In The Saddle column: Happy and hands on with Helen

Happy New Year everyone. I do hope you’ve all been keeping safe. We’ve been staying at home with the horses and trying to stay as sane as we can without piling on the weight.
Sully had been suffering from tension and pain.Sully had been suffering from tension and pain.
Sully had been suffering from tension and pain.

It was a crazy year in 2020 and for those of us who love to compete our horses there‘s been a significant change in competition schedules due to COVID.

It’s the first time Sully, my British Appaloosa hasn’t attended his breed society show since he’s been a yearling. Unfortunately it was unable to go ahead, like so many other sporting events last year.

As many of you are aware, he was backed as a four year old last year. I managed about a week’s support from Harriette, my trainer (and where I sent Sully) before we went into our first lockdown.

As a woman approaching her latter years in life (let’s just say) I did not relish being on my own at home with a freshly backed youngster.

I’ve only ever had pre-finished horses before who have all done a little bit. April was my youngest horse at five years old and back then also my biggest learning curve. I’m by no means a talented rider.

So Sully is my first real youngster. I’m very honest in my ability. I’d consider myself a novice despite riding near on twenty years.

Sully and I have managed OK despite the first lockdown being at home on our own with no arena. I have continued great support with Harriette either online or in person as the government allow. She helps to educate both of us as we start out our life in the saddle together.

It’s nearly coming up for his first yearly back and saddle check. With a growing youngster it’s important we check this to ensure he’s not changed shape and his saddle still fits him. He’s kept up to date with his teeth regularly being done by my excellent dentist around every six months.

I’d noticed Sully feeling tense in the field. He went from riding in walk to going completely upright. This is a horse who has never reared during the backing process or throughout the start of his riding career. Nor threatened to. I stayed sat to the rear but came off when he landed and bucked. At first I thought he had been spooked. I remounted and had a quick walk but was aching despite wearing a body protector. You don’t bounce as well at my age, trust me.

A couple of days later (and lots of Epsom salt baths) we went to ride in the field at home and the same thing happened. This time I stayed on and helped calm him. My daughter was on her pony with me both times it happened and she said there was nothing he could have spooked at. This wasn’t Sully. So I decided to bring forward his checks a few months early.

First thing we did was check his saddle. It still fits fine after my lovely master saddler, Sarah Seels, came out to see him. Thanks Sarah for being so quick and helpful.

I’d heard good reviews about Helen Thornton and did a bit of research on her. I like to only have people around my horses who are recommended.

Helen specialises in equine performance and is a qualified and insured equine sports therapist with fifteen years experience.

Helen passed her Equine Science foundation degree and her Equine Sports Massage Association diploma with Mary Bromiley – also an advanced Human Bowen practitioner.

She has a huge skill set and has continued professional development ranging across areas such as the cranial sacral, equine acupressure, myofascial release, neurokinetic therapy, spinal manipulation and mobilisation. There’s plenty more but the list would be way too long for this column.

It turned out we had a shared history too. She also went to the same pony club as I took daughter Alyssia did with her first pony, Jazz. Helen enjoyed all the activities of Wentworth and District pony club with her thoroughbred; developing a keen interest in the biomechanics of horses which went on to become her career.

When she came to meet Sully she listened to what I had to say. She was very sweet around him and I liked the way she talked to him. I’d also got Harriette, my trainer with me, so she got a full picture of how this wasn’t Sully’s usual nature.

Helen asked to see Sully ridden down the drive in walk then trot in a straight line. I was a little reluctant to get on so Harriette did it (thanks Harriette) and he immediately showed tension.

After his saddle was removed Helen checked his neck, back and head. She found a disturbance in the fascia and epaxial muscles on his left side and compromised psoas group of muscles, resulting in discomfort in his back and pelvis.

We now knew why he did what he did, and realised it was probably from when a car startled him out hacking and he fell in a ditch (that’s another story for another time).

In a way I was pleased. Not that he had something wrong, but that we had found the tension. Sully was trying to tell me it hurt and I listened. I knew inherently something wasn’t right. I’d had this boy from a foal and I know his quirks.

I felt the muscle along both sides of his back and I could feel a tough-ridge-like raised part on his left (sorry it’s the only way I can explain it!). His other side was nice and supple. I’m glad Helen showed me. We remained socially distanced and all wore masks.

Helen told me as part of her training she had gone to America to specialise in Pulsed Electro Magnetic Field therapy (PEMF). This is a safe and effective drug-free therapy that results in performance enhancement, health maintenance and healing in horses but can also be used in pets and humans with great success.

So how does it work? Well, it creates a gentle pulsing electromagnetic field which restores stimulates cell metabolism. This cellular exercise is unique to PEMF therapy. The pulsing electromagnetic field brings the cells back into electrical balance increasing nutrient circulation and oxygen flow and allows waste and toxins to be released. The magnetic field is attracted to stressed cells, causing more cellular exercise to occur where the cells are weak.

It’s a very clever therapy because it helps cells to be properly charged which reduces pain and inflammation enabling the acceleration of the body’s healing abilities. It has a number of other benefits though too, helping metabolic and immune issues in addition to injury.

Helen used the loop therapy technique on Sully and he soon relaxed into it. After walking in hand following his first treatment he already appeared less tense. We have some core conditioning exercises to do on the ground until his next treatment. Then hopefully he will be given the all clear to ride.

Helen was a delight to have around. I get highly emotional around my animals because of how much they mean to me. She’s an equestrian herself, who show jumps and events and has her own horse, so she knows how we feel. She had a lot of empathy and I really warmed to her which is extremely important, in addition to knowing what she is doing.

She’s had years of treating horses with a wide range of hands-on modalities and techniques from cranial sacral to ‘Bowen’ in addition to the usual sports therapies and I believe this is what helps her with animals that can’t speak.

I strongly recommend Helen (and all the professionals I mention here). She is still fortunate to be able to work during the lockdown as it is classed as horse welfare. PEMF is particularly unique in that it’s a hands off therapy, so she can treat clients at a safe two metre distance unlike many hands on sports therapies. I’m extremely glad.

She works around the North Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire area and can be contacted via her website, via her Facebook page or on her mobile 07947 623923 for consultations.

Going forward we should have little Sully back to how he was. I’ll keep you all posted. In the meantime, stay safe and thanks for following my equestrian column.