Plaidcast 317: Dr. Sue Dyson & Wilhelmina McEwan by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services

Plaidcast Episode 317 Dr. Sue Dyson Wilhelmina McEwan


To listen to the Plaidcast, you can use the player below, Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, Google Play Music, or your other favorite podcasting app!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is THIS-Logo-300x153.jpg

Piper and Catie Staszak speak with Dr. Sue Dyson about the documentary The 24 Behaviors of the Ridden Horse in Pain. We also talk with Wilhelmina McEwan about her company, Fenwick Equestrian. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!


  • Host: Piper Klemm, Publisher of The Plaid Horse and Catie Staszak
  • Guest: Dr. Sue Dyson qualified as a veterinarian from the University of Cambridge in 1980. After an internship at the University of Pennsylvania and a year in a private equine practice in Pennsylvania, Sue returned to Great Britain to the Animal Health Trust, Newmarket. Sue ran a clinical referral service for lameness and poor performance, attracting clients from all over the United Kingdom, Ireland and continental Europe for 37 years. Sue has published approximately 370 papers in peer reviewed journals and is co-author of the seminal text ‘Diagnosis and management of lameness in the horse’. Sue is also a rider, and has produced horses from novice to top national level in both eventing and show jumping. From 2019, Sue has worked as an independent consultant, combining her horsemanship skills with her previous clinical and research experience, with the aim of maximizing performance potential and promoting ethical horsemanship. 
  • Guest: A former high performance show jumping athlete, Wilhelmina McEwan turned her 12-stall barn in Camden, SC into a temperature controlled product warehouse for Fenwick Equestrian. Fenwick Equestrian created the popular LT Mask, the original therapeutic mask that can help your horse relax and focus naturally. Wilhelmina was a member of the 1976 Canadian Equestrian Team at Spruce Meadows and competed in the 1977 American Invitational, aboard Mr. Dennis, an Australian thoroughbred. Later, as Director of Racing for Spendthrift Farm, she had the opportunity to closely work with some of the top Thoroughbred trainers in the world. Wilhelmina received the 2004 NRCC Business Advisory Council’s Businesswoman of the Year award for South Carolina and remains hands on with both horses and Fenwick, which she co-founded with her brother, Fred. (Pictured above)
  • Title Sponsor: Taylor, Harris Insurance Services (THIS) was founded in 1987 to provide specialized insurance for all types of equine risk. THIS places their policies with the highest rated and most secure carriers, meticulously selected for reliability and prompt claims settlement. THIS is proud of their worldwide reputation for responsive and courteous service, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss your equine insurance needs and provide you with a quote.
  • Subscribe To: The Plaid Horse Magazine
  • Sponsors: Purina Animal Nutrition, America CryoLAURACEA, BoneKare, Alexis Kletjian Jewelry, Show Strides Book Series, Online Equestrian College CoursesWith Purpose: The Balmoral Standard, and American Equestrian School

This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.

Piper Klemm [00:00:34] This is the Plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine. Today I’m joined by co-host Catie Staszak of Catie Staszak Media. And we are going to speak to Dr. Sue Dyson about the documentary, The 24 Behaviors of Working Horse in Pain and Wilhelmina McEwen about her company Fenwick Equestrian. This episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services. Welcome back to the Plaidcast Catie. 

Catie Staszak [00:01:04] Thanks for having me, Piper. Happy New Year. 

Piper Klemm [00:01:06] Happy New Year. It’s barely the New Year and you have already survived a WEF a WEF Zero, WEF premiere. What are we calling it now? 

Catie Staszak [00:01:16] Exactly. No one’s no one’s quite sure what to call it. You know, all the locals here call it WEF zero, since we can’t add to the end of the season. But, you know, the migration has fully happened. It’s a nice, kind of steady introduction to the season. The first week, the classes aren’t too big. They do the Battle of the Sexes, which is really fun for the general public and FEI then starts right up and, you know, things come on hot and heavy. 

Piper Klemm [00:01:49] And and the boys won this year for the first time in, what, like 11 or 12 years or something? 

Catie Staszak [00:01:56] So I believe this was the third time they had ever won in the event’s history, and they had not had a great record. And I read a really lovely quote from the women’s team and saying that they had to give them a chance so that they would keep coming back. So I appreciated that. But, you know, it’s it’s it’s a cool they’ve done a nice thing with that class because while it isn’t what we would call top level sport, it is really easy for any general fan to understand and enjoy and root and kind of, you know, hopefully give them a cool introduction if they’re a local or, you know, new to WEF something that, you know, they can easily follow and hopefully make them want to come back for more. 

Piper Klemm [00:02:47] Yeah, it’s um, they do it like head to head competition, right. And assign a point system?

Catie Staszak [00:02:53] Yeah. So it’s actually really interesting. So years ago when I was growing up in in the circuit, there was a Littlewood show series that was held on what is now developed land as a an extension of Grand Prix Village. And there were actually these classes that were mini match races, and there were two courses, short courses set up in the ring, and they would jump those courses, you know, simultaneously and it was a match race. And they do this in Battle of the Sexes, which is just one of the the rounds. There’s a few rounds that are all kind of tallied by points. And so it’s fun to see that it’s a very different but it is truly, you know, seeing that head to head jump off, not on replay on the video, but straight in front of you. 

Piper Klemm [00:03:45] Yeah, the the Saturday Night Lights, you know, all season. And I love that they are dressed up and you know, the people have fun with it so that that’s so cool. What what are some other things we’re expecting to see on on Saturday nights this season? 

Catie Staszak [00:04:03] Well, you know, they, of course, have their five stars that are going to come starting week five. There is the WCHR Hunter Spectacular Week six, which is always a very special event and very popular to shine the spotlight on the hunters. There’s the meter 50 championship series which is awesome for up and coming horses to top level sport to kind of get that introduction. And then of course there’s the U25 series. They usually do the semi final under the lights. So they really run the gamut and there’s a lot of opportunities for everyone. There’s so much going on during the circuit. I feel like a chicken with my head cut off just running around from ring to ring. And it takes careful planning. But truly the best of the best are in Wellington, which is great to have in my backyard and to be able to see. I love watching the schooling area and seeing what all of these riders do and how they prepare and even hearing comments as they come out of the ring, what they thought of things and attributed things to them. And it’s an incredible learning experience. I have been very fortunate to live in South Florida for essentially my entire life. I know as a kid I wouldn’t have been able to, you know, commute every weekend to show at WEF. But I was able to because it was my home show. So it’s still great to be able to call that home. Most excitingly, for me and people like us. Piper, is that the wi fi seems to have improved. Which makes for a much better working environment. So that is another thing to get very excited about. 

Piper Klemm [00:05:47] Praise! Praise! Every time I go down there, like imagine like how many like a billionaire are like-

Catie Staszak [00:05:55] Can’t make that phone call? 

Piper Klemm [00:05:56] Yes, that phone call can’t make that trade or, you know, whatever you do to make that kind of money, I don’t even know like, imagine how much like money is being lost because you can’t make that phone call! 

Catie Staszak [00:06:08] The next thing that they could please improve would be the parking lot. That’s next on the wish list. It’s a little bit full, but they have added an additional wi fi network for media people and it is definitely an improvement from the public Wi-Fi. So my sincere thanks for that. 

Piper Klemm [00:06:27] Amazing, amazing. While I was just at Thermal and then I was at the PCHA clinic and convention. 

Catie Staszak [00:06:33] That looked amazing. 

Piper Klemm [00:06:34] It’s amazing. It was amazing. I love learning environments and it was so cool. We’ll talk more about that next week on the plaidcast with Traci. And it was it was an amazing weekend. Thermal got started and then now I am on my way to Dallas for the American Equestrian Trade Association trade show. This is the one that was in in Pennsylvania for many, many, many years and moved a few years ago to Dallas. Wow. But I haven’t been between timing and pandemic and all of this. 

Catie Staszak [00:07:07] Just a few things. 

Piper Klemm [00:07:09] Few things. And Dallas, I’m very excited to see that and then kind of get a jump right in this year with doing some new things. And I’m really excited about what you know what this winter has to offer. As people know I have done the entire circuit at Thermal for the last 11 winters.  And I’m going to branch out and do some do some extra things this year, so I won’t be there at the entire time. And I’m really excited to be in Florida more to go to some different places. Like Horse World Expo in Harrisburg in March. And then I’m going to be hitting the road for Equine Affair and all these things coming up the spring. So a little bit something new and different, but that’s always, always evolving, always updating and always meeting new Plaid Horse fans. 

Catie Staszak [00:08:01] Yeah, there are a lot of exciting things coming this year. It’s it’s so great. I think, you know, it’s been a few years of growth and some growing pains and I think now is a year to really just kind of take charge and be able to kind of really build upon, you know, that growth that that has happened the last couple of years. So, yeah, it’s great to see the investment that’s being made on both sides of the country for these circuits in our sport. And I think it just makes, you know, it raises us all up. So that’s super exciting. 

Piper Klemm [00:08:37] Yep. So coming up on today’s Plaidcast, we have this YouTube, a film that’s on YouTube that anyone can watch for free. It’s called The 24 Behaviors of the Ridden Horse. And we asked Dr. Sue Dyson to come on because I saw this, this fall when it was sent to me and it was so moving and so powerful for me to kind of go on this journey and all of the decisions that are very real. And I know you’ve had to make many of these decisions. I’ve had to make many of these decisions. It’s a it’s really easy when there’s not a decision in front of you to to say, oh, I want what’s best for the horse and I’ll do anything that’s best for the horse. And then when those decisions actually dawn on you what they are, I mean, it’s hard to make good decisions. And I don’t I don’t think that makes anyone a bad person. I don’t think sugarcoating it is the answer. I mean, these-

Catie Staszak [00:09:37] Right. 

Piper Klemm [00:09:38] When things aren’t going how you want. It’s expensive, it’s long term and it’s often not clear what the right decision is, and you kind of have to go with the flow and be really flexible and figure some things out. And and I just thought it was such a powerful film. So if you’re listening to this and you’re in a position to right now, I encourage everyone to pause right now and watch this film. The documentary just won best educational film at the 10th annual Equus International Film Festival. It is so good. I think every horse owners should watch it. I if you’re in my phone, I’m sure I texted it to you because I texted it to like everyone I know and I was like you have to watch this. And I think these are conversations we need to have more and we’re only going to have more as as as land becomes more sparse, as people become more protective of their horses, become more investments, you know, we have horses going out by themselves in very small areas for short periods of time. I mean, this is not how we have peak sound, longevity. This is not how we how we do this as as our footings continue to change to being stuff that is easy to manage for horse shows and performance footing versus long term soundness footing. As our saddles continue to change, to, you know, become more padded and bigger and thicker and more comfortable for riders as our boots change to become softer and wrinkle and press into the horse’s sides more. Everything is changing and we need to keep lameness and our horses careers at the forefront and we need to keep doing the right thing at the forefront of everyone’s decision making process. And there are no ribbons in doing the right thing. No one is watching you. You need to have that moral compass and you need to do the right thing. You need to do it yourself. And I’m so glad you’re here, Catie, because you are a walking practice of this. You had your first horse basically his entire life. You’re stepping down you’re your heart horse Zantos right now. You’re doing right by everybody. And. 

Catie Staszak [00:11:59] Thank you. That’s very kind. 

Piper Klemm [00:12:00] My goal for for my boys. And, you know, I always say the first horse you rescue is your own horse. Make sure they have a good life for their whole life. And you owe them that. So I hope everyone takes a minute to watch to watch this film before they listen to Dr. Sue’s interview. 

Catie Staszak [00:12:18] Yeah, absolutely. You know, hopefully, you know, the easy part is saying that, you know, you want to do right by your horse and that’s going to be at the forefront of your decision making. What that entails is, is different. And that’s the difficult part. And I’m totally at a bit of a crossroads with stepping Zantos down, and it’s time for him to kind of go into semi-retirement. He still thinks that he can jump a Grand Prix. Physically, he cannot. And I’m just trying to keep him as happy as possible without, you know, being entirely bored and feeling like he doesn’t have a purpose either. 

Piper Klemm [00:12:56] We’re going to take a quick break here and be back with our guests, Dr. Sue Dyson and Wilhelmina McEwen. 

Piper Klemm [00:13:42] Dr. Sue Dyson qualified as a veterinarian from the University of Cambridge in 1980 after an internship at the University of Pennsylvania and a year in private equine practice in Pennsylvania. Sue returned to Great Britain to the Animal Health Trust Newmarket. Sue ran a clinical referral service for lameness and poor performance, attracting clients from all over the United Kingdom, Ireland and Continental Europe for 37 years. Sue has published approximately 370 papers in peer reviewed journals and is a coauthor of the seminal text Diagnosis and Management of Lameness in the Horse. Sue is also a rider and has produced horses from novice to top national level in both eventing and showjumping. From 2019, Sue has worked as an independent consultant, combining her horsemanship skills with her previous clinical and research expertise with the aim of maximizing performance potential and promoting ethical horsemanship. Welcome to the plaidcast, Sue. 

Dr. Sue Dyson [00:15:59] Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure. 

Piper Klemm [00:16:01] I absolutely loved your film and what I found was really striking was the sense that I got watching it of like we all say, we want to do the right thing and we all want to do the right thing. But but when we’re confronted with really hard decisions with our horses, it’s it’s really emotional and it’s hard to do the right thing. Can you talk a little bit about your experience at the clinic and how we can all be a better horse owners? 

Dr. Sue Dyson [00:16:28] Well, I think that, yes, every rider wants to do the right thing and they seek advice. And I think that one of the things that comes across in the film is that sometimes you are seeking advice from professionals who are giving you advice that doesn’t seem to be working and that makes it really difficult for you as a as the owner of the horse and you get frustrated because you followed their advice and yet it doesn’t seem to be working. Being it be from a training perspective or from a veterinary perspective. And I think that if you have that feeling that things are not progressing in the way you feel that they should, then you need to seek somebody else’s professional advice. I think that I, having been a rider, have great empathy with my clients because I have understood problems that I personally have encountered as a rider with my own horses. And I am fully aware that there are plenty of horses that look to be moving okay, if you just evaluate them in hand on the lunge, but when they’re ridden, they can show all sorts of different performance-related problems that are due to underlying musculoskeletal pain that tend to get incriminated as the reflection of poor training or inability of the rider, rather than the thought that there may be some underlying pain related problem. And I always feel my job is to identify what that problem or those problems are. And only once we’ve identified the problems can we put in place an appropriate treatment and management protocol. 

Piper Klemm [00:18:28] It was really interesting to me. I was at a barn that I had never been to recently, and even just the way that they were talking like that, this horse was bad or this horse was whatever. Like, it really reminded me that like, that’s, that’s just literally not how we speak at my barn. It’s like something happens and it’s like, what? Are they uncomfortable? Why are they uncomfortable? You know, really changing these conversations with owners to like – And it reminded me how important words are in these conversations about finding your horses comfort and and making it horse-centric. 

Dr. Sue Dyson [00:19:07] Yes, I think so. I think that in many situations people don’t think about underlying discomfort being the cause of poor performance. And we have historically labeled horses as naughty horses or difficult horses or lazy horses without ever asking why. And I think it’s really important to stand back and ask why rather than accept that this horse is inherently naughty. My belief is that there are some horses that are more challenging to train than others, and you have to find the key to that particular individual horse. But I really think it’s important that we keep asking why the horse is doing what it’s doing rather than immediately having a kind of blame culture towards the horse or the rider, for that matter. 

Piper Klemm [00:20:01] And I. I have a horse that I got after a few after he already had a few injuries. And he’s extremely stoic. And so he just kept kind of showing up to work. And then I have another one who, like, if one thing hurts, the tiniest bit it’s the end of the World for him. Can you talk to us a little bit about kind of the variation of horses over your career? And I find this part of like they’re individual, just like humans, individual response to pain, the horses’ individual response to pain or discomfort. And some of their instincts are to like, keep working and keep showing up to work. And those ones almost like scare me more because they will try to work through something. 

Dr. Sue Dyson [00:20:45] Yes, I think we have to accept that horses are like people in that they do appear to have different pain thresholds, so that one horse with a low grade discomfort will show greater manifestations of that in the reflection of their willingness to work. And then some horses will, in the face of pain, not want to go, whereas others will want to run away. So the reaction to pain is hugely different among horses, and we have to remember that horses are inherently prey animals. So they have it’s important from a survival point of view that they hide pain, if at all possible. So they have being developed as relatively stoical individuals, which perhaps in their ridden life is not a particularly good thing because they keep going for longer than they should with the deterioration of their underlying problems. But what I also think it’s important to recognize that in the face of lameness, be it forelimb lameness or hind limb lameness, horses adapt their way of moving to try to minimize their pain. So with either forelimb lameness or with hind limb lameness, they will reduce the range of motion of the back. They will take shorter steps. They will have a lower arc of foot flight. So they’re not lifting up the limbs as much as they were previously. And they may have a longer duration of the stance phase of each limb so that the horse is sharing load between limbs for a longer period of time than it might otherwise would have done. And if they’ve got hind limb problems, they don’t push off from behind as well. So they don’t have a suspension phase. So they are reducing the impact of landing. So they go through all sorts of ways of trying to minimize their discomfort. And in cancer, for example, they also will change their gait so that, for example, they may lose the suspension phase. So they will finish up with a so-called four-beat canter so that they are sharing load between limbs rather than the hind limb that initiates the canter bearing weight alone. So horses are amazing in the different ways that they will adapt to minimize both the display of pain and the pain that they actually feel by redistributing their load and the impacts on the limbs. 

Piper Klemm [00:23:25] What I see at horse shows is horses getting out of their stalls less, you know, less turnout, less just kind of motion. You know, we always say motion is lotion at the barn. How does fitness how does just motion how does. I mean even talking about their evolution as prey animals, how does that like- because horses evolve to amble around and graze all day long. So, you know, at the horse show, it’s it’s, you know, quote unquote, easy, you know, to say this hurts, let’s inject this, let’s inject that like from a holistic approach. How much how important is that not being in their stall and not being having restricted motion? 

Dr. Sue Dyson [00:24:09] Well, I feel very strongly that horses are designed to physically exercise on a fairly continuous basis. And I’m a huge believer in turn out both with respect to movement and with respect to social interaction with other horses, which I think is important from their mental well-being as well as their physical well-being. So I think that if horses are stabled away at showgrounds, then it is really important from my perspective that those horses get out of the stables as much as possible, even if it’s just hand walking or hand grazing, it’s important that they are out and moving about and that is particularly important for a horse that is had historically some problems from the musculoskeletal system. Say maybe it’s got some low grade arthritis or degenerative joint disease in one or more joints, then it’s all the more reason why that horse should be kept as mobile as possible and the whole horse needs to be kept fit. I think that there is a tendency to think that, okay, we think the left front coffin joint is a problem. So we medicated without necessarily confirming that that joint is actually the source of pain and without thinking about the horse as a whole. And when I say thinking about the horse as a whole, I think it’s very important that we think about the horse, tack, rider triad, which are all interacting. And unless the tack fits optimally, both for the horse and for the rider, and the rider is positioned symmetrically and rides in balance with the horse, those factors are vitally important to the management of any horse in order to prolong its longevity as a sports horse. And I think that there is this tendency, if the horse is, let’s say, off to medicate joints on a rather ad hoc basis without necessarily determining precisely what is the source or sources of pain. So for me, if a horse is off, if I got a very short time frame in front of me, I may have to say, well, okay, we’ll medicate a joint and see if that helps the horse. But if there is a little bit more time, I would like to clarify that that joint is indeed the source of pain by the use of local anesthetic solution to see that the horses gait improves and that. And if it doesn’t, then I need to be searching for something else. What is this horse, this source of pain, and how is that best managed? So I think the concept of repeatedly injecting joints without a definitive diagnosis to me is a way of not acting in the horse’s best interests. We need to determine what’s going on, and once we’ve determined what’s going on with certainty, we then need to tailor an exercise program that is optimal for that source or sources of pain. Bearing in mind, for example, that a horse with joint region pain is going to find canter more difficult than trot. And it’s particularly going to find canter flying changes very difficult or the most uncomfortable thing. So we have to tailor our warmup programs with that in mind. And for example, sitting light, sitting in a two-point position rather than a three point position to give the horse the best ability to use its back properly. And we need to be using dynamic mobilizing exercises as well from the ground, not just doing ridden exercise, but to ensure the horse has optimal development of its core muscles and has an appropriate posture, for example, at rest. 

Piper Klemm [00:27:59] And a lot of these are really like going forward exercises, right? You know, it’s it’s going forward enough to engage the hind end and loosening up. 

Dr. Sue Dyson [00:28:08] Absolutely. I think that that has become a training obsession in all disciplines to create an outline such that the horse’s head is in front of the vertical position, is in the vertical position, or even behind the vertical position without enough thought that the hind end is the driving impulse to them. That’s the engine. The engine has to work optimally if the horse is going to function optimally, and that means riding forwards and allowing the horse forwards and not giving the horse conflicting leg cues and hand cues. There’s no good riding with the handbrake on and pressing the accelerator because that doesn’t work properly. We have to allow the horse to go forwards. 

Piper Klemm [00:29:02] So you’ve developed a tool, The ridden horse pain ethogram. Can you tell us about how you developed that and how it works? 

Dr. Sue Dyson [00:29:11] Yes. Well, first of all, I probably need to define what an ethogram is, which is simply a series of behaviors, each of which have strict definitions. So, for example, the ears being back for 5 seconds or more, or the mouth being open with separation of the teeth for 10 seconds or more. And this is ethogram, the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram was developed as a way of facilitating riders and trainers and veterinarians identifying the presence of musculoskeletal pain, because it’s been clear from studies done in numerous countries that riders and trainers are rather poor at recognizing lameness, and that in fact, approximately 50% of the sports horse population is experiencing some degree of musculoskeletal pain. Although as far as the owners are concerned, they are working comfortably. So we develop the ethogram by the comparison of ridden horse behavior in horses, which were free from discomfort and those with known discomfort. We started off with a rather enormous 117 behavior ethogram, and by the application of this to lame and nonlame horses, we were able to identify 24 behaviors, the majority of which were at least ten times more likely to be seen in a lame versus a non lame horse. And then we used this 24 behavior ethogram and applied it to both lame and non lame horses. And we were able to demonstrate that the average score for a non lame horse was only two out of 24, with a maximum of six out of 24, whereas for the lame horses the average score was nine out of 24 with a maximum score of 14 out of 24. So there are big differences between the lame and the non lame horses, although there is a small proportion of lame horses that score less than eight. And then we took another group of horses which were lame horses, and we evaluated them, ridden before and after we had removed their pain using nerve blocks. And we applied the ridden horse pain ethogram before and after, and we saw substantial immediate reductions in the ridden horse pain ethogram scores after we had removed the pain, which demonstrated to us that there was a causal relationship between the behaviors and pain. Once we remove the pain, most of the behaviors went away and they went away quickly, which indicated to us that they were not habitual behaviors. They were behaviors that were purely a reflection of pain. 

Piper Klemm [00:32:09] That’s that’s a terrifying statistic at 50%. 

Dr. Sue Dyson [00:32:14] Yeah. But it’s real. And as I say, studies in a variety of different countries have shown exactly the same thing. Now, I’m not saying that you mustn’t ride a lame horse because there are quite a lot of mildly lame horses who stay pretty much the same during a period of exercise. And their problem is one that’s not going to deteriorate with exercise. And those horses are fairly willing to work. So I’m not saying that you cannot ride a lame horse. But I would say that if the horse is unwilling to work or shows eight or more of the behaviors of the ridden horse pain ethogram, then I would strongly advise that that horse undergo investigation to identify the cause so that that cause can be treated and the horse managed appropriately. Because my experience is that the earlier a problem is recognized and treated and the horse managed appropriately, the more likely they are to resolve the problem and be able to prolong the longevity of that horse as a sports horse. 

Piper Klemm [00:33:19] I feel like like some of the owners, obviously everyone cares and loves about loves their horse, but we kind of get a little bit lost in this like like micro versus macro, I’ll call it. Like a lot of people view loving their horses, giving them treats, giving them supplements, you know, making sure that they have this and that expensive things. But then, you know, they’re not thinking about the emotion and the turnout and and the things that I think most horse people would would consider the most important. And so you kind of have this place where people, like, think they’re caring and pat themselves on the back for caring, but almost it becomes really convoluted to me. Can you talk a little bit about how we can all as horse owners change our mindset to be really horse centric? 

Dr. Sue Dyson [00:34:10] Yes. I think you’ve made some very relevant points there. I don’t think anybody deliberately is being unkind to their horse. I think that the welfare problems arise through lack of knowledge and awareness and also a bit of denial. I know as a horse owner, the last thing I want to hear is that my horse is lame and is going to need some time off. We don’t. None of us want to hear that. But I’m always amazed that owners are prepared to spend enormous sums of money on a rug for every particular occasion. And matching bandages and matching boots. But they don’t think about saddle fit, for example, and the fact that each horse is an individual with an individual shape. So each horse needs its own saddle, and that horse is going to change in shape according to the work intensity and its diet. And therefore we need to be checking saddle fit on a regular basis. And I would say ideally every four months or so. And we also need to know that that saddle fits us to put us in the optimum position. And I think that people think about selecting to keep their horse at a particular barn where that may be what they conceive is a nice arena, but they really look at the arena surface and the maintenance of that arena surface. Is that optimum for the horse? Do they also think about the fact that it is physically bad for a horse always to be exercised in or in an arena and mentally bad as well? So to have access so that you can go trail riding as well has to be beneficial for the horse, both from a physical perspective and a mental perspective. And turnout, I believe, is hugely important. Now I realize that finding that combination can be extraordinarily difficult. I was in California last weekend and we were discussing this very fact and the huge lengths the people need to go to in order to find a suitable barn. But I do think from an overall welfare perspective, there are some things that are essential for horse welfare, and those should include turnout. It should include a varied exercise program which is not just in the arena, and even if it’s a dressage horse, then it doesn’t need to just be doing dressage movements. It needs to be doing other exercises too, like polework raised poles, small grid jumping in order to use different muscles, but also to engage the horses mind in different ways. But also getting out, not always being in an arena because that is physically and mentally not the ideal scenario for a horse. 

Piper Klemm [00:37:19] I think people are being raised with less, less saddle time than ever and less just horse time than ever. I’m a nervous amateur and I’ve really had to learn to ride outside the ring like this as it’s scary. I think I think we revert to the arena because a lot of times because we’re afraid and you know, that’s not necessarily rational in a lot of ways, but but it’s kind of a brain training thing. But I think really framing it as a like. I always say that if we have a like moral or a morality issue or a mission, you know, it’s easier to essentially force yourself to be brave if you believe in what you’re doing. And I kind of love this like. Like getting out of the arena as as you’re doing good for your horse and you being a good horse owner. And it’s a morality and a mission. And whether you’re afraid or not, like you owe it to your horse. 

Dr. Sue Dyson [00:38:23] Absolutely. And I think that the majority of horses do enjoy going out hacking and they don’t do things that are going to be scary for you. So I think that that fear is probably misplaced. And if you just try it, you will probably soon recognize that the horse enjoys that freedom and is happy in that environment and therefore behaves in a reasonably compliant manner. So you have this harmonious relationship between you, the rider and the horse. 

Piper Klemm [00:39:03] Thank you for joining us, Dr. Dyson. 

Dr. Sue Dyson [00:39:05] Thank you. 

Catie Staszak [00:40:38]  A former high performance showjumping athlete will Wilhelmina McEwen turned her 12 stall barn in Camden, South Carolina, into a temperature controlled product warehouse for Fenwick Equestrian. Fenwick Equestrian created the popular LT mask, the original therapeutic mask that can help your horse relax and focus naturally. Wilhelmina was a member of the 1976 Canadian equestrian team at Spruce Meadows and competed in the 1977 American Invitational aboard Mr. Dennis, an Australian thoroughbred. Later, as Director of Racing for Spendthrift Farm, she had the opportunity to closely work with some of the top thoroughbred trainers in the world. Wilhelmina received the 2004 NRCC Business Advisory Council’s Business Woman of the Year award for South Carolina and remains hands on with both horses and Fenwick, which she co-founded with her brother, Fred. Welcome to the Plaidcast, Wilhelmina. 

Wilhelmina McEwan [00:41:35] Well, thank you, Catie. 

Catie Staszak [00:41:36] You have such an incredible history in the industry. You’ve held so many roles from being an active participant in high performance sport to now running Fenwick Equestrian, working with race horses. Can you just start by sharing with us a little bit some of the roles that you’ve had and how you’ve seen the industry evolve? 

Wilhelmina McEwan [00:41:58] The show horse industry. I grew up in that in the sixties, seventies and early eighties, so it was very different than what it is now. When I was growing up, you had a horse and you did everything Equitation, Hunter, jumper, pony club, three day, whatever you wanted to do. You did it with your with the one horse. And I grew up having to know how to muck stalls, take care of my horse. I think Colonel Russell was probably the biggest influence in my life, and he insisted we know everything about a horse. And the horse was part of our life, even though we, you know, boarded the horse and basically the stalls were mucked out and everything. But we had to learn it. And Pony Club was very much a part of my life back then. For young people. Everybody wanted to be in pony club and the horse was part of that. So it was very different than what I see now. But I don’t I mean, I think it made me a much better horse person or the horse person I am now. I can say because of all that connection with the horse and the love of the horse and and it was a. I’m trying to think our group at the stable, everybody would get together and do things together and we’d go to horse shows on the weekends and it was like a family. The barn was sort of an extended family. 

Catie Staszak [00:43:28] Sure. 

Wilhelmina McEwan [00:43:30] And it just I got out of it when I married my husband, who was in racing, that he and his family owned Spendthrift farm in Lexington. And I got very much involved in the racehorse business then. So I was probably 25 years away from showing. And when I came back to it with Fenwick Equestrian, it had changed. Sure. And that’s just sort of learning the new horse show world now. And I mean, it’s all wonderful and it’s great. 

Catie Staszak [00:44:02] Amazing. Well, being so hands on with the horses surely helped you as you kind of sparked this idea for Fenwick Equestrian and the liquid titanium therapy in your products. How did that idea come to be and how did you start realizing that this product was having an effect on horses, really, of every walk of life and every discipline? 

Wilhelmina McEwan [00:44:27] Well, at the time we had a training center for Thoroughbred. We broke thoroughbred yearlings and did layups for the thoroughbred industry. And as you know, thoroughbreds are hyper, there’s no doubt about it. I grew up with thoroughbreds because that’s all we had. Warm bloods hadn’t come into the picture then. Sure. So I was used to dealing with thoroughbreds and we were we had probably 100 horses a year we broke throughout the season at the training center in Camden and everything was wool and cotton and we had the washing machines were just going all the time. And my brother had said one day, you know, all these athletes have this high-performance fabric. Why can’t the horses have it? 

Catie Staszak [00:45:08] Sure. 

Wilhelmina McEwan [00:45:08] And that was the beginning of thinking of doing something. Never in a million years did we think it would evolve into what Fenwick Equestrian has become, but we were just basically looking at high performance fabrics like the bamboo and the jade, that sort of thing, which we and then the bodyguard, which was the sun reflecting fly sheet. And those products were very effective and everybody loved them. And then I was a big fan of Back on Track and we were looking for a far infrared therapy that was easy care, machine wash and dry and that wasn’t hot. The horses wouldn’t be sweating it and everything. So my contact in Switzerland that would always help me with fabrics. She found the liquid titanium fabric and she said, I think she said it was around a long time ago, but it wasn’t popular. But she says we might be able to make it into something that would work for the horses. So we went through several years of getting the right weight and the right fabric and the right texture and everything. And we came up with liquid titanium and it was working immediately and we had fantastic results with the blanket. And the horses didn’t sweat in it and it was easy care and it was dummy proof and it couldn’t you couldn’t overdo it. And it was just wonderful. And throughout the research, we were finding out that it had been used with NASA and it helped reduce stress and got rid of headaches and everything. And my brother said one day, Well, I wonder if we could make blinkers and it would calm these thoroughbreds down. And why not? So we just took a blanket. I’d been taking Home EC when I was young and just basically cut out a mask from the blanket and made the mask and it worked. I mean, I sort of sewed one together myself and we started doing it. I mean, it was immediate,  literally the horses. These babies were reacting to it much faster than some of the older horses eventually down the road. But we also found with the babies. We weren’t using as much gastro guard. We they were just calmer. They weren’t stressed and. That has become our biggest seller. 

Catie Staszak [00:47:30] Absolutely. And you’re seeing it in every discipline. You’re seeing it obviously in the racehorse industry, but now seeing it with so many horses in high Performance showjumping. I’ve seen it in Arena Polo. I’ve seen it, you know, really for any horse, any sort of nervous horse, I know it’s a bit of a physics lesson, but how would you describe L.T. and far infrared therapy? How does it work? 

Wilhelmina McEwan [00:47:57] The easiest explanation that I was given by a doctor is that it affects the serotonin levels in the body and it balances the east and west hemisphere of the brain. If that’s even if that’s the simple way to describe it. Titanium works naturally with the body. As the medical industry went to titanium implants 20, 25 years ago because the body didn’t reject titanium and calcium and didn’t form around the joint. So the body likes titanium. And that’s the difference in all these synthetic molecules and ceramic powders that are put into other products to produce far infrared therapy, whereas the titanium is natural. We actually have some of it in our body, and that’s why it sort of works together with the fabric. Sure. Because it has real titanium infused into the fiber and you can never wash and dry the titanium out because it’s a metal. I mean, it’s beyond me to understand how you can liquefy titanium and use it into a polyester fiber and it stays there. Sure. And it wouldn’t burn and melt the polyester fiber. But that’s technology. And as the doctors have told me. You can see the results. You don’t have to have a physics degree or a chemistry degree to understand the workings of it. And I brought that up to NIH and to the different places that have studied this. And we just you can literally put it on a horse. And most horses, within 10 to 15 minutes you’re going to start seeing them react by their ears twitching, their eyes sort of moving around like, what’s going on with me? They take a deep breath. It’s very similar to acupuncture. Sure. And when they doctors hit the right spots and the horse takes that big deep breath, they’re like, okay, we’re on the right track. This basically does the same thing. And it’s the only thing out there that affects the brain. 

Catie Staszak [00:50:09] Tell us a little bit. You do have this patented as well. This is original and unique to Fenwick. 

Wilhelmina McEwan [00:50:16] Yes, it is. We have a method of use patent for the fabric and it’s it’s a medical method of use patent. So we’re very fortunate in that respect. And there’s so many more uses for this that we’re working on down the road and like medical approaches and everything. I don’t want to get into now, but. Sure. For healing wounds, I mean, we’re mainly the mask is for calming the horse, naturally. And this is wonderful because it has no side effects and it’s natural and it a lot of horses in time can use it. And after they learn that the boogeyman is not going to get them, you don’t have to use it anymore. Some horses are happy in it forever. But that’s the advantage of this. It’s it’s however, the trainer, the rider, the ground person wants to use it. There’s just a million ways. And then reasons for using it. It’s not just competition. It’s not just, you know, in the ring. Riding your horse doesn’t like to get on a trailer. It helps them just walk on the trailer if they’re nervous traveler, if there have to be if they have to be laid up and, you know, out of work because of an injury or something, you can leave it on them. 24 seven. It just keeps them calmer in the stall. I mean, it’s just on and on and on. And like like you said earlier, any horse, any discipline back here. It’s helpful to the horse. 

Catie Staszak [00:51:50] Sure. We know, you know, when you think of Fenwick, you think of the mask. But and the mask is allowed in international showjumping competition from the FEI. But I know there are other products that have similar effects. I actually use the bonnet on my horse. He’s very sensitive in the schooling area and can be a bit nervous. And it has worked wonders for him. But I also know that there are products to use in the Hunter ring as well as a special bonnet that was approved for dressage competition. Can you tell us about those products? 

Wilhelmina McEwan [00:52:26] Absolutely. The earplugs are basically for the hunter ring and. It was Liza Boyd’s idea to get ear balls that we were working with her when she had Brunello. And, I mean, the the earplug was sort of an interesting thing to have to develop. Sure. And it looks like a homemade, funky looking thing because you’re basically having to put fabric around like a cat ball. Amazing. We tried to find one that was really squishy but would come back but didn’t irritate the horse. And you know, it doesn’t have bounce in it and all these things and developing it to come up with these the right one and then trying to sew fabric around a ball was not easy, but it it works. And they stay in and they don’t irritate the horses and that’s a much lighter weight fabric than what we used for the other things. But and then the ear bonnet, it was for basically the hunters. And then we had to come up with the mesh ear bonnet for the dressage horses because they want to be able to see through that there’s nothing underneath the part, the flap that goes down on the forehead. It’s been a learning curve for me with all the rules and regulations that have come about in the last 25 or 30 years. I mean, when it was AHSA and it was a, you know, maybe 30 page rule book thrown a little bit, plain and simple and straightforward. Yeah. So in every discipline has their rules and regulations. And right now we’re working with the eventing world to try to come up with something so they can use it on the cross-country phase. The biggest thing that we found is that they’re concerned the horse will overheat by wearing something on their face. Well, sure. One of the other qualities of this fabric is regulating body temperature. Right. And if you take like a racehorse that has breezed a mile and he’s sweating from head to toe in the middle of summer, when you take the mask off, there’s an outline on his face where the mask was and the face is completely dry. Right. And as you know, that’s how horses cool down is by drying and sweating and drying and sweating. Right. So we’re just like I said, we’re in the process of that. Jimmy Wofford’s, a very good friend of mine from back in the days from where they are. So I’m hoping to meet with people at the eventing convention in Savannah and just try to explain it to them and let them start working with it and maybe get some people to. Try it and, you know, see that it’s a it’s a help. It’s not, you know, anything bad. 

Catie Staszak [00:55:08] Of course. Now, as a horse person, you know, we alluded to this a little bit. You’re continuing to develop these products. But you’re able to test all of this really right in the backyard and at your farm where you kind of need this warehouse. What is that product development process look like? 

Wilhelmina McEwan [00:55:28] Well, right now, everything is now made in the United States. We have the within a two mile radius of Camden. We have our dye cutting. Our pattern makers, our people that assemble it. We have our embroidery, and then everything comes to Camden. We’ve converted horse barns into warehousing that’s temperature controlled. And we do all the sorting, quality, control, packaging, barcoding everything here. And then we ship it all over the world, either UPS, FedEx, DHL, Post Office. And it’s but it’s basically it’s lovely to be here at the farm and still be able to use the facilities. And then testing if we need any testing done. You know, we’ve got plenty of horses in Camden to test products with and anything new. And, you know, we’re always trying to come up with something new that’s going to help the horse or rider. 

Catie Staszak [00:56:31] Amazing. So how can listeners learn more about Fenwick? 

Wilhelmina McEwan [00:56:38] We have our website. We are continually improving that. We hope to do videos and testimonials things in Wellington this winter. We’re going to be there. I’m available all the time for questions. 

Catie Staszak [00:56:51] It’s great to be able to go straight to the source. Nobody knows more about the product than you. 

Wilhelmina McEwan [00:56:55] Yeah, I mean, you can reach me or my brother any time. I mean, our numbers are on the website and we just we try to make ourselves available and we’re just now with everything under control and COVID over, we’re just going to be back around the shows again. And I think I think it’ll help if I’m actually visibly at the horse shows. 

Catie Staszak [00:57:15] So those those listening the website is and you can also follow Fenwick on Facebook and Instagram at Fenwick Equestrian and on Twitter at Fenwick Equine. Wilhelmina, thank you so much for joining us. And what an incredible product. There’s really there’s nothing else on the market like the LT mask so great to just see it helping so many horses. 

Wilhelmina McEwan [00:57:40] Well thank you, Catie, and thank you, to The Plaid Horse. I look forward to talking to everybody and seeing more people down the road. 

Piper Klemm [00:59:23] To learn more about anything we’ve discussed on today’s show, visit You can find show notes at Follow The Plaid Horse on all the social medias. You can subscribe to the print edition of the Plaid Horse magazine at Please write and review the Plaidcast anywhere you listen to it. And if you enjoy this episode, please share it with your friends, I will see you at the ring!