‘Beyond the “whisper” is the listen.’
All of us want to have a soft, safe, trusting relationship with our horse and yet for many of us, although we love our horses, that seems to be a remarkably difficult thing to achieve.
I ‘started’ my first horse when I was fourteen-years-old, and I’ve had horses in my life since I was five. Over the past 30 years I’ve been practicing, learning and teaching natural horsemanship, and what I’ve found is that what a lot of people teach is quite complicated to the average horse owner or rider. I really love helping people have safe, quiet horses in their lives and I’ve found that – at least for me – the easiest way to do that is through the technique I call ‘horse listening’. If you know how to tune into your horse it will tell you if it’s sore, if it’s enjoying what it’s doing, if it’s anxious – if it’s with you. Once you truly understand your horse you can work on improving the relationship – and the changes can be truly magical.
My grandfather bred Cleveland Bays in Yorkshire, in the UK, my father rode all the time, and broke in horses for the British army in Hong Kong, so it was probably inevitable that I would love horses.
I was given my first pony when I was three, which was followed by a succession of bigger ponies, until one – an Arabian crossed with a Fell pony – was bred for me. Hester was my best friend for the next ten years until I moved to Australia.
I was always keen on showjumping and at the age of 19 I worked with a showjumper in France for a year, riding his young horses on trail-rides, in the arena, and over practice jumps. I also competed on one of his horses, and was responsible as a stable-hand for the care of 20 horses on a daily basis, with one other stable-hand, which included cleaning stables, medications, bandaging, rugging, feeding, grooming and cleaning tack, as well as lunging and riding horses. While I was in France, I undertook my ‘Gallop 1-2’ levels.
When I was 20 I was offered a job with the Royal Shakespeare Company going to Australia for six months, and on that trip I rode horses from the Snowy Mountains to the Daintree and everywhere in between.
In 1977 I emigrated permanently to Australia and with my partner bought a 1700 acre merino farm near Bathurst, where we used horses to muster the sheep in the steep, hilly country. In Sydney during the week while I was working at ACP I exercised horses for owners in Centennial Park, and through that came across my first ‘rescue’ horse, an Arabian stallion called King, who had been abandoned by his owners and left in a stable for over six weeks by the time I was given permission to attempt to work with him. Despite his attempts to kill me several times, I managed to get him quiet enough to geld, and after months of training, King went to a family near Dubbo where he lived happily for the next 28 years.
Over the next 20 years I went on and wrote about numerous wilderness rides, in the Barrington Tops, Frazer Island, Tasmania and the New England ranges, to name just a few. My interest in natural horsemanship was sparked when my son’s Arabian – a natural jumper – came to us with extremely bad manners. I decided that for me the natural way was of more interest – particularly since I had begun to work with rescue horses on an individual one-by-one basis. It was during this time that I compiled my first horse book, The Penguin Book of the Horse, which was a best-seller both here and in the UK.
A study in behaviour
Once I’d moved to the Northern Rivers I became increasingly interested in the behavioural science of horses, and in furthering my horse-rescue interest. I started doing clinics and writing stories on ‘natural’ trainers, I interviewed Monty Roberts and did several of his clinics; I interviewed Mel Fleming (Riding with Synchronicity) and all the time I increased my knowledge of horses through my ongoing rescue work, which has included, over the past 30 years, approximately a rescue horse a year. I have handled laminitic ponies, emaciated horses, horses with Big Head, arthritic horses, horses - in fact, with most known ailments and behavioural problems. Sam and I also started to train off-the-track racehorses, and at last count, eight beautiful ex-racehorses have been restarted by us and either gone on to new and permanent homes as competition or pleasure riding horses, or have been retained by Sam to compete on. I also studied the Tellington Touch system, gained my Reiki 1 and 2 levels, did a course in ‘wand’ riding, and began to understand the principles of acupressure, acupuncture and essential oil therapy.
We had a few seriously hard horses to handle, including a chronic bucker, who had caused an ABI to her owner. Shadow underwent extensive therapy with me, has never bucked since, and has been placed in a great home. It was during this period that I also bred two Quarter horses, from a beautiful Palomino mare. These family horses were bred, raised and started by me, and happily for them bought by the same family in Victoria. During this time I also wrote The Infinite Magic of Horses, an anthology of horse stories.
I was lucky enough to be given a retired eventer, who, at the age of 22, became for eight years, my best partner in riding crime! Together we won in Pleasure classes, winning Champion or Reserve Champion at most of the Northern Rivers shows. We jumped, did dressage, trail-riding, and perhaps most importantly to me, bareback and halter riding.
When Beau retired at the age of 30 I continued to rehabilitate horses, proving over and over again that for many of them the issues remain the same – namely, lack of decent groundwork training, diet, teeth, saddle-fit, hoof-care and skeletal issues left without treatment.
Documenting the journey
I started a small FB page, The Horse Listener, and also created courses based around ‘horse listening’ which I ran from my family home, whilst also hosting various clinics over some years, including Mel Fleming, Bianca Gillanders and Mark Langley.
In March 2017 I was appointed editor of the national online equine magazine HorseVibes. I write a monthly Horse Listener column for the magazine on all things natural to do with horses. Over the past year I have interviewed major Australian identities in all aspects of the horse industry.
I’ve also reviewed The History of the Horse for the Times Literary Supplement in the UK, written a story on the tragic death of Olivia Inglis for the Good Weekend and am currently writing a feature story on horse cruelty for the Good Weekend. I am also currently editing a photo essay book on the new Inglis complex at Riverside in Warwick Farm, and a history book on the Inglis dynasty.
I have extensively taught clinics and workshops dealing with natural horsemanship and horse-handling skills for over 20 years now and am currently in the process of becoming a fully-accredited Equine Facilitated Learning Practitioner.