As a teenager with dreams of ‘Champion the Wonder Horse’ and ‘The Black Stallion’ filling my consciousness, I felt conflicted within the competitive horse world and came to reject ‘Dressage’ & most formal training methods. Instead, I went searching for what I thought was a more humane approach that considered and understood the horses more. This meant that when I was introduced to some top class dressage & classical trainers like Charles De Kunffy & Arthur Kottas from the Training The Teachers of Tomorrow team my mind was closed and lessons were missed. However, with our guest trainers in this last series, Cathy Sirett and Patty Burrows both having trained with top class Classical Training Instructors, my mind has now been re-opened to something I had completely missed before!! This is my spiral of learning!
Like others I’m sure, I was so caught up and upset by the seemingly restrictive nature of ‘Dressage’ and the sometimes brutal techniques used by some competitive and professional riders, the likes of which we sadly still see today; Rollkur, the inappropriate use of whips and spurs and the restrictive tools like flash nose bands, draw reins etc. All I could see was the mental and physical pain caused within this discipline and didn’t want to be part of using such training methods and techniques. This is ultimately what sent me down the road to ‘natural horsemanship’, training to become a ‘Monty Roberts’ Instructor back in the late 1990’s and founding the ‘Understanding Equus’ approach to horsemanship.
As time has moved on, my experience and levels of understanding have increased with the help of the horses themselves and such trainers like Patty and Cathy, and I now realize that there was an important element that I was missing. When I was an RGN in the NHS dealing with human patients I first came to believe that we cannot treat the mental, physical and emotional bodies in isolation and the key to optimum health and wellbeing is a truly holistic approach. I also noticed the limitations of traditional methods of modern medicine and moved into more holistic therapies that understood the links between the mind & body, training in massage, acupressure and more recently Chirokinetic therapy. Now, with horses I can see the importance of the classical approaches to training the horse’s body, from the ground into the saddle using gymnastic exercises. Preparing them physically for riding, as well as working with the emotional, behavioural & mental aspects of our partnerships.
As our spiral of learning and development continues I invite all horse lovers, owners, trainers and specialists to join me in keeping an open mind and non-judgmental manner, as we strive to share knowledge & skills with a multitude of professionals all working together for the good of the horses. Like most of us who love and try to develop mutually beneficial relationships with our horses through understanding and gentle communication, we hope you agree that no healthy partnership is built through the use of discomfort alone. So as we continue to explore the different methods, techniques and philosophies available in the horse-world today, from classical to natural techniques, from reward based training to negative reinforcement let’s remember that all methods and approaches are open to misuse and abuse. So come and help us to identify the keys to good horsemanship and promote the importance of a holistic approach in the care, management and training of our horses.
In the meantime, please ‘like’, share and comment on the Understanding Equus Facebook page. Ask questions, join the discussions and feel free to post content that shares our philosophy of ‘care, communication & compassion’ for our equine friends. Let’s open more minds to the wonderful possibilities. You may see the odd ‘tool’, philosophy or method you disagree with and you will not resonate with all the approaches available but our aim is not to attack and isolate those that are just starting on their journey to understanding but to encourage questioning and the idea that there may be a better way…