How would you describe your method for training horses?
I would say I engage in more of a philosophy than an actual method for working with horses, but I would describe what I do as simple horsemanship. I use a variety of different exercises when I work with any horse (both groundwork and under saddle). These exercises can vary so much from horse to horse that at times they appear to be contradictory (inexperienced horses often require a very different approach to old spoiled horses for instance). However, regardless of the process, there are three well-known rules of horsemanship I adhere to;
1 - Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult,
2 - Be as gentle as possible but as firm as necessary,
3 - Reward the slightest try.
It is important to me that while training horses any aspiring horseman/horsewoman should always endeavour to treat the horse with respect and strive to uphold their natural dignity. But the overriding ethos of all my training is that, no matter what task we set our horses, it is of paramount ethical importance that our horses are able to work for us in a relaxed manner, while maintaining their natural disposition.
What do you enjoy most about your life with horses?
There is something romantic about embarking on a journey with no destination. A person can dedicate their entire life to the pursuit of horsemanship and reach the end, still not knowing everything there is to know on the subject. Being able to work with, to train, and attempt to understand horses is a great privilege. The history of the horse is intrinsically linked to the history of mankind, and the very growth of civilisation itself. For me; to endeavour to practice horsemanship is to join the continuation of a history that traces back millennia. Horsemanship is a noble pursuit and perhaps one of the longest standing traditions of the human race. It can offer you an enriched life and a means of reflective self-improvement. Not to mention that horses can be a lot of fun, keep you fit, and offer a unique form of companionship and enjoyment.
Who/What do you take inspiration from?
Regarding horsemanship, I would have to say a friend of mine, Richard Winters. He is such a positive influence on anyone he teaches, and in all the time I have spent with him, I have never heard him say a remotely negative thing. His knowledge and level of horsemanship are amongst the best in the world, and he is one of the few people who can turn the ethical practices of horsemanship into winning a competition at the highest possible level. Richard and his wife Cheryl are two remarkable people, and the example they have set together as decent human beings, are as inspiring to me as the many lessons on Horsemanship they have given to the world.
What is your top tip for horse owners?
We should learn to develop self-awareness and put our emotions aside when working with horses (and also when learning about horses). Horses learn best when we present information to them in a consistent and familiar manner. When we let emotions control our behaviour or demeanour we can sometimes send them unintended mixed signals, at best this is confusing to the horse, at worst it can teach entirely the wrong lesson.
To be successful as a horseman or horsewoman, I believe it is essential to keep an open mind. At various times in the past, some of my most certain beliefs and training techniques have been turned entirely on their head (and in some cases turned back on their head again). In order to improve, we have to be willing to try something new. The old saying, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”, is one that comes to mind. Make it a habit to occasionally go looking for new information, and try to relate (at least on an intellectual level) to opinions that are contrary to your own. Not being emotionally invested in a particular theory or method makes it easier for us to adapt to new ideas and better ways of working.
One thing I have found in my experience; is that as soon as you believe you have everything figured out, there is always a horse waiting to come along and prove you wrong.