Life is full of twists of fate and chance encounters, some which change your life completely. Equine osteopath Kitty Shanahan is a native of Portlaw, Co Waterford, but she is now based in Co Westmeath with her husband Niall and their two children, Jasmine (2) and Arthur (10 months).

Kitty met Niall on the hunting field, catching his eye after spilling a glass of port down her breeches when the horse she was riding went into sharp reverse. “I drew plenty of attention to myself that day,” she says, laughing. When Niall took a job in the Westmeath Hunt Kennels, Kitty went with him - albeit initially ‘kicking and screaming’ at the relocation. Happily settled now, they are making the most of every day.

Best friends

Kitty’s parents, Rose and Michael, are farmers and they ran a large herd of organic dairy goats for many years. Kitty has two sisters, who are also her best friends. Winnie is a BHS instructor at Kildalton Agricultural College, and Jenny is a health and safety officer. Rose and Michael now run a busy livery yard and dog kennel and rear cattle for the beef market. Rose has always loved horses, but her plan to get a pony backfired when two of her three daughters were also bitten by the horsey bug.

Kitty says, “Every day was busy on the farm growing up. My mother’s motivation was to get herself a pony rather than get one for us, but from the beginning, Winnie and I were obsessed. We spent our childhood on ponies, dressing them up and teaching them tricks. We hunted, show jumped, went to pony club: we wanted to go fast, jump high and win as many prizes as possible.”

Kitty and Winnie broke and produced most of their ponies under Rose’s watchful eye, “It was great fun, and I learned a lot. Mum would give me a few pointers and then leave me to it. It took longer to achieve results, but the rewards were always so sweet in the end.”

Kitty Shanahan and Duiske Abbey TopSpec Amateur CNC1* at Kilguilkey. \ Radka Preislerova

Difficult start

Kitty has had several stand-out horses over the years, but her ‘once in a lifetime’ was a gelding called Coolfin Tiger. Things got off to a difficult start when, shortly after arriving, the horse panicked. Jumping over a steel gate out of the arena, he deposited Kitty into the front of the combine harvester. “How I didn’t end up impaled, I will never know. He didn’t have the best start, and he held a lot of fear. It took a long time, but when he finally learned that he could trust me, he was the most special horse. I had to change how I did things, and he taught me a lot. We jumped all the big tracks together and had many great experiences along the way. I trusted him completely.”

Years of riding for dealers and working with tricky horses led Kitty down the route of osteopathy, saddle fitting and biomechanics. Her studies took her first to the European School of Animal Osteopathy in England and then to the Vluggen Institute in Germany. On completion, Kitty spent a year working for the renowned breeder and producer Paul Schockmohle. She also added laser therapy, human and equine cranial sacral therapy and reiki to her list of qualifications, along with becoming a saddle fitter for Wow Saddles, using their innovative modular design concept.

Kitty in action across the country.

\ Catherine Power

Reccurring issues

“I love helping horses. Lowering their stress levels and removing their pain makes for happier, more progressive animals, and we have to make it easy for our horses to join us on the journey. Training in Germany connected me with practitioners worldwide, and it opened my eyes. Working in the industry, “I began to see recurring issues in horses at all levels, which led me to identify the elephant in the room of poorly fitting saddles. Riders focus on helping their horses therapeutically, which is brilliant. Still, without also focusing on the possible root cause, they lean harder on the therapeutic aspect, and so it goes on.

“I chat to my clients about saddle fit and different saddle brands, and when this aspect is addressed for the horse, there is a positive knock-on effect. The horse requires less treatment, and everything progresses better for the horse and rider. I suppose it is bad for business, but I am much happier knowing the horse is more comfortable.” says Kitty.

Kitty is constantly developing and expanding her skill set and qualifications. This year, she is aiming to focus on saddle-specific training, as well as building individual rehabilitation programmes for horses, incorporating in-hand training and lateral exercises. Her goal is to help riders identify biomechanical defects in their horses and work with her to increase the therapeutic benefits for each horse.

“Horses are food for the soul,” she sums up.