Thursday, July 30, 2009

Applied Anatomy: The Painted Horses as Teachers

by Fran Jurga | 30 July 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

How did we teach (and learn) anatomy before we had super-markers to paint directly on horses' bodies? I believe that this clever technique was popularized by American clinician Susan Harris in the 1990s, or at least she was the first to make an educational project out of horse-painting.

We've seen an expansion lately, in the art of painting on horses. Dr. Gerd Heuschmann uses the horse as a canvas in his terrific video, If Horses Could Speak, and there's a beautiful new book on the Hoofcare & Lameness list (ordering info below) called How Your Horse Moves that documents painted horses going through gaits and stretches.

The problem, of course, is that you can only suggest the surface structures, and so much lies beneath. And should you choose the skeleton or the muscles?

Nicole Rossa solved that problem by painting the muscles on one side and the bones and joints on the other. Nicole is an equine therapist in England who has written some interesting papers, most notably one on asymmetry of the pelvis in racehorses and the effect on performance. Now she has teamed up with horse insurance company PetPlan and is consultant to the most ambitious web site project in the horse health world,

On second thought, don't click on that link. is a distraction demon. It's an absolute vortex where hours can pass while you wander around inspecting the minute textures of the stable mats and what it says on the plaques of the walls in the office. You'll emerge hours later, blinking.

Yourstables is a setup for teaching horsecare through consulting professionals, with the guidance of eventing legend Lucinda Green as an avatar. A 3-D horse barn (British style) is equipped with the newest and best of everything. You mouse over items and navigate through videos and printable articles explaining everything from grooming to diseases. It's quite good and Nicole Rossa is the consulting therapist. This list video is an out-take from a video made for the web site.

Back to the painted ponies: I just have one question. Why stop with horses? Do dog health educators paint anatomy markers on greyhounds? Who wants to volunteer their Jack Russell or maybe a Pug to be anatomically decorated? Nicole Rossa might find some work on humans when Halloween comes around.

Heads up: How Your Horse Moves by Gillian Higgins can be ordered now. Super reference on anatomy, gaits, biomechanics, jumping, tendon function, back function, etc. All full color photography; most of the horses are anatomically enhanced and very nicely photographed. The cover does not do this book justice. Hardcover, 153 pages, indexed, 350 color photos. Intro by Chris Bartle and Bettina Hoy. I expect I will be seeing a lot of the photos in this book in other people's PowerPoints soon! The good news: $30 per book plus $6 per book post in USA, $13 per book elsewhere. To order call 978 281 3222 or email

NOTE: Gillian Higgins will be on the program at a conference with Dr Hilary Clayton February 13-14, 2010 in Grantham in Great Britain.

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