Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and have made lots of horsey New Year’s resolutions for 2017.
As anyone with horses knows, it’s hard to take time off, but this year I shut the yard for a couple of weeks and had a proper break. Two of my fantastic grooms, Billie and Bradley, came in each day to look after the horses on the farm and get the yard ship-shape and ready for the first intake of trainers for the year. As a result, I’m feeling refreshed and looking forward to an exciting year ahead.
It’s always a good time to reflect on the past year and to make plans for the future. Personally, 2016 was what I would describe as a “smooth” year, where most things ran to plan (unlike world events!). I have worked with some beautiful horses, and some of the world’s top riders; starting three of Laura Tomlinson’s youngsters (pictured top) was definitely a highlight. Performing at Your Horse Live was once again a brilliant experience, and I felt that my demonstrations this year were among the best I have done. I was also overwhelmed by the success of our launch party for my online training site, Your Horsemanship, with over 300 people coming along to the yard. On the teaching side, running my residential camps gave me a great deal of satisfaction. Success is not always defined by jumping a clear round over great heights or being able to perfect a dressage test; my “campers” get a huge sense of achievement out of finding the confidence to canter across an open field or to lean to pick up a polocrosse ball from their horse!
While I was on my Christmas break, I wasn’t entirely “off the job”. When I have a bit more time to think, I tinker with new ways to overcome common problems. Here is an example of a small change that follows the old adage, “make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy” when you are training your horse to keep out of your personal space.
We all know horses that creep towards you, give you a nudge, or just plain walk over the top of their handler. Although this may seem to some like they are being affectionate, it shows a lack of respect that could put the handler in danger or lead to larger issues.
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I usually teach handlers to address this by backing their horses away from them, before leaving them to stand away from the handler. Through repetition, this will work. However, a method that I have been trying out that tends to have less input from the handler, is to simply lift the horse’s head up and out of their natural position when they are too close, and letting it back down once they have stepped back out of my space. As always, there are many ways to get to the same result, it’s all about finding what works best for the handler and the horse; that’s what makes horse training an art rather than a science!
And so to 2017, and it looks like I’ll be racking up the air miles with a number of trips overseas for both pleasure and work. On the work front, I have got clinics and some very exciting consultations abroad, while for pleasure we are spending Easter in Australia, although I’m sure I’ll get roped into starting a few of dad’s homebreds while I’m there. I am also hoping to head out to South Africa to play polocrosse for the UK in what may be my last international, as I reach another milestone this year; the BIG 40! I first came to the UK for a few months in 1999 and little did I know that I was going to fall for the boss’ daughter, train horses for a living, become a dad of two awesome kids and turn into an honorary “Pom”; life definitely works in mysterious ways! Here’s to a fantastic 2017.