Physiotherapist Megan King was part of the team that supported Canadian Olympic event rider, Rebecca Howard and her long-time partner, Riddle Master as they prepared for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Preparing and maintaining an elite equine athlete for a championship like the Olympic Games involves a carefully balanced program where every aspect of training, fitness, feeding and routine scrutinised.
A program that Canadian event rider Rebecca Howard and her seasoned campaigner, Riddle Master, ‘Rupert’ have been developing in their ten-years together as a partnership.
Rebecca and Rupert have earned results at some of the most prestigious and challenging events in the world, including a 10th place finish in Rio this past summer and Lühmulen, Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky Horse Trials, as well as doubleOlympic, Pan-American and World Equestrian Games experience.
Every horse needs a team of people around them with specialist skills to care for them, no matter what level they are working at.
“For me, I like to develop relationships with the people that work with my horses, so that communication becomes really easy and when you have questions, you can turn to people you trust that know you and your horse well”, Rebecca continues.
“It becomes critically important when you are preparing for a championship, like the Olympics, that you stick to your routine and you have a good team around you. That way, the only variable that is changing for the horse is an increased workload”, explains Rebecca.
All systems go
A few months ahead of the countdown to the Olympics, Chartered physiotherapist Megan King met with Rupert’s long-time veterinarian, Christiana Ober to discuss the inclusion of weekly physiotherapy into Rupert’s routine.
“I joined Christiana as she assessed Rupert and we discussed the best way we could use physiotherapy to support him through his preparation and conditioning for the games”, explains Megan.
Regular trot ups
Rupert was assessed on a straight line on a firm surface. Vet Christina explains: “Regular trot ups are a critical part of any sport horse’s program. Trotting up allows you to establish what is the normal baseline for the horse and to identify what the horse deals with on a regular basis”, Christiana explains.
“There is a huge benefit to a start of season trot up and then a routine check throughout the season. The goal of regular trot up assessments is the prevention of injury or prevention of anything that will take the horse off the road competitively. If you don’t do regular trot ups, you may not be able to catch something minor before it turns into an injury”, Christiana concludes.
Working as part of the program “I visited Rupert weekly during the lead up to the games, ensuring his treatment program worked alongside and complimented his training and competition schedule. The frequency of the sessions created another regular ‘check-in’ and assessment process, which helped gauge how Rupert was responding to his training and fitness program - helping him be in the best possible condition for his Olympic experience”, Megan continues.
A program of regular physiotherapy for Rupert also gave Rebecca added peace of mind as she prepared for the Olympics. “Rupert is a really expressive horse and soon lets you know what feels good - he would lean right in to Megan when she found areas he wanted massaged. I’m sure having Megan’s hands on Rupert every week helped to keep his muscles feeling good as his workload increased and gave me confidence that he really did feel as good in his body as I thought he did from the saddle”, explains Rebecca.
- Choose your experts recognised by professional bodies
- Keep everyone in the loop - vet, farrier, physio and the people who work with your horse every day
- Always make your horse’s well-being the center of every decision
- Make regular trot ups and assessments part of your routine
- Keep a diary of your horse’s activities, treatments and findings
“Every horse is a bit different, but for Rupert I like to start a championship competition no later than ten days into shoeing cycle. This seems to give us enough time to alter anything if we need to, the feet are in good balance and the shoes are well and truly secure”, Rebecca explains.
“I work closely with Rupert’s farrier, Andrew Nickalls, organising his shoeing dates few months in advance and counting backwards from the championship to make sure we get the shoeing cycle bang on time.
“I also bring his last pair of shoes as a set of spares with me to competitions, just in case we lose a shoe. A spare shoe handy can really save you time in a pinch as they have already been shaped to his feet!”, explains Rebecca.
Home and away groom
“Knowing the horses character, how he moves, what he likes and dislikes, plus all of their lumps and bumps means that you will know straight away if something seems ‘off’:, explains travelling groom Angela Molson.
“It may not be obvious to a bystander but a minute little detail may be critical for an individual horse’s wellbeing. A happy horse is key to the operation, it is our job to keep them feeling their best”, explains Angela.
“Rolling down the drive in the horse transporter on the way to the airport to fly to Brazil with Rupert I felt a huge sense of responsibility. Together with excitement, nerves and pride, my emotions all rolled into one to make for a very buzzy feeling!”
A philosophy that is shared at home with head girl, Pippa Allan. “It’s been very educational working with an elite horse like Rupert, it’s absolutely amazing how closely they are managed. I’ve been able to take what I’m learning through my time with Rupert and apply it to the horses who are just establishing their careers as event horses”, explains Pippa.
Horse health team manage change
At elite level, horses have a whole multi-disciplinary team focused on their health and wellbeing: the vet, farrier, physio and often massage, chiropractic and/or other body workers, through to the groom team that works with the horse on a daily basis. And to manage an elite horse well, communication between these professionals is key.
Christiana explains: “Often the physiotherapist will give feedback to the vet about a horse that is starting to compensate in some way or there is a change in their body, while the vet can feedback to the physio about medical issues and any treatment the horse is receiving. The goal for the whole team is to manage change – and when changes are noticed, to go back and check in with the horse and see if there are ways you can help and support the horse”.
Horse Health Team
REBECCA HOWARD - RIDER
Rebecca Howard is a UK-based Canadian high performance event rider with results at Luhmulen, Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky and has double-Olympic, PanAmerican and World Equestrian Games experience. Rebecca’s top ten finish at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio made her the highest placed female eventer at the games.
RIDDLE MASTER, ‘RUPERT’
2013 Canadian-bred horse of the year, Blithe Hill Farm’s Canadian Sport Horse, Riddle Master, ‘Rupert’ came to Rebecca as talented and unruly six-year-old. Nearly a decade later, Rupert is a polished athlete at the top of the sport with fans all over the world.
An old proverb says ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and it is fair to say it takes an entire team of experts to support an Olympic horse in their journey to the games.
- REBECCA HOWARD
MEGAN KING - PHYSIOTHERAPIST
Megan qualified as a human physiotherapist in Western Australia before moving the to the United Kingdom to gain her Masters in Veterinary Physiotherapy and join the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT). Megan has a keen interest in the relationship between rider and sport horse performance, as well as injury rehabilitation. Megan has worked with elite event riders, including Lucinda and Clayton Fredericks and Rebecca Howard, as well the elite horses on Australian, Canadian and Japanese teams. In Australia, Megan had her strappers licence, exercising young thoroughbreds for the racetrack. In her free time, Megan enjoys riding her horse Blues, running and many long walks with her cocker spaniel, Liesl.
CHRISTIANA OBER - VET
Current New Zealand eventing team vet, Dr Christiana Ober has 15 years experience in equine sports medicine and managing the competition horse. Her primary interests include: purchase exams, lameness, management and rehabilitation of soft tissue injuries, regenerative medicine, and sports medicine especially related to the threeday event horse. She has been the Head Team Veterinarian for the Canadian Three Day Eventing Team since 2005 through three World Equestrian Games (Team Silver in Lexington 2010) and two Olympic Games. She graduated in 2000 from the VirginiaMaryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. She is FEI qualified as both a permitted treating veterinarian and as a veterinary delegate for three-day eventing.
She likes to spend her free time running, biking, and most importantly spending time with her husband, Andre Buthe, and their son Luca.
ANGELA MOLSON - TRAVELLING GROOM
Freelance elite competition groom Angela Molson has worked with Rebecca at major events, like Burghley and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Angela has taken the skills she developed grooming, like attention to detail, organisation, planning ahead and understanding what riders need to succeed into her new role as Equestrian Sales Manager for Countrywide Stores. When not devoted 24/7 to Rupert, Angela spends time with her husband, Tim and ex-racehorse Minnie, who is always immaculately turned out.
PIPPA ALLAN - HEAD GIRL
In a short space of time Rupert successfully wrapped head girl, Pippa Allen, around his hoof. Pippa tailored many aspects of Rupert’s management at home to suit his personal quirks - a regime that includes extra carrots, being brought in from the field for mid-day snoozes in his stable and extra time in the paddock on beautiful summer evenings. With an NVQ in Racehorse Care and Riding and background working in polo, riding school and livery yards, Pippa brings varied equestrian experience to her role.