October 1, 2022

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Edouard Schmitz won the last of the big week’s big events at the Dublin Horse Show on Sunday afternoon with the Swiss competitor riding his horse Gamin Van’t Naastveldhof to victory in the grand Prix. This was the 23-year-old’s first time competing in Dublin.

There were again strong performances from the Irish riders with Conor Swail coming in second and Shane Sweetnam placed third.

The €350,000 euro prize pot was divided between the 12 riders, with Mr Schmitz receiving €115,500 euros.

With the stakes high and science playing an ever increasing role in the competitors’ attempts to gain even the most marginal of advantages, it is not just the riders who have busy this past week.

Understanding a horse’s biomechanics can improve performance and reduce injury and that is where Gillian Higgins comes in.

Ms Higgins, founder of the educational organisation, Horses Inside Out, and an equine anatomist, therapist, coach and author, paints a horse’s internal anatomy on the animal using non-toxic water-soluble paint. A white skeletal system is painted on one side and the muscular system in colour is painted on the other side.

“By painting the skeleton and muscles on the horses, it brings it to life. When the horse is moving, you can get a visualisation of how the skeleton is moving under the skin,” said Ms Higgins. “You can appreciate how the position of one area of the body has an effect on another.”

In addition to making a dry subject, like biomechanics, more interesting, seeing a painted horse trotting, galloping and jumping around the ring is striking.

“The more we can understand about how a horse works, the better we can ride them, train them, look after them, improve performance and reduce the risk of injury,” said Ms Higgins.

Using a team of painters, it takes several hours to paint both sides of a horse. The most time-consuming part is allowing each layer of paint to dry before proceeding to the next layer.

Not all horses have the temperament to be body paint models.

Ms Higgins prefers older horses, between the ages of eight and 12, as they are accustomed to being in large venues and among crowds, but are still in their prime.

“The horses need to enjoy being pampered,” said Ms Higgins. “It’s like how some women love to go for a spa day and have a face mask applied and others don’t.”

During the demonstration, Ms Higgins talks about how the horse’s muscles work together, referencing the muscles by color instead of using the Latin name, making it easy for a lay person to understand.

This is Ms Higgins’ second time at the Dublin Horse Show, the first time back in 2011.

In addition to leading demonstrations at events like the Dublin Horse show, she teaches in-person courses in Leicestershire, England, where she is based, and produces online tutorials.

With a background in advanced level eventing, she knows that competition horses, like elite human athletes, need to cross-train to stay healthy.

She does pilates with horses to increase core muscle strength, flexibility, balance, posture and body awareness.

“There’s a number of exercises using carrots to get the horse into different positions,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be dramatic to be effective.”

To date, Ms Higgins has published 100 books, including one on pilates that sold out at the Dublin Horse Show.

“I’m so lucky that I can combine all my passions; horses, anatomy, and also be a bit creative,” she says.

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