I am going to start by saying that being a horseman is a lifetime of learning.
On my dying day I will not have truly mastered the art, but would have merely began to understand. This is why I feel so passionately about helping others on their journies and ensuring they have the support and plenty of encouragement - I don't want this art to die.
My story is unique in its own way, but it also shares so many similarities with my own students. I understand the difficulties, the frustrations, the pain and the heartache. I have been there, I experienced it and not all that long ago.
I started riding as a child, but never really had experience riding a horse with spirit - until Thor!
On the ground Thor was a brute. He would have you on the floor...on edge...waiting for the next spook. He would bolt - once the rope accidently wrapped around my fingers and I swear my hand almost came off.
In the saddle, he was tense, ready to go! He would regularly buck which I was sure was due to excess energy, lack of exercise, boredom or simply because he was a youngster.
I listened to so many trainers, friends and acquaintances. I lapped up every piece of advice; lunging before riding, feeding with care, changing the tack and keeping the horse engaged by moving forward.
But why wasn't I seeing any changes?
When I first started Foundational Training, unbeknown to me, my own trainer, Theresa, was purely feeling sorry for my horse! She gave me exercises to help keep me safe but they ultimately started me on my journey to better understand my horse and most importantly to keep him happy, healthy, balanced and calm.
I wasn't having conventional, traditional lessons. No... I was having video call sessions to my trainer with a 5 hour time difference! I was in the UK and she was in the USA. I would schedule my days around my young baby and my training. If I wasn't able to make the call, I would record everything I did with my horse and there began our "ping pong lessons"!
Theresa would message me with critiques, advice and encouragement. In the meantime I would be out practising my latest piece of homework and trying to feel with my horse what I had never felt before, what I had never seen, nor been shown in person. This would keep me up at night... When riding, I would spend hours making mistakes with my horse, often falsely believing I had successfully carried out a movement, just to feel a little crushed when I realised I had in fact been practising a made up sequence!
The most important thing I taught my horse in the early days was to be calm. It was, and still is, the greatest lesson I teach him. Although second nature now, we still carry out the same exercises daily, whenever we are in each others' company. It's that simple! Whilst in the stable, the field, out for a ride or in an arena, your horse can always be calm. Asking in all of these scenarios is not only contributing to a safer horse, but a happier and more relaxed one.
I was asked to use a bareback pad and bitless bridle. So I did! It was explained to me that I needed to learn to balance with my horse, how to feel and this was how I learnt about softness. Thor had become "dead to my leg" so I was no longer allowed to use my legs. I rode with my hands up - really becoming a spectacle to anyone who happened to watch!
I was given literature to read - I began to read ancient (Circa 350BC "ancient"!) writings from Xenophon. I saw similarities in my methods to Francois Baucher and Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere. I began to realise that this wasn't just natural horsemanship - this was an interpretation of French Classical training. I watched modern day trainers, athletes and leisure riders and tried to absorb as much information as I could. I would pester Theresa with millions of questions, often repeating them, to ensure I remembered, learned and put the answers into action. I was told to feel the good and the bad - to always try different ways to my own, so I could understand how and why and to better understand the reasons behind the teachings. To this day, this is so important to me. I always explain to my horse before trying anything new and I will apologise if I attempt something to further our education. Whether you believe he understands, I feel the sentiment is appreciated.
My young horse has transformed over the past year. For anyone wondering how long it takes for a horse to progress - how long is a horse's mane? It depends on the individual! I have practised, ridden and played often; sometimes 5 minutes a day and up to an hour at a time. I try to give Thor a couple of days off a week, but nothing is set in stone, I just go by how he feels. Even on the "days off" he is actively learning, even simple tasks on the ground.
I think what needs to addressed is this word - "progress". As humans, we have expectations and desires. Nobody really wants to be a novice. I have found that people expect a quick fix, a solution to unwanted behaviour and don't necessarily want to commit to their horse for a real change. Time may yield quicker results, but commitment is the teacher. Horses thrive on repetition and routine.
Taking the time to understand and to set good foundations is key; after all, if it was easy, everyone would be Masters!
My own mentor is giving me daily advice and lessons to help me progress with my own horses, but also so I can ensure every one of my students gets the most out of their sessions. We are always going to be learning, so I shall never pretend that I am a "finished" rider, nor that I know it all. Anything that I cannot answer, or do not know, I shall find out.
I am reminded so often, that it has taken time. It has taken hard work to get Thor to this point. Some days were so difficult... I have had to teach myself to *feel* my horse and have had to learn without anyone showing me in person, so I know that being there for others will be a huge advantage to their learning. Because of the difficulties and frustrations I encountered (and still do!) I always want to ensure my students have 24/7 help, support and advice.
For anyone who would like to speak to me about my story; if you are feeling a little lost with your own horse, or would like some advice, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
If you choose to learn with Sense Equine, it is a guarantee that you will not be alone on your journey with your horse. We take a simple, open approach to our training and hope to educate others on training with the horse's health in mind.
If you would like more information or would just like a chat, click below :)