Thursday, 3 October 2013

Readers’ questions, on an equine theme.

Busy day. HorseBack work; 703 words of book; a lot of canine and equine sweetness in the quiet of my lovely field. Also: laughter.

A lot of sweetness too yesterday from the Dear Readers, who were staunch and magnificent, as always.

Oddly, I did write a rather long and serious blog today about events beyond the mazy confines of my own goofy brain. But I rather lost my nerve. The problem with writing about politics and people in the public eye and grave matters under general discussion is that one invites what Mrs Merton called a heated debate. Sometimes I love a heated debate. Sometimes I think: I need to go gently and slowly. So I’ve shelved it and I’ll give it to you when I’m having a butch day.

Actually, although not quite butch, I was productive today, and that is the most important thing. I even did some errands and made a Vital Telephone Call.

Just time now, at the end of a very long day, for a reader question:

A couple of the Dear Readers have asked about methods of horsemanship; one yesterday, one a while ago. I feel I ought to resurrect the old Sunday tradition of answering these questions, but in the meantime, as quickly as I can, since I’m all out of things to write, I’ll answer now –

I grew up in the old school of horsemanship, and have only come to the newer version since I got Red the Mare. In my mind, it is all based on studying herd behaviour, so going with the natural equine instincts rather than against them, and, oddly, manners. I like the idea of asking a horse, rather than telling a horse. I think it is a profound distinction.

The word leadership can be misleading, and has nothing to do with dominance. I think a horse does need a good leader, but that position must be earned, through patience, consistency, attention, gentleness and kindness. I learnt all that I have learnt from a variety of sources, and then extrapolated in my own goofy little mind, and I stick to no one method. I am very suspicious of those new schools which admit only their own ideas and seem to do a lot of marketing.

I’ve read very useful books by Mark Rashid and Monty Roberts. (Roberts is controversial, in certain circles, but I like many of his ideas.) I loved the film about Buck Brannaman, who has a glorious attitude to horses. There is a no-nonsense Australian called Warwick Schiller who has a lot of amazingly useful and practical video clips on YouTube. I’ve also read some delightful articles by Carolyn Resnick. There’s an enchanting page on Facebook called Enlightened Horsemanship, which has rather philosophical musings about the relationship between human and equine which I enjoy very much.

I look for new thoughts and good information wherever I can find it, and think of the two of us as embarking on a long, roaming, learning journey. Really, I suppose my answer is that the Google is your friend. That was how I started. I’m slightly abashed to admit that after Red first arrived, and I suddenly realised I had not actually been responsible for an equine for thirty years, I used to sit up at night, madly typing HOW TO HAVE A HAPPY HORSE into the humming search engine. That was how I found a lot of the things I have found. I took what spoke to me, and left the rest.

This morning, there was a gate incident. I arrived to find the paddock gate wide open, and the three girls merrily grazing out in the set-aside. (It is another equine mystery; we have a horrible suspicion they might have opened it themselves, so padlocks are on order. Although I always do wonder about ROGUE RAMBLERS. No, only joking, I love the good ramblers, roaming up the hill with their ordnance survey maps.) Anyway, the point is that the herd could have galloped off to Logie Coldstone, if they had wanted to. (Although it must be admitted that, unless startled, escaped horses generally do not stray too far.) Instead, they remained near home, calm as you like, and were so happy I let them mooch around as I made breakfast and then gently directed them back into the field for their food. The point was: something that could have been a drama had no drama in it at all.

Red set the example, as the boss mare, and part of the reason she is as gentle and calm and biddable as she is is the work we’ve done with her over the months, thanks to all these good teachers from whose writing I have learnt so much, and the remarkable trainer who comes each week to continue her education. It helps that she is a particularly delightful person, and she came from a brilliant horseman out of a great yard, but she was a racehorse and a polo pony, and this deep calm, this softness, this absolute biddability, is a new way of being which she has learnt.

I like the methods of what is generally referred to as natural horsemanship for many reasons, but one of the most important is that it makes everything I do with the mare easy. I can groom her, feed her, rug her and work her without having to tether her in any way. If she escapes from her field, I can gently guide her back in, and she goes quietly, without complaint. I can ride her in a halter. I trust her. She is happy.

And the lovely thing is that the methods are so wonderfully easy. A child of ten could follow them. I wish I could tell you that all this has come about from my own brilliance, but I can’t. It was just from following the simple steps of other people, who have spent their lives thinking about horses.

Very tired now, so just time for three pictures:

A tree:

3 Oct 1

A handsome dog:

3 Oct 2

Me and my girl:

3 Oct 3

Oh, and did I mention Love? That is of course your best guide. I think: don’t baby them, or coddle them, or wrap them in cotton wool, or turn them into little cute things. They are horses. They have thousands of years of nobility running through their veins. They consent to exist in the human world, and that is their great gift to us. The love can’t just be a vague, smooshy thing. It must be the good heart in action. So, I think: listen to them, attend to them, respect them, and be polite to them. Spend time with them. Learn from them, because always, in the end, they are your greatest professors.


  1. Tania, thank you! What a reply. I was inspired by what you and Red have done, and keen to know more but not sure what bits of Googling to trust. I have to admit to asking Google "How to ride better" in the last week... I feel that all of my knowledge is very out of date now and so based on belting around on riding school or borrowed horses when I was small.

    Though last week I jumped for the first time in 16 years in my first time on a horse for 5 (tiny jump and very easy lovely horse). I felt the muscles dimly remembering what to do and you are right: it is like flying. Riding and horses got me through a long Russian winter but somehow I had forgotten how wonderful it is to ask the question and for them to respond. You are so right: that is exactly it, it is manners. Thank you again!

  2. Ah, so pleased you are feeling better. I've just been laid out with a misbehaving back, so way behind the times. Nodded through this post - it is exactly the way to "work" with any animal. Watch, try and understand without anthropomorphising, and gently provide the prompts for the desired behaviour. Interestingly, it varies within species as well. A bull terrier has very different prompts to an Irish Wolfhound.

  3. The more I hear about natural horsemanship, the more intrigued I become. If there's ever a chance that I'll have my own, rather than relying on a riding school, I think it's something I'd like to adopt.

  4. I am feeling feeble and I know I should say something more profound but... I just love the way your manes match in that photo :-)


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