Margaret Donnelly, Timmy’s owner and founder of Equilibrium Products talks about what it’s like having a horse that frantically tosses their head, how she solved the problem and how helping her horse, she actually managed to help so many other horses too.
I bought Timmy as an un-backed two year old in Ireland. I just fell in love with him – he was such a classy horse! He was backed as a 3/4 year old, and from day one, he was always a fantastic horse for hacking. As a 5 year old, it started becoming clear that he had developed a violent reaction when ridden for probably about the first 10 minutes, where he was tossing his head, trying to strike his nose with his front leg, rearing up, he was snorting continually – literally just one day, completely out of the blue!
I remember hacking him out one day that wasn’t too hot or with too many flies, but he got so bad, that I actually got off and put my jacket over his head to calm him down – and that gave him instant relief!
One of the other things I noticed, is that when I had him tied up, what he liked to do was rub the end of his nose against the old, traditional brick stables, which seemed to settle him!
He would also often try hide his face from any wind or anything like that. He would try tuck it under my arm or something like that to shield it.
So working in product development for all of my career, I was used to having a problem, and trying to solve it. Knowing a little bit about sewing as well, I got out my sewing machine and started making a few things for him. After a few weeks of trying different things, I found this very rough mesh that basically, with a close fit, worked the best for him. I noticed he liked to wriggle his nose against it, so it almost provided like a little scratching pad for him.
So I found a solution for my horse, I was so delighted! I was being faced with having this fabulous horse that I fell in love with as a two year old, and having to put him down as a 5 year old because the head tossing behaviour had become so violent. No one wants to make that decision. As it was though, he went on to be a fabulous dressage horse, who didn’t really ever miss a Regional Championships. He got to the National Championships and was placed 10th – just got in the ribbons!
Then, more people got to know about this and asked me what was on Timmy’s nose… Although it was quite subtle, which I liked. The design also allowed saliva to escape so it was comfortable to wear, easy to wash and could stay on the bridle all the time, so it was quite easy. I’m always one for keeping things simple, for both horse and owner!
I had someone else on my yard say they also had a horse showing the same behaviour, could I make her a Muzzle Net too… turns out, she was also having lessons with someone who had a Grand Prix horse who was also a horse doing the same thing, could I make them one?
At the time I was working full time in London, coming back every evening and making more and more Muzzle Nets, and I thought, there’s actually more horses showing this behaviour than I realised – I originally felt very isolated because I thought I was one of the few people who had experienced this!
What I decided to do from there was contact the Royal Veterinary College, and they put me in touch with De Montford University and Dr. D. Mills, who was designing a survey to determine if there was a correlation between breeds, ages, background, training, feed, or some sort of pattern of horses across the UK that were showing this head shaking behaviour.
I contacted Dr Mills, and at the time, he and his PHD student Katy Taylor were actually trying to test potential products that might reduce the frequency of the head shaking behaviour. I showed him the Muzzle Net and he said, he thought that actually from the feedback from the panel and observations, he felt the Muzzle Net might have a good chance of helping a lot of horses. It went into the clinical trial and was tested against a number of other products, but the Muzzle Net was the most effective of them all. It didn’t help everybody. But it did indicate that 79% horses showed a decrease in the frequency of the head shaking behaviour. In fact, 50% of the horses showed a 100% improvement, which was incredible.
The Net Relief Muzzle Net
I was at work one day, and I had a friend who was helping me with orders for Net Relief Muzzle Net. She rang me to say the phone had been going mad for the Muzzle Net with people wanting to know where they could get it from, because Horse & Hound had done an article on it. I was working just off Oxford Street in London and I ran down to try find a Horse&Hound somewhere in the middle of London – going into every WHSmiths looking for it. Eventually I got it, and there was a tiny article, about an eighth of a page, showing a picture of Timmy with his Muzzle Net on! This made it clear that Timmy wasn’t in such a small minority, and this was a product that lots of people had been waiting on.
The reason Horse & Hound had written the article, was because British Dressage had allowed the Muzzle Net to be used in competition, with written dispensation from the vet. It was a break-though!
The letters we’ve had since then to now have been fantastic. We even had one owner in Canada thanking us, saying ‘Thank you for giving me my horse back’, which makes me feel very emotional.
Onwards and Upwards
Since the Net Relief Muzzle Net, Timmy has been the inspiration for so many other products – such as the Equilibrium Massage Pad, Magnetic Back Pad, Stretch & Flex Wraps, Net Relief Riding Mask, Field Relief Max, Simply Irresistible