It is with great sadness that we bring you the news of the passing of…
For this special edition of Hay There we caught up with Dr Gemma Pearson, Director of Equine Behaviour at The Horse Trust. Gemma is carving a completely new path as the world’s first recognised specialist in equine veterinary behaviour. Her mission is to make sure new generations of vets qualify with a good level of awareness into horse behaviour. We’ve had the delight of working with Gemma since 2020 after she completed a Horse Trust-funded PhD. We talk about Gemma’s highs, lows and memorable moments along the way.
As you can probably guess, Gemma is very busy at the best of times! We managed to catch her between her travels through the peaks and troughs of the Scottish valleys. Her next stop was The University of Edinburgh where she is mostly based.
Gemma visits our Home of Rest for Horses several times per year. During this time she offers support in the veterinary clinic, runs training courses, and helps horses that are presenting with unusual or unwanted behaviours, all before returning to her homeland – that’s if she’s not on her way to a conference across the pond!
Gemma hasn’t always lived in Scotland, though. She grew up in a city and didn’t come from a horsey background.
What sparked Gemma’s love for horses?
“I was drawn to horses from a really young age; I’m not sure why.” Gemma explains that there were two paths she could’ve taken when she was younger; a vet or a farmer, “my parents encouraged me to be a vet and that’s the one I pursued.”
Gemma always wanted to incorporate behavioural science into her practice. She was fascinated by equine behaviour, what it meant and how understanding it would enable her to work to make horses happier.
Her experience comes at a crucial time not only for horses, but for vets, too. The sector is currently the most dangerous civilian profession to be in… “so a lot of what I do is about low stress handling; happier horses, happier vets, happier owners,” Gemma says.
Gemma explains that this is what she loves most about her job; “making a difference to the lives of horses by training them and, as a result, preventing euthanasia due to their behaviour is a very rewarding feeling.”
Unless she is superhuman, there must be something Gemma does to wind down!
Gemma says candidly that she’s probably not the best person to ask about this, but she finds enjoyment in spending time with her own animals. “I have a horse called Esme, inspired by the Peaky Blinders. Esme is a thoroughbred and former racehorse in-training, who’s personality wasn’t suited to the lifestyle.” Gemma explains she retrained Esme to be a riding horse, and her favourite thing to do nowadays is showjumping!
Esme is a clear favourite of Gemma’s, but we were curious, is there a horse at our Home of Rest that left a lasting impact? For Gemma it was Walter, after working closely with Veterinary Assistant Claire to retrain him as he was terrified of needles.
Poor Walter had clearly been handled with force in the past due to his smaller size. Because of the lack of control he’d once felt, he found anything vet related incredibly stressful and would rear up to keep himself safe. “His behaviour would’ve killed someone if he was larger,” Gemma tells us. Though after working patiently with Walter, he began to associate people with good again. So much so, that he now trots into the vet clinic!
What a lovely note to end our chat on. Although we could’ve spoken with Gemma all day, she no doubt had plenty of work to crack on with.
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