Have you ever sat back and thought about who you are and how you got to where you are now?
I truly believe that your upbringing massively shapes your future temperament, behaviour, interests, hobbies and probably career choices. Memories from being a very young child out in East Africa, my mother was always helping to rear, nurture, heal and rehabilitate all sorts of wildlife creatures. Life was being surrounded by big family dogs and a massively varied wildlife back yard and all of it was to be cherished and passionately cared about.
When we repatriated to the UK in 1970, our nurtured animals were smaller and less dangerous of cause! Poorly hedgehogs, abandoned kittens and rescue dogs mainly. Always involved with helping with their care, this was without a doubt, a huge influence which helped shape my life into being one of caring for animals-in both a physical way as well as on the emotional level. It was very likely that I was always going to work with animals.
This said, my life took me into the horse world in one way or another and across many countries. When I finally settled here in Skidby, I started my own rented small livery and training yard back in 1985. I used all the knowledge I had gained throughout my career to start to help both horses and their owners become one with each other. My passion in those days was retraining ex-racehorses to Event, Show Jump and Team Chase. It was dangerous, fast and exhilarating riding. As the injuries mounted up, these extreme hobbies had to give way to a new, slightly less dangerous life of training behavioural issues.
In 1993 I was introduced to “Natural Horsemanship” (NH) through an accidental meeting with an Australian Stockman/Horseman called Mike Barker. He happened to be staying in Hull while his sister sadly died in the local hospice and he sought me out to help him spend his spare time away from the ward. We became very firm friends, a friendship which lasted many years until his death a few years ago. NH answered many questions in so many ways at the time and I became a highly skilled practitioner.
However, these methods are highly coercive and feel very aversive to the horse. Trainers force obedience in their horse by using pressure techniques which get taken away the second the animals comply. This is all great while it’s working, or if it works, but time and again I saw a reoccurrence of the unwanted behaviour when the pressure came away for any longish period of time- especially when the horses returned home.
Don’t get me wrong, these techniques work with the majority and can retrain their brains into calm acceptance. However, with the trickier horses and those who had turned aggressive in defence of themselves through their life experience with humans, I regularly saw rage being displayed. In this scenario the amount of pressure techniques which had to be applied made me wonder whether or not I was even becoming part of the problem. They were as they were because they had experienced really bad stuff and the only answer I had in those days was to simply keep at it until the horse showed any form of compliance.
Now I know this is called a state of learned helplessness and is a dreadful place to put any living being emotionally. I was actively suppressing emotions and had absolutely no idea. We all thought Monty Roberts and his join up techniques were a marvel. The Queen gave his methods credence when he showcased his methods on her horses. Don’t get me wrong here, I never chose to be an extreme or harsh trainer. As a trainer, I trod the softest, quietest path I could but none the less, there were times when I questioned the only methodology horse trainers have in their toolbox when it comes to training the really emotionally damaged horses. All traditional, NH, Western and classical training is about constant correction where the trainer or handler is constantly saying NO. What a different world I am working in now.
Back in 2013 my eyes were opened to a whole new world of animal training which is based on trust, concentrated on putting the relationship first, relied on understanding behaviour in its purest form and were delivered via meticulous planning and skill. This connection built between the learner and the human trainer was truly eye-opening. I watched the “proof of the pudding” with great apes, apex predators and birds free to fly away at any point. No animal was trapped in a confined space and all were free to leave yet they allowed injections, worming, body scanning even holding still for Xrays! Watching amazing training happening with animals who were all blessed with full choice was awe-inspiring. http://www.twycrosszoo/1stinternationalanimaltrainersconference Of all the defining moments in my life, this has proved to be the biggest and has shaped my behaviour, my business, my training, my desire to understand more and to be educated by world-leading specialists. Its been an amazing journey into studying Applied Behavioural science, understanding Environmental analysis, Functional analysis, Behavioural analysis. The principles of applying LIMA ( least intrusive, minimally aversive). In-depth studying into reinforcement re behaviour. Its values and uses, primary, conditioned, non -conditioned, classical and operant conditioning- the list goes on and on- and I have been a sponge for learning. To be a professional in the industry who decides to cross over into the light and apply it all to training horses in a professional capacity has not been done lightly.
Its been hard- the hardest journey I have ever trodden but it’s been so worth it. Finally, I am training horses on the emotional level which blossoms into physical change into behaviour modification and its all based on Positive Reinforcement and saying YES! I openly share my world on social media. I have literally got 1000,s of followers on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest and various other platforms. When people watch my videos they are stunned at what they see and many want to know more. This is perfect as it creates The Ripple Effect!
Another huge value to myself is that I am fully supported by so very many animal trainers worldwide. Horse training this way is in its infancy here in the UK. More popular in the USA. However, there are positive trainers all across the world and we all speak to each other! 😊
My dream is that one day our Further Education system will embrace these techniques in their Equine Departments as they already have in dog and zoo training and management courses. I learned all this via the Zoo communities and by accident. To improve the welfare of our horses is to improve education and its availability. Would it be possible to move away from keeping horses as our slaves? Could we turn them into our partners instead? Could more horse owners strive to understand training based on mutual trust and a strong understanding of how they would choose to learn if they were ever given that all-important word? That word is empowering them with CHOICE!