Grill the Equestrian – Ruth Boland, Veterinary Physiotherapist

We are onto the third installment of our “Grill The Equestrian” Series. We are delighted to introduce Ruth Boland, Veterinary Physiotherapist for this months grilling! We both have the pleasure of calling Ruth our go-to physio for our horses. She is a lady in high demand which speaks volumes to her talent. She has helped us immensely with keeping both Coco and Dante in tip top shape, so we just couldn’t resist grilling her for more information on the work she does.

How did you decide you wanted to get into Physiotherapy & what is your favourite thing about your job?

I think behind every equine physio is a very tricky horse! That feeling that a horse is struggling physically or experiencing pain but being unable to pin point it is what led me down this path. My favourite aspect of the job is that every single day is different and I am constantly being challenged!

Is there a part of your job that you don’t enjoy?Image may contain: 1 person

There are a few days a year that the weather is so bad that it would make an office job look appealing but thankfully they are very few and far between!

What are the most common injuries you have to treat?

Generalised back pain. Physically horses are just not built to carry us and carry out the types of work that we ask of them. Very often this results in a build-up of muscle tension or pain through the spine.

Do Physio’s have different qualifications and if so what ones should you be looking out for when looking for a physio?

Yes, there are several different routes to qualification. We are currently working towards regulation within the industry. Until then it is important that owners are mindful to choose therapists who are fully qualified and insured.

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Is it important to work together as a team with your dentist and farrier? For example, does the horses jaw & teeth have an effect on the rest of the body?

It is absolutely crucial to adopt a holistic approach where your physio works in conjunction with your dentist, farrier, saddle fitter and trainer (if appropriate). This team should be led by your vet and your therapist may need to refer your horse back to your vet for further investigation.

Yes, there are anatomical links between the jaw, shoulder and even the hind end. It is a fascinating bio-mechanical link which means that your horse cannot push effectively from behind if movement is restricted through the jaw!

What’s the one exercise you recommend every rider does with their horse?

There is no particular exercise that should be recommended for every horse but I always encourage riders to think about cross-training their horses. Where appropriate we want to include as much variety as possible in a horse’s regime. This will result in healthier muscles, joints and tendons which will be less prone to injury. Try not to school on a surface every day. Think about whether you could school on grass or go for a hack? Maybe you could lunge your horse once a week or go for a canter up a hill? Have you done any pole work lately or ground work? Variety is key! Your physio can help you come up with an exercise programme for your horse.

What signs should you been looking out for to suggest that your horse is in need of a Photo 03-10-2018, 14 21 23physio, how often should your horse see a physio?

You should be looking for subtle changes in behaviour and movement. Has your horse started to buck? Have they become cross when you approach with the saddle or tighten the girth or have your canter transitions become sticky on a particular rein? How often they are treated depends on how much work the horse is doing, its stage of development and its medical history. I have well developed riding club horses that I treat annually and 1.50m jumpers that I see weekly. Your horse should be assessed by a qualified individual and they will suggest appropriate treatment intervals for your horse.

If you could tell riders the one thing not to do with their horse, what would it be?

I am not a fan of “gadgets” such as draw reins, bungees etc. Although they may have a place in very experienced hands for certain horses they are all too often used to cover up a bigger problem. The main thing for owners to understand is that muscle does not become strong overnight. If your horse will not work in an outline, then it has not built the correct muscles to support this way of going. A gadget will force them into this outline and unless used with great skill and sympathy you run the risk of fatiguing the muscles you are hoping to build, making them sore and therefore less likely to be used correctly during the subsequent training sessions.

What is the most interesting thing you learned from your time as an equine physiotherapist?

I am always amazed by just how tolerant horses are. As prey animals horses have a genetically programmed instinct to cover up signs of pain. The most important thing that I have learnt is that we really need to pay attention to the small changes in behaviour and movement as horses will endure a surprising amount of discomfort before resorting to “naughty” behaviour.

What exercises should you be doing with your horse on a weekly basis for stretching out their muscles properly?

10604691_789732707746042_1967904979144743255_oCarrot stretches are useful for stretching muscles through the neck and back but also for building core strength. As the extent of the stretch is controlled by the horse they are a safe way of building flexibility and strength. This booklet produced by Gillian Higgins is a great resource for owners:

Well there you have it, Ruth has basically given us a mini bible on equine physio, with some great points to really make you think & be aware of your horse’s needs.

Head on over to Ruth’s facebook page to keep up to date with her and be sure to check out her website for treatment plans & pricing.

Until Next time,

Darielle & Orla


Exercises to Help Build Your Horse’s Weak Hind End

As some of you may remember from my post a few weeks ago, I’ve decided to pull Coco back to basics to help fix some of the issues she’s been having with her hind end. After a visit from the physio I decided to come up with a more structured exercise plan for Coco that I hope will help get us back to where we were a few months ago. 

The Problem

Coco is under-developed on her near (left) side which has resulted in an uneven pelvis and subsequent discomfort.

The Goal

While the main goal is obvious make Coco a happier, more comfortable horse, I also set a few of my own little goals that will help keep me optimistic about Coco’s progress while also demonstrating improvements which would hopefully indicate which exercises do or don’t work.

  • See a visible difference in Coco’s hind end. At the moment when you stand directly behind Coco, you can physically see that the muscles aren’t as developed on her left side compared to her right.
  • Get her tracking up on her near side. As a result of her uneven pelvis, Coco doesn’t track up very well on her left so seeing this improve would definitely be a good indication that the exercises are working
  • Have a small jumping session with no napping or refusals


The Exercises

So how was I going to reach my little goals? After doing some research and chatting with a few people, I pulled together a range of different exercises that I could use to build a weekly exercise plan for Coco.

  • Lunging without a Pessoa  Trusty Driving Skills
  • Ridden Stretching Exercises  Long & Low Wins the Race
  • Trot Poles on a Circle
  • Leg Yielding
  • Cavaletti’s  Raised on One Side to Focus on Building the Correct Side

Coco’s Weekly Exercise Plan

Below is the rough exercise plan I’ve been doing with Coco for the last few weeks. A few days get mixed around here and there but generally we get everything done.

Monday  Day Off

Tuesday  Lunging

I was advised by my physio to get a pessoa to help Coco stretch down and use her backIMG_5158

muscles more effectively. Unfortunately they are a bit expensive so I’ve gone with my next best option – using two lunge lines with a roller. For Coco, I’ve found this to work quite well. She is generally quite a good stretcher on the lunge anyways but using this method seems to encourage her to be much more consistent in her way of going.

By getting her to lower her head, she can stretch out her back and the tight muscles she has behind the saddle while also using her hing end more effectively. It’s a good workout for her that allows her the freedom to move without a rider on her back.

Wednesday  Simple Long & Low Ridden Work


The first ridden day of the week I would generally take it quite easy. I do some light walk, trot and canter with her with the main focus being to encourage her to drop her head and ride quite long and low. When your horse is as buzzy and spooky as Coco can be, this isn’t always very easy to achieve but after a few sessions of this she really got the knack of it and now she seems to really enjoy stretching down (when she’s not looking around at all the horse things going on).

Thursday Day Off

Friday  Lunge & Cavaletti’s focusing on trot

After a day off Coco always needs a little lunge to make sure she’s not too fresh so a quiet lunge to get rid of the excess energy and then it’s straight to work. I now start every session with 15 minutes of long & low work to get her warmed up and stretched out.

Next we move on to caveletti’s, with a focus only on the trot. As her near side is where she needs to build the muscle, I make sure to only elevate the poles on one side. This ensure’s the focus is on the muscles that need the attention. I would set up two sets of poles, 3 on one side with the first and last poles raised and 5 on another side with the second and fourth poles raised.

I would do the above and mix it up every now and again by setting up the poles on a circle or on the diagonal so we can create a bit of a course out of it. This keeps Coco interested and on her toes.

Saturday Polework in Trot & Canter incorporating some raised canter poles


Again we start the session with 15 minutes of long & low work. I would then have a number of trot and canter poles set up around the arena.

The trot poles today would be set up with a longer stride in them to encourage Coco to stretch out. I would then have a series of canter poles set up with a 3 stride related distance to work on lengthening and shortening her stride. Another set of canter poles would be set up with bounce strides. These would be placed on a circle.

To finish up I would put the canter poles up to raised poles. I have two reasons for doing this – the first to obviously engage her hind end and get her really lifting behind but the second and main reason is to slowly introduce the concept of jumping into our work.

Sunday Simple Long & Low with Leg Yielding


After two days of hard work, I like to give Coco a bit of an easier session on a Sunday so I keep it simple to long & low work but incorporate some leg yielding.

Leg yielding is great for making her more supple which helps her to eventually relax her back and start using it more effectively.

One thing that I would love to be able to incorporate into this weekly plan is a hack out to the fields to chill out. Unfortunately Coco isn’t very fond of the track we have in our yard so what should be a nice relaxing ride always ends up in an argument which kind of defeats the purpose of going out there. It’s something I’m planning on tackling this summer but until then, I settle for hacks around the arena or try to get her out of the yard where possible.

Our Progress so Far

I’ve been doing this exercise plan with Coco for the last few weeks and I have started to see small improvements in her way of going. She’s starting to track up much better on her near side and I’ve done very small amounts of jumping with her and each time she’s gotten better and better so it’s all very positive at the moment 🙂


Thanks for reading this far. I hope some may have found this helpful 🙂


PS. Photo credit to Niamh Meighan, check out her Insta account @nyunyirl