I train horses to improve their ground manners, horsemanship, tricks (kissing, bowing, waving flags, running free as if in dressage, lying down, touching different scary objects, Spanish walk, healing, walking over tarps and other unfamilar objects, lining himself up for the rider to get on, playing ball etc) dressage and liberty. It’s about the relationship between the rider/owner and her/his horse. I like to increase the desire from the horses’ point of view and the owners understanding and expectation of their animal. I often will use clicker training to sharpen the horses interest and understanding. This is a simple yet very effective way to communicate and reward the horse for correct behavior. But again I use different methods for different issues or tasks. I find it humbling how eager the horses are when they discover how much fun we human beings can be as leaders.
The story of Ethan
Ethan – a beautiful almost black 15.1 Welsh cob gelding unexpectedly came into my life in 2008 as a frightening, strong and abused gift.
I first heard of him as the horse no one could tame and as a dangerous yet beautiful and strong boy. He was owned by a lady who totally misunderstood him and her or her trainers and farriers had used a lot of violence to try to control him but instead he had learned to fight (very scary) or bolt. He was on drugs to keep him slightly manageable but they had given up on riding him without drugs and only with the hardest metal torture instruments as controls.
When I was asked for help I asked for all drugs to be taken away and for no one to touch him or get near him in the first 3 weeks. From here our relationship began. It started with me just sitting in his paddock and if he didn’t run away I clicked him and threw him a piece of carrot. Then slowly his trust started and he stopped running away when I got there. Then he started to come and greet me and the love affair was on. I had him in a backyard in Wahroonga with a few other horses and within 3 weeks I had made an offer to buy him. I did not want him to go back to abuse and misunderstandings and the owner was very relieved to get rid of her problem horse.
For me it became the highlight of my day to visit and work with him. I was going through a hard emotional time with a broken heart (breakup of a marriage of 23 years) yet working with Ethan and his brokenness slowly became what healed my heart and soul. There were many scary moments when he forgot that I wasn’t the scary violent human beings he had known and he would kick and fight, desperately trying to keep his legs to himself. Slowly he allowed me to work with his legs, ride him and touch scary objects such as passing garbage bins etc.
I never used punishments except backing him up or shooing him away in the worst case scenarios but I used lots of encouragements, praise and click and treats. My first goal post was to get a horse that you could be around safely and ride out on without him running away. Then the goal post moved and it became about dressage and competition at the lowest level. Then it became about liberty and dancing together and doing tricks as well as higher level of dressage. But each and every day it has been an honor to be in his company. He taught me to stop stressing and start breathing for me to be in his company.
So often we come racing down in our highly busy day to see our horses thinking we just have to do such and such but Ethan would never allow me to do anything until I had taken in a deep breath. Then we could just be together and it was as if the world out there would disappear. He can tell me if a man has violence in him (which man I wonder was so cruel to him??) as he spooks and snorts and runs away. Now Ethan is the most amazing, loving and clever horse I have ever come into contact with. He still doesn’t’ like violent men or farriers but loves people, outings, company and work. I ride him out bareback in a halter, run around with him free playing, performs lots of tricks and wins lots of prizes if his mother can be bothered competing in dressage.
I have found that the horse who was used in Monte Roberts show as an example of a horse who hated human beings in Acer Arena (and who was given up on) to be the most amazing, clever, loving and trusting horse one could ever want. He just needed someone who spoke a language he could understand. We saved each other! Thank you Ethan for being such a graceful, strong and loving part of my life. You have taught me so much.