to get instant feedback from the presenter on their specific situation.
Here’s a summary of the speakers and the topics they presented on:
A gifted speaker, (and I must confess, my favourite of the conference) internationally renowned equine behaviour specialist Dr. Andrew McLean opened the sessions on both days. Based in Australia, Dr. McLean has both a competitive and academic equestrian background. The first day he covered some of the physiology/psychology behind horse behavior and training and on the second day he addressed more specific techniques for overcoming behaviour issues—which is his specialty. Did you know there’s a cluster of nerves in the withers that sends signals straight to the horse’s heart and has a calming effect? More at: www.aebc.com.au
Physiotherapist Sandra Sokoloski spoke about rider balance and seat issues. A rider herself, Sandra offered tips on how to make sure you’re centred in your riding and are targeting and toning your core muscles with the right exercises—which are NOT sit-ups… who knew?! Her website: esportphysio.ca
Dr. Neil McKenzie is an equine vet turned dentistry specialist who showed some gruesome but fascinating images representing various equine dental issues. Apparently between 60 – 80% of all horses over the age of 15 have periodontal disease… yikes! Feeling brave? Want to see pics? Go to: www.pacificequinedentistry.com
The session I originally thought I was most likely to skip was the one by Mike King from Capri Insurance. But much to my surprise, Mike presented insurance issues in a practical, realistic and most importantly, humorous and entertaining way. He dedicated almost the entire session to audience questions. Like, what happens if your boarder’s friend’s Jack Russell terrier scares a horse out onto the freeway and a car slams into the horse… are you covered? You’re probably already familiar with Capri, who can be found online at: www.capri.ca
Saturday’s sessions ended with a rather intense discussion by Dr. Terry Whiting (2011 recipient of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Award) about many ethical subjects, including humane treatment for unwanted horses. A government agent in Manitoba, Dr. Whiting presented the ethics of killing animals—an extremely sensitive topic that he handled expertly. His occasional potty-mouth outbursts kept it “real” in terms of his presenting himself as just another dude who works with livestock.
On Sunday we heard from Farrier and Kwantlen instructor Gerard Laverty who presented some data on current studies being done on whether grazing practices in foals affects hoof conformation as well as some feral Australian horse (brumby) hoof data presented just last year. Laverty was outspoken against trimming methods, such as the Strasser method, which ignore the unique structural conformation of the horse’s legs and base their premises on misinterpreted data collected from wild horses that live in very different climates and environments from ours. Contrary to what we might think, research shows that there is a very high incidence of laminitis among the wild horses examined in the study (between 40 – 90%). A summary of the brumby research is on TheHorse.com at: http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=19220
Conformation expert Judy Wardrope was next and she presented on functional conformation elements that lead to a horse’s athleticism and longevity. Through photos and real-world examples, Judy drew comparisons between different conformation traits that affect how well a horse will be able to perform its job. Ask me about how the LS gap should align with the hip-line for ultimate power from your horse’s hindquarters – and how elbow placement can hinder your horse’s ability to step under itself. Judy was probably the only person I was intimidated by at the conference—seriously people, she is scary! But is clearly very knowledgeable and happy to share her knowledge. Find her at jwequine.com.
The final speaker of the conference was nutritionist Shelagh Niblock, who delved into the chemistry of the correct forage for horses. She covered the various factors that can affect the nutrient make-up of our local hay—revealing the mysteries of why the “same” hay today might have much higher fructan concentrations than it did in years past.
As conference delegates, we were also invited to attend the HCBC annual awards gala on Saturday evening where various BC equestrian athletes, volunteers and coaches were recognized for their achievements. Of particular interest to me was the Vancouver Police mounted squad—who were there on behalf of their horses, who had collectively won the Horse of the Year award for their outstanding service at the Olympics and at the Stanley Cup riot.
As you can see, the conference content was both diverse and engaging. If you have the opportunity to attend next year’s conference, I highly recommend it. The $200 cost of the conference was incredibly good value for the high-caliber of the event. I will be chewing on notes I’ve jotted in my notebook for months to come!